On Dec. 27 and 28, the Gahanna Lincoln High School girls basketball team will attempt to win its third consecutive Gahanna Cage Classic championship.
Eastmoor Academy plays New Albany at 6 p.m. Dec. 27 in the opening game of the tournament and Gahanna faces DeSales in the second game that day.
On Dec. 28, the consolation game will be played at 6 p.m., followed by the championship game.
Last season, the Lions beat DeSales 62-35 and New Albany 39-34 to win the title.
Gahanna defeated New Albany 58-44 for the Cage Classic title in 2011 after losing the 2010 championship to Marion Harding 57-42.
Entering games of Dec. 18, the Lions were 5-1 before playing Reynoldsburg and New Albany was 4-2 before facing Delaware. Eastmoor is 6-2 and DeSales is 4-1.
Eastmoor has replaced Hilliard Davidson in this year's field.
While Gahanna has four Division I signees in Zenobia Bess (Illinois State), Maddison Blackwell (Xavier), Chrishna Butler (Cleveland State) and Quiera Lampkins (Ohio University), New Albany senior Hannah Scipio has signed with Akron. Scipio has been seeing limited action while recovering from a left knee injury.
Eastmoor is led by senior Tajanee' Wells, who was first-team all-district in Division II last season.
DeSales won a Division II district title last season and is led by senior guard Miranda Johnson.
"Eastmoor's got a couple nice freshmen and they're real athletic," coach Rick Hauser said. "They play a real competitive schedule with (defending Division III state champion) Africentric on it, so I think Eastmoor can compete in this."
Gahanna took a 3-0 OCC-Ohio mark into its game against Reynoldsburg after beating Newark 56-53 on Dec. 14. Butler scored 18 points, Lampkins had 11 and Blackwell added eight.
According to Hauser, senior guard Reyna Montgomery should be available for the first time this season in early January as she recovers from a knee injury. She has been a key player since her freshman season.
In her absence, Blackwell has been seeing increased action as a ball-handler along with freshman Sydney Stokes.
"I'll be kind of excited to get (Montgomery) back," Hauser said.
"We need a third scorer. ... We've been using Sydney Stokes a lot and using Nikki Campbell-Muriente as our sixth person. She's played real well coming off the bench. A pleasant surprise is that Chrishna's been shooting the ball real well."
Balanced scoring keys boys squad
The boys basketball team opened by reaching triple digits for the first time since the 2009-10 season when it beat Mifflin 102-59 on Dec. 1.
Its start during a 68-57 victory Dec. 14 at Newark, however, might have been an even bigger confidence booster.
The Lions, who made five 3-pointers during a 19-5 opening quarter against the Wildcats, believe there are big things in store for their offense because of their scoring options.
Gahanna last scored more than 100 when it beat Watkins Memorial 106-27 in the second round of the Division I district tournament in 2010.
"Newark always does a good job of taking away your top scoring threat, but we've got a deep team and multiple guys that can score," coach Tony Staib said. "We're a good shooting team with multiple guys that can shoot the 3. There's a long way to go, but any time you can go on the road and get a win at Newark, it's big. It's always a physical game when you play Newark."
Junior Javon Bess averaged a team-best 19.7 points through his first four games after transferring from Pickerington Central during the offseason.
Senior Aaron Jackson, who was the team's top scorer a year ago, was averaging 12.2 points and senior Troy Mundy was averaging 11.5 through four games.
Junior Manny Powell, who has taken over at point guard, scored a career-high 19 points against Newark. Senior Ronnie Stokes Jr. and Powell both made two 3s and Bess hit one in the opening quarter.
Last season, Gahanna lost to Newark 44-40 and 67-61.
"It's nice when your point guard plays well, and Manny did that (against Newark)," Staib said.
"We started out slow with our first three games," Powell said. "We won, but we could have done better. (The Newark game) was definitely a breakout game. We've been coming out slow and sluggish.
"I feel good about how I can try to help my team. As the point guard, my job is just really to run the team and if I don't go, my team doesn't go."