During Nick Brown's opening match Jan. 22 in the Gahanna Lincoln High School wrestling team's Lion Duals, coach Kyle Bentley heard an unidentifiable "pop" on the mat.

During Nick Brown's opening match Jan. 22 in the Gahanna Lincoln High School wrestling team's Lion Duals, coach Kyle Bentley heard an unidentifiable "pop" on the mat.

The Lions only can hope that the sound wasn't some of the air deflating from their season.

Brown, a four-year starter who went 1-2 at the Division I state tournament at 189 pounds a year ago, went on to win the match against his Canal Winchester opponent to improve to 18-5 on the season.

He then left the gym and underwent tests to determine the extent of the knee injury he endured.

The doctor who initially treated Brown believed it was an ACL injury, although Bentley tried to remain positive about whether Brown can return this season.

"We'll see what's going to happen," Bentley said. "He's pretty beat up. He's been wrestling pretty hard and he really is a hard-working kid and a pretty tough kid. He wants to win really bad."

The status of Brown will have a huge affect on whether the Lions can defend their OCC-Ohio Division title and in how many qualifiers they'll have in each round of the postseason.

Gahanna lost to Lancaster 47-17 on Jan. 6 with Brown and is 3-1 in the OCC-Ohio heading into its home conference match Thursday, Jan. 27, against Pickerington Central when it will celebrate senior night.

Still remaining are league duals Feb. 3 at Grove City and Feb. 10 at home against Pickerington North.

"When you lose a four-year starter like Nick, it takes some of the punch out of your lineup," Bentley said. "I think Lancaster probably (will win the OCC-Ohio) because they haven't lost a match yet. We won the OCC on a technicality last year, so crazy things can happen. I don't really care about the OCC. It's more the icing on the cake when you're getting ready for sectionals. The state meet is really our goal, and we've got four or maybe five guys who could make it that far."

Those on target to go deep into the postseason, according to Bentley, include sophomores Drew McDougle (130) and Kasee McDougle (135) and seniors Justin Stroh-schein (152) and Evan Bergenstein (215).

In the area coaches poll last week, Gahanna was ninth as Drew McDougle was second and Brown was first individually at their respective weights.

Strohschein split his four matches at the Lion Duals, where Gahanna went 3-2. The Lions tied Mogadore Field at 39 but won on criteria because they outpinned the Falcons 5-4.

"So far we're doing about as good as we did last year (in the league)," Strohschein said. "We have to beat both Pickeringtons, so we're still looking to get a title. I think we've got a more mature team than we did last year with more experience."

Even with Brown's status in question, Bentley agrees that the Lions have shown improvement from a season ago when they had six district qualifiers and three other sectional placers.

"We're wrestling a little bit better than we did last year," Bentley said. "Some of the guys are still a little bit timid, but we're getting better, which is better than getting worse. We just need to build some more confidence."

AT A GLANCE

Below are the recent results and coming schedule for the Gahanna Lincoln wrestling team:

*Jan. 12 - Defeated host Newark 52-9, def. Groveport 55-12

Jan. 14-15 - Finished 12th (160) in 25-team Marion Elgin Invitational behind champion Olentangy Liberty (278.5). Drew McDougle (130) won an individual title, Kasee McDougle (135) placed second, Evan Bergenstein (215) placed fifth and Justin Strohschein (152) finished sixth.

*Jan. 20 - Match vs. Pickerington North was postponed and has been rescheduled for Feb. 10.

Jan. 22 - Def. Canal Winchester 32-30, lost to Hilliard Davidson 46-11, lost to Teays Valley 44-21, def. Mogadore Field 39-39 on criteria and def. St. Charles 61-9 at home Lion Duals

*Jan. 27 - Home vs. Pickerington Central

*OCC-Ohio match