With 11 letterwinners returning and 14 seniors on a 19-player roster, the Gahanna Lincoln High School boys soccer team has reason for optimism.

With 11 letterwinners returning and 14 seniors on a 19-player roster, the Gahanna Lincoln High School boys soccer team has reason for optimism.

Not even 13th-year coach Dwayne Marshall can hide the fact that the Lions again should be one of the top teams in the area.

"Truthfully, this is one of the most, if not the most, talented teams to come through Gahanna," he said. "We've got to work on the little things and keep our egos in check to reach the ultimate goal. But we do have that kind of talent."

That's saying a lot considering Gahanna has produced some great seasons and great talent through the years.

The Lions finished 11-1-5 overall and won the OCC-Ohio Division at 5-0-2 a year ago.

Their lone loss was to Upper Arlington in a Division I district semifinal. The teams ended regulation scoreless, but once the contest moved to penalty kicks, the Golden Bears converted all five chances and the Lions made four.

The Lions beat UA 1-0 late in the regular season.

Gahanna has not lost a league contest since 2003. The Lions finished ahead of Pickerington North (5-1-1), Pickerington Central and Grove City (both 4-2-1), Reynoldsburg (2-1-4), Lancaster (1-5-1), Groveport (1-6) and Newark (0-6-1). Grove City will not compete this season because of a levy failure.

"Our goalie, Ryan Grimme, has been on varsity for three years now, we're blessed to have five forwards who can finish, which is something we haven't had before, and we've got talent at every position," Marshall said. "We've got depth and tons of experience."

Gahanna struggled to finish at times last season, but Marshall thinks that won't be a concern with senior Sean Lipps returning at forward and being surrounded by juniors Ben Crognale, Chris Davis, Wil Trapp and Tyler Wollum. Davis is a transfer from Hartley and Trapp is in Gahanna after spending last season in the Brad Friedel Soccer Academy in Lorain.

In the preseason, the Lions played the equivalent of four games against eight teams and surrendered just two goals.

"Ryan Grimme has everything going for him now," Marshall said. "His punting and goal kicks are 110-percent better and he's putting us on offense with those kicks. He also has some great backs in front of him."

Those back-row defenders are seniors Steven Chrobak and Ben Witkoff and junior Trevor Gates. Back as defensive midfielders are seniors Christian Conte and Jon Grooms. Returning letterwinners in the midfield include seniors Saad Abbul-Salaam, Scott Chadbourne, Shawn Chadbourne and Cody Popelas. Also in the midfield are seniors Ethan Guinty and Taylor Cooper.

"Conte and Grooms are tremendous athletes in the midfield," Marshall said. "They have speed and are fantastic in the air. They'll win a lot of balls for us."

Rounding out the roster are seniors Andrew Burson and Zach McClurg, who will be utility players.

"As much talent as we have, we know anything can happen in soccer," Marshall said. "With strong teams like Hilliard Davidson, Olentangy Orange, Olentangy Liberty, Dublin Jerome, Dublin Coffman and Upper Arlington, I really think one of the Central District winners this year will have a chance to win it all."

•The girls team also is excited about its season, despite having just three senior starters returning for second-year coach Jason Hardin.

"We'll be well-balanced and we have youth and depth, even though we have few seniors in the lineup," Hardin said. "We're returning 11 players and the girls are starting to figure things out. They know what to expect from me this year and I know what they're capable of this time around."

The Lions went 10-6-1 overall last season, losing to Olentangy Liberty 4-0 in the first round of the Division I district tournament. Gahanna, which is switching to a 3-3-4 scheme, finished 5-1-1 in the OCC-Ohio.

"We gave up too many goals, so we've made the move to solidify the back row," Hardin said. "We wanted to keep attacking, so we're dropping one back from the midfield."

The early lineup for the Lions has juniors Grace Pfeifer and sophomore Annika Nilsen in the center back, with sophomores Taylor Law and Shelby Palafox on the outside protecting junior goalkeeper Shae Ferguson.

In the midfield are senior Kaylea Rowe and sophomore Ashley Gogolin as attackers, and junior defender Courtney Tanner.

Tanner is a tri-captain, joining senior Kirstan Law and junior Lauren Robinson, who are forwards. Rounding out the lineup is sophomore forward Abby Grooms.

"We're pretty quick with Robinson back up front joined by Grooms and we have some more speed and depth with girls like (freshman) Lynnsey Brim and (junior) Liz May," Hardin said. "(Freshman) Kari Weinland can also play up front and has speed. They all have pace and will give us options."

Also in the senior class are midfielder Kylie Richards, forward Meredith Brim and defensive back Emma Hinckley. Rounding out the roster are junior goalkeeper Jenna LaBorde and freshmen Megan Barrick and Maggie Mayo. Barrick is a defensive midfielder and Mayo is a midfielder/forward.

The Lions tied Grove City for second in the OCC-Ohio last season behind Pickerington North (6-1) and ahead of Reynoldsburg (4-2-1), Pickerington Central (3-3-1), Lancaster (2-5), Newark (1-6) and Groveport (0-7).

Grove City will not compete this season because of a levy failure.

"I think we'll contend for the league title," Hardin said. "We've got a lot of girls back, more than North. But North has an excellent program that just reloads. Central played us tough last year. So without Grove City, I'd say the Pickeringtons will be the teams we need to challenge for the title."

Schedules

BOYS

Saturday -- vs. Dublin Coffman *Tuesday -- at Newark Sept. 3 -- at Bexley *Sept. 8 -- vs. Lancaster Sept. 10 -- at Olentangy Orange *Sept. 15 -- vs. Pickerington Central Sept. 17 -- at Westerville Central *Sept. 22 -- at Pickerington North Sept. 24 -- vs. Dublin Jerome Sept. 29 -- vs. Worthington Kilbourne Oct. 1 -- at Westerville North Oct. 3 -- vs. Upper Arlington *Oct. 6 -- at Reynoldsburg Oct. 8 -- at Watkins Memorial *Oct. 13 -- vs. Groveport Oct. 17 -- at Whitehouse Anthony Wayne

GIRLS

Last Tuesday -- Played Westerville South Today -- at New Albany *Sept. 1 -- vs. Newark Sept. 3 -- at Big Walnut Sept. 5 -- vs. Marysville *Sept. 8 -- at Lancaster Sept. 12 -- vs. Hilliard Davidson (2 p.m.) *Sept. 15 -- at Pickerington Central Sept. 19 -- vs. Hilliard Bradley (2 p.m.) *Sept. 22 -- vs. Pickerington North Sept. 24 -- at Dublin Jerome Sept. 26 -- vs. Westerville Central (1 p.m.) Sept. 29 -- at Worthington Kilbourne Oct. 1 -- vs. Watkins Memorial *Oct. 6 -- vs. Reynoldsburg *Oct. 13 -- at Groveport

*OCC-Ohio