Coming off its first league championship, the Gahanna Lincoln High School girls cross country team is doing its best not to think about the past.

Coming off its first league championship, the Gahanna Lincoln High School girls cross country team is doing its best not to think about the past.

The Lions have returned three of their top five runners from a year ago when they scored 49 points to win the OCC-Ohio Division meet, finishing ahead of Pickerington North (51), Lancaster (81), Pickerington Central (89), Reynoldsburg (127), Grove City (153), Newark (191) and Groveport (212).

With only two seniors expected to be key runners this season, eighth-year coach Ernie Ziegler believes his team's future is bright as long as it doesn't rest on its laurels.

"Our mindset is 2011 is 2011 and this is a brand new season," he said. "We've got to keep looking forward."

The Lions opened by placing third (63) in the eight-team Mount Vernon Kiwanis Invitational on Aug. 25 behind Upper Arlington (33) and Teays Valley (57). The boys and girls teams next compete Saturday, Sept. 1, in the Westerville Classic at Westerville North.

At Mount Vernon, sophomore Kelsey Sandlin was runner-up in 20 minutes, 49.9 seconds. Freshman Kelsey Thompson (ninth, 21:32.5), sophomore Rylee Tanner (15th, 22:03.1), senior Katie Baker (18th, 22:42.6), sophomore Allison Mattney (21st, 23:00.9), senior Wesley Thompson (22nd, 23:02.2) and freshman Kearstin Turner (24th, 23:05.6) also competed.

Others looking to contribute are senior Frankie Bowsher, juniors Rachel Rozler and Alexa Uber, sophomores Courtney Goddard and Abby Zaino and freshman Allie Hollohan.

Last season in the league meet, Heather Kincaid led the Lions by placing fourth (20:38.1). Tanner (sixth, 20:52.8) was next, followed by Sandlin (ninth, 21:10.9), 2012 graduate Colleen Hall (10th, 21:14.7) and Wesley Thompson (20th, 22:35.2). Kincaid did not return for her sophomore season.

Gahanna placed third (102) in the 12-team Division I, district 2 meet at Watkins Memorial behind Dublin Scioto (29) and Olentangy Liberty (80) as the top five teams advanced to regional. The Lions then finished ninth (268) in the 16-team regional at Pickerington North behind champion Hilliard Davidson (74) as the top four teams and top 16 individuals advanced to state at National Trail Raceway.

Tanner led the Lions at regional, finishing 18th (20:08.94).

"We've got a young team, but we've also got a veteran squad," Ziegler said. "I think they're only going to get better as the season progresses."

Boys runners also expecting big year

The boys cross country team also opened with a third-place finish in the eight-team Mount Vernon Kiwanis Invitational, scoring 96 points to finish behind Olentangy (34) and UA (92).

Sophomore Matt Ridinger paced the Lions, finishing fourth in 17:39.5. Junior Chris Blakely (18th, 18:16.9) was next, followed by freshman Aaron Schaller (21st, 18:23.5), senior Trent Champlin (24th, 18:27.9), sophomore Christian Wengerte (29th, 18:37), senior Graeme Gill (31st, 18:43.8) and junior Konnor Roll (33rd, 18:46.3).

Others looking to contribute are senior Joe Scott, juniors Ross Candor, Jonathan Chang and John Fife, sophomore Kieffer Whiteman and freshman Bryce Redmond.

"We're kind of a young team, and I'm real pleased with the way we're jelling," said coach Larry Schwade, who is in his 25th season leading the program. "A lot of our kids have improved."

Last season, the Lions finished fifth (109) in the OCC-Ohio meet, behind Pickerington North (58), Reynoldsburg (64), Lancaster (71) and Newark (105) and ahead of Pickerington Central (113), Grove City (187) and Groveport (208).

Jason McDonald, a 2012 graduate, had the Lions' top finish in the league meet, placing fifth (16:57.5). Champlin (18th, 17:50.2) was next, followed by 2012 graduate Ben Linnabary (25th, 18:06.3), Whiteman (32nd, 18:28), Blakely (33rd, 18:28.9), Ridinger (36th, 18:43.5) and Gill (40th, 18:49.3).

In the 13-team Division I, district 1 meet last year at Watkins Memorial, Gahanna placed sixth (139) behind champion Davidson (42) as the top five teams advanced to regional. Pickerington Central (124) secured the final regional-qualifying spot.

McDonald placed 16th (17:16.78) and Champlin finished 19th (17:21.94) as the top 20 individuals advanced to regional. At regional, McDonald finished 38th (17:17.54) and Champlin came in 77th (17:53.44) as the top 16 advanced to state.

Volleyball team has height, experience

One thing Scot Holmes fondly remembers about his first season as girls volleyball coach in 2006 was how much height he had to work with.

With three players taller than 6-foot, this team reminds Holmes of that one.

Gahanna also has seven senior returnees from a year ago, when the Lions finished 14-11 overall, representing a four-win improvement from 2010.

"We have eight returning letterwinners, and they're all starters from last year," said Holmes, whose team opened Aug. 25, defeating Liberty 25-15, 25-15 and Westerville Central 25-18, 25-17. "We haven't really skipped a beat."

Stacie Baumann (right-side hitter/setter), Beth Coccia (defensive specialist), Tayla Means (middle hitter), Lindsay McIlwain (right-side hitter), Casey Mers (defensive specialist), Becca Scowden (outside hitter) and Kelly Shannon (middle hitter) comprise the senior class.

Also on the roster are juniors Amy Bott (utility player), Aleese Butler (middle hitter), Kailyn McComb (outside hitter), Katy Noel (defensive specialist) and Morgan Wrona (right-side hitter).

Butler is 6-2 and Means and Shannon are 6-1. McComb and Scowden are 5-10.

Shannon was first-team all-district in Division I and second-team all-OCC-Ohio last season and Baumann was second-team all-district and honorable mention all-league.

Last season, Gahanna went 9-5 in the OCC-Ohio to tie Grove City for third, behind Pickerington North (14-0) and Newark (12-2) and ahead of Lancaster (6-8), Pickerington Central (4-10), Groveport (1-13) and Reynoldsburg (1-13).

The Lions beat New Albany 25-17, 17-25, 23-25, 25-19, 15-6 and Olentangy Orange 25-15, 25-23, 25-16 to reach a district semifinal, where they fell to top-seeded Pickerington North 25-19, 25-8, 25-14.

Ashley Koons, Morgan Sheets and Emily Watson were key players lost to graduation.

"Right now, we've got a good balance of offense and defense," Holmes said. "We're definitely a fundamentally sound team."