It was a simple enough question.
It was a simple enough question.
After shaking hands with host Westerville South following a 5-0 win in its opener Aug. 25, the members of the Gahanna Lincoln High School girls soccer team returned to their sideline for a postgame huddle before heading to the bus.
Then a player shouted, "So how many games do we have left, 28?"
That estimation, if everything goes according to the team's hopes for this season, would be only a slight exaggeration.
Once coach Jason Hardin tabulated the team's regular-season schedule and added in potential games at the district, regional and state levels, the answer was 22.
It's a number that the Lions, who never have won a district championship, believe could be more within their reach than ever before.
"This group has got high expectations," Hardin said. "We've never even been to a district final that I'm aware of. We've been in district semifinals the last couple years and it's been close. We're saying, 'Let's try to get there this year.' They know it takes a lot of hard work."
Gahanna won its only OCC championship in 2006, and it has had even less success in the district tournament.
Last season, the Lions were the ninth seed in Division I and beat Worthington Kilbourne 3-2 in a second-round game before falling to third-seeded Upper Arlington 2-1 in overtime in a district semifinal to finish 12-6-1.
In 2009, the Lions were seeded 12th but lost to Dublin Coffman 1-0 in a district semifinal to finish 11-5-3.
That marked the first season since 2000 that Gahanna had made it past the second round of the district tournament, despite the fact that it was the seventh seed in both 2002 and 2003.
The Lions were the third seed in 1998 but lost in the second round of district play.
So why might this season be different?
The short answer, according to senior defender and captain Taylor Law, is chemistry.
"I feel like we play together really well," Law said. "We've played together the last three years and I think we're getting stronger. We're really excited for this season. We expect to go the furthest that we have in a long time."
Another reason the Lions believe they could be in for a special season, according to Hardin, has to do with their emerging talent pool.
Senior Ashley Gogolin is among the area's best returning playmakers after finishing with five goals and 17 assists last season at midfielder. Junior forward Maggie Mayo had 15 goals and six assists last season and junior midfielder Kari Weinland added eight goals and 11 assists.
In the opening win, Mayo had two goals and one assist, Gogolin and Weinland each added one goal and one assist and junior defender Sarah Sculley also scored a goal.
Still, Hardin knows that it takes more than an additional year of maturity to become one of the area's elite teams.
While Gahanna and other Division I area teams should benefit from the fact that Upper Arlington lost Michela Paradiso - a three-time ThisWeek Super 12 captain - and four of her teammates to club soccer this fall, there is something to be said, according to Hardin, for having enough confidence to win at the highest level.
Teams such as Coffman, Pickerington North and UA are at the level that the Lions wish to go in that regard.
According to Mayo, late last season the Lions didn't show enough determination and had trouble overcoming injuries.
If Gahanna ends up in a similar situation this fall, however, Hardin believes the temperament of the team will create a different result.
"Our expectation is to know that we can win," Hardin said. "These girls have got a little bit of swagger and just have a lot of confidence in themselves. If we can be consistent and patient, we can get there.
"We've got another year of experience and some very talented attacking players. Ashley Gogolin and Kari Weinland are two of the best attacking players in the area, and Maggie Mayo was our leading goal scorer last year. She's very goal-oriented."