The Gahanna Lincoln High School boys volleyball team hopes it finally gets over the hump this season.
The Lions settled for regional runner-up finishes in each of the past three years, including coming agonizingly close last season during a 17-25, 21-25, 25-20, 27-25, 15-9 loss to Hilliard Bradley in a final.
That loss came after Gahanna had defeated the Jaguars twice during the regular season and won the OCC-Capital Division championship.
Gahanna last reached the state tournament in 1991.
Without 10 players who graduated, the Lions now are led by the league's Player of the Year in senior setter Josh Geary, two other regulars and many juniors and seniors who are in key roles for the first time.
"Our whole team was kind of hoping for more last season," Geary said. "We just want to come back and keep winning more matches."
Gahanna opened by losing to Beavercreek 25-21, 25-14 and beating Cuyahoga Falls Walsh Jesuit 25-22, 30-28 on March 30 before losing to Mount Vernon 25-22, 14-25, 25-23, 25-19 on April 2 in its league opener.
The Lions were 5-2 before playing Olentangy in a league match April 9. They defeated league-rival Delaware 25-15, 25-14, 25-13 on April 4 and beat Mason 25-23, 25-15, St. Bernard Roger Bacon 25-23, 25-21 and Cincinnati Sycamore 25-19, 25-23 on April 6.
Gahanna went 20-7 overall last season and 10-0 to win the league ahead of Bradley (8-2), Mount Vernon (6-4), Pickerington North (4-6), Delaware (2-8) and Pickerington Central (0-10). Olentangy has replaced Bradley, which now is competing in the OCC-Ohio.
In addition to the 6-foot-6 Geary, whom 10th-year coach Mike Sage calls "probably one of the most dynamic players I've had," the Lions return senior Austin Washburn (outside hitter) and sophomore Nathan Matthews (middle hitter). Washburn is 6-5 and Matthews is 6-1.
The other seniors are Adam Schoo (outside hitter) and Chase Swickard (right-side hitter).
Juniors Stephen Arrey (middle hitter), Aaron Byas (utility), Matthew Beehler (utility), Korey Comtess (defensive specialist) and Seth Murphy (setter/outside hitter) are other key players.
"We are replacing a lot of seniors from last year," Sage said. "We're young, but we're athletic. We're making beginning-of-the-season type of mistakes, but I'm excited about the season. (Geary, Matthews and Washburn) are going to be our core. Anybody in the region would want those guys."
"If we play the way we can, we can beat anyone," Geary said. "We just have a couple tall guys, but our main strength is probably our offense. If we can work on our passing we'll be able to put some balls down."
Gahanna beat Pickerington Central three times last season, including 25-7, 25-17, 25-11 in the first round of the Division I East Region tournament. The Lions then beat St. Charles 25-17, 25-20, 25-17 in a regional semifinal.
Gahanna defeated Bradley 22-25, 25-23, 22-25, 26-24, 15-5 and 26-24, 25-27, 25-23, 18-25, 15-9 during the regular season but couldn't put away the Jaguars in the tournament match despite leading the fourth game 25-24.
Sage hopes this team can return to that level of success despite its inexperience.
"I think this group, as the season progresses, is going to get better," he said. "It's a challenging (league), but we're looking at repeating and making another trip to the regional final and hopefully getting (past that)."