The Gahanna Lincoln High School girls basketball team had its most Division I signings during one offseason since Rick Hauser took over as coach before the 2002-03 season when four players confirmed their decisions Nov. 16.
The Lions are hoping that having that much returning talent will help them close the gap with Reynoldsburg in the OCC-Ohio Division. The Raiders, who were a Division I state semifinalist last season, have won the last two league championships without losing a league game.
Last season, Gahanna finished 18-7 overall, won its third district championship under Hauser and went 9-5 in the OCC-Ohio to place third, behind Reynoldsburg (14-0) and Pickerington North (12-2) and ahead of Newark (8-6), Pickerington Central (6-8), Lancaster (5-9), Grove City (2-12) and Groveport (0-14).
Gahanna opened Nov. 23 with a 46-30 win over Toledo Notre Dame Academy in the Gary West Tipoff Classic at Reynoldsburg. It begins league play Friday, Nov. 30, at home against Pickerington Central and travels Saturday, Dec. 1, to Zanesville.
"We had four Division I recruits, and I don't know of any other times that's happened around (central Ohio) lately," Hauser said. "We have four, but Reynoldsburg has that many when you look at them having three players sign (Nov. 18) and they also have a couple juniors. Then you wonder if you're the best team in your own division."
The Lions return eight seniors, including the four Division I recruits in 6-foot-1 post player Zenobia Bess (Illinois State), 6-1 post player Maddison Blackwell (Xavier), 5-6 guard Chrishna Butler (Cleveland State) and 5-8 point guard Quiera Lampkins (Ohio University).
Against Notre Dame Academy, Butler had 17 points and Lampkins scored 10.
Last season, Lampkins averaged 12.8 points and made ThisWeek Super 12, first-team all-league and honorable mention all-district. Butler averaged 8.7 points and was special mention all-league and honorable mention all-district. Blackwell averaged 8.2 points and was second-team all-league and Bess averaged six points and was honorable mention all-league.
The other seniors are Nikki Campbell-Muriente (5-7), Ta'Ven Carruthers (5-10), Kalene Kennedy (5-7) and Reyna Montgomery (5-9).
Montgomery, a guard who has been a key varsity player since she was a freshman and averaged 6.1 points last season, is expected to be sidelined until January with a knee injury. She missed the final three games last season with a concussion.
Campbell-Muriente averaged three points last season.
Juniors Alex Flewellen (5-4), Chandlar Helms (5-8), Trinity Hunter (6-1) and Morgan Ross (5-8) and sophomores Yasmin Norman (5-8) and Sydney Stokes (5-8) are others looking to contribute.
Stokes is the younger sister of Amber Stokes, a 2008 Gahanna graduate who plays for Ohio State.
"We still have a lot of work to do as a team," Lampkins said. "We're still doing what we did in the postseason when (Montgomery) was out. In a sense, we're doing better than people thought we'd do."
Last season, Gahanna was seeded sixth for the district tournament and beat Canal Winchester 74-32, Olentangy Liberty 40-28 and fifth-seeded Dublin Coffman 41-34 to reach its third consecutive district final.
The Lions upset second-seeded Pickerington North 63-46 to win a district title before losing to Northland 53-38 in a regional semifinal.
Gahanna lost to Pickerington North 55-51 and 53-43 and lost to Reynoldsburg 31-27 and 53-50 during the regular season. Its only other OCC-Ohio loss came against Lancaster, 40-39 in the second round of league play.
Gahanna had lost nine consecutive games to Pickerington North before beating the Panthers for a district title.
"We've been trying to get the younger players on the same page with (the returnees)," Butler said. "I feel like the league will be a challenge, but we feel we can stay with (the rest of the league). We had really good matchups both times we played Reynoldsburg last year. It's about who's going to win at the end of the game."