Balance to be key for Lions
The Gahanna Lincoln High School girls tennis team expects to go as far as its depth can carry it this fall.
According to coach Chris Schwinnen, as many as 11 players could see action and his doubles pairings could change at times because of the number of talented players in the program.
The Lions opened Aug. 14 against Big Walnut in the first round of the Division I Ohio Tennis Coaches Association team tournament.
"As usual, my last two spots have girls fighting for them," Schwinnen said. "There's not much difference between my No. 12 player and my No. 5 and there's not a lot of difference between my doubles players and my third singles (player)."
Senior Emily Merickel was expected to start the season at first singles. Last season, she finished second at second singles in the OCC-Ohio Division tournament.
Senior Rachel Zink, who teamed with Merickel to advance to the Division I district tournament in doubles two years ago, has returned after missing last season with a knee injury. She and senior Riley Crowe, who has lettered the past two seasons, are expected to be regulars at singles.
Juniors Elizabeth Sullivan and Kathryn Lee are other returnees and both should see playing time at doubles. Lee placed third at third singles in the OCC-Ohio tournament a year ago.
Last season, Merickel and Sullivan placed fourth in the Division I sectional tournament at Upper Arlington to advance to the district tournament at Hilliard Davidson, where they lost in the first round.
Others looking to contribute are juniors Jessica Shapeka and Claire Slater.
"We've all played together for a really long time and I think our chemistry is good," Merickel said. "I think we could definitely go deep into the OCC. I don't know if we can beat Pickerington (Central), but our goal is to definitely finish in the top two or three. We're trying to win as many matches as we can. There are a lot of girls on our team who are close to each other talent-wise."
Gahanna lost six players from a year ago to graduation, including Kiara Shaw, who placed third in the league tournament at first singles, and Cara Monico and Anna McCloud, who finished third at second doubles in the league.
The Lions scored 15 points in the OCC-Ohio tournament last season to finish behind Pickerington Central (35) and host Reynoldsburg (16) and finished second in the overall league standings with 45 points and a 5-2 record behind Central (77, 7-0).
In recent years, the OCC-Ohio championship was decided by the combined number of points each team scored in league dual matches and the league tournament. This fall, the title will be determined solely by dual records.
The champions of the four OCC divisions will compete in a tournament for the overall OCC team title, with the second-place teams in each league, the third-place teams, etc., competing in separate tournaments.
"Obviously, our main goal is to try to win the OCC," Schwinnen said. "The hardest thing is going through Pickerington Central. They've got Nos. 1, 2 and 3 players that not many teams in the area can compete with."