The Gahanna Lincoln High School hockey team knew it would be taking a big step forward in terms of its development as a program by qualifying for the Blue Jackets Cup tournament.
An added bonus was the instant credibility the Lions believe they gained when they achieved that feat after winning just seven games a year ago.
"It"s fun. It was a whole new atmosphere," senior defenseman Collin Smallwood said. "Everyone"s taking us a lot more seriously this year. We"re still growing as a team."
Gahanna finished first (8-6-1-2, 19 points) in the Blue Division of the Capital Hockey Conference to earn the eighth seed for the Blue Jackets Cup. It opened the tournament with an 8-3 loss to top-seeded Olentangy Liberty on Feb. 7.
According to coach J.J. Stallsworth, the Lions played with just nine players because of injuries and illness.
Gahanna is hoping to get freshman forward Jake Chobany, who has been out with a dislocated clavicle, back for its district tournament opener against Watterson at 12:30 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 16, at the OhioHealth Ice Haus.
The winner will face second-seeded Olentangy Orange in a second-round game at 5 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 17, at the Ice Haus.
The Lions beat Watterson 6-3 on Jan. 12 and needed overtime to get by the Eagles 4-3 on Jan. 26. They lost to Orange 5-2 on Dec. 28.
"(Watterson) is pretty solid, and they"ve got the leading scorer in the Blue Division in (Sam Magee with 17 goals)," Stallsworth said.
Against Liberty, goaltender Tyler Klopfer made 48 saves. The Lions and Patriots were tied at 2 late in the first period before Liberty gained control.
Scoring for Gahanna were junior forward Evan Kraus and sophomore forwards Zach Chapman and Skyy Goebel.
Smallwood (broken wrist) and senior forward Casey Jolly (shoulder) were among the players out against Liberty because of injuries.
"We were probably missing six kids, but we should get a couple back (for the Watterson game)," Stallsworth said. "At the beginning of the year one of our goals was to win the Blue Division and we knew if we did that we"d get the eighth seed."
Boys basketball team getting back on track
Since losing the first three games of the 2013 portion of its schedule, the boys basketball team had won eight of nine before playing Newark on Feb. 12.
Most importantly for the Lions is that their roster is back to full strength in time for the coming district tournament.
On Feb. 8 in a 65-47 win over Pickerington North, senior guard Aaron Jackson scored five points in his return after missing the previous four games.
It marked the 200th career victory for coach Tony Staib, who was 167-77 in 10 seasons at Gahanna before Feb. 12.
The Lions were 14-5 overall but already were eliminated from league-title contention before the game against Newark. They close the OCC-Ohio Division schedule Friday, Feb. 15, at Pickerington Central.
"It definitely feels good getting back to normal," senior guard Troy Mundy said. "We"re not even looking into the past. We"re letting the past go behind us and everybody is playing well together. This is the best team I"ve played on, and when everybody plays their role, everybody plays together.
"We"ve had too many distractions this year, but we think this is finally our time."
Gahanna earned the ninth seed for the Division I district tournament and will open the postseason at 7 p.m. Feb. 23 at home against Teays Valley. The winner plays Olentangy or Upper Arlington in the second round at 7 p.m. Feb. 27 at a site to be determined.
Also in Gahanna"s bracket are second-seeded Westerville North and eighth-seeded Reynoldsburg.
Last season, the Lions lost to Liberty 53-50 in a district semifinal to finish 16-7.
"Pickerington North was (Jackson"s) first game back, so we tried to get him back in the flow early," Mundy said. "We shot the ball well and got good looks in the paint.
"Our coaches sat us down and talked to us about everything and just getting our heads straight. We"re mainly just focused on getting ready for the (district) tournament now."
Swim teams advance 7 individuals, 5 relays
The boys and girls swimming and diving teams will compete Saturday, Feb. 16, in the Division I district meet at Ohio State.
The top two placers in each swimming event automatically advance to the state meet Feb. 21-23 at Branin Natatorium in Canton. In addition, 16 at-large state berths will be awarded for each swimming event based on times statewide. The top three boys divers and top four girls divers at district advance to state.
In a sectional Feb. 9 at Thomas Worthington, the boys were seventh (88 points) of 11 teams behind champion Westerville South (216). Junior Jon Chang placed third in the 100-yard backstroke (58.75 seconds).
The girls were fourth (163) of 13 teams behind champion and host Thomas (311). Junior Morgan Belli won the 200 individual medley (2:11.53) and was second in the 100 back (1:00.02). The 200 medley relay of Belli, senior Allison Mason, junior Kirstyn Thomas and freshman Regan Nolan placed third (1:58.15) and the 400 free relay of Belli, Nolan, Thomas and junior Annie Devaney also was third (3:50.01).