The Gahanna Lincoln High School softball team is trying to change its mentality in at least one aspect this spring.

The Gahanna Lincoln High School softball team is trying to change its mentality in at least one aspect this spring.

Led by a pair of talented seniors and a strong junior class a year ago, the Lions struggled with the weight of expectations during the regular season before recovering to earn a Division I state runner-up finish.

Now with another experienced lineup, Gahanna is hoping to remain one of central Ohio's top teams without enduring some of the same psychological struggles as it did during the regular season a year ago.

The Lions open Friday, March 30, against visiting Grafton Midview and begin OCC-Ohio Division play Monday, April 2, at Newark.

"What really worries me is that these returning players will put so much pressure on themselves that they'll set themselves up for failure," 12th-year coach Jim Campolo said. "We should have never had 10 losses (in the regular season), but that's the problem when you put too high of expectations on yourself."

Several key players are back from last season, when the Lions finished 20-11 overall.

Seniors Tanya Busby (2B), Montana Fishel (CF), Becca Gavin (C), Sarah Seidel (SS) and Emily Vinsel (1B) and junior Olivia Schumacher (RF) all are returning regular starters. Junior Sara Nelson was the designated player most of last season and is among the candidates to start at third base.

Senior Morgan Sheets, who started in left field last season, is out with a knee injury and might not be back until May.

Competing at third base along with Nelson are juniors T'awnna Morris and Rachel Cox and freshman Brittany Oldaker.

Also battling for playing time are senior Shaina Patrick (LF) and sophomores Sarah Greulich (utility player), Shelby Lowe (OF) and Rachel Zink (OF).

The biggest hole entering the season is at pitcher, where several players are vying to replace 2011 graduate Brandis Fishel. Junior Emmalee Harding and sophomore Alex Jander are the leading candidates to see extensive innings in the circle, while Nelson and Vinsel are other options.

Busby hit better than .500 last season and scored 29 runs. Montana Fishel batted leadoff and Busby hit second, and both are likely to remain in those spots.

"I'm excited for the season," Montana Fishel said. "We only have a few spots on the field that we're iffy about right now, and I think there will be people to step up in those positions. We're keeping the intensity up and I think we all get along well."

The Lions, who were regional runners-up in 2010, lost eight of their final 10 regular-season games last year.

Seeded second in the district tournament, Gahanna defeated Dublin Scioto 11-0 in five innings, Upper Arlington 10-0 in five innings and eighth-seeded Delaware 7-6 to win a district title. The Lions then beat Copley 7-6 and Central Crossing 4-3 at the regional level and defeated West Chester Lakota West 9-6 in a state semifinal before falling to North Canton Hoover 4-2 in the state final at Firestone Stadium in Akron.

Brandis Fishel, who now plays for Ohio Dominican University, went 19-8 with 126 strikeouts last season and was one of the Lions' top hitters while batting cleanup. Another 2011 graduate, Tiyona Marshall, now plays for Miami University after hitting .475 with 29 RBI and 31 runs and making first-team all-state as the starting third baseman.

Gahanna went 11-3 in the OCC-Ohio last year to place second, behind Groveport (13-1) and ahead of Pickerington Central (10-4), Grove City (8-6), Pickerington North (6-8), Lancaster (4-10), Newark (4-10) and Reynoldsburg (0-14).

"It's going to come down to if our pitching is sound," Campolo said. "I say it every year, but if we're not playing the toughest schedule in the state, it's one of the toughest. We've got six people that can flat-out fly. We have the ability to be very, very good, but again it's going to come down to someone in the circle."