Moments after his team lost 31-7 on Sept. 13 at Upper Arlington, Gahanna Lincoln High School football coach John Snoad told his players to ignore anything negative spoken about the program over the coming days.
Determining how to move forward emotionally is just one of the challenges the Lions are facing as they strive to bounce back from a 0-3 start.
Gahanna opens OCC-Ohio Division play Friday, Sept. 20, at Groveport.
"The family doesn't mean anything more than it does right now," Snoad said as his players kneeled down to listen at UA's Marv Moorehead Stadium.
After defensive struggles doomed the Lions in losses to Huber Heights Wayne (62-28 on Aug. 30) and Fairfield (35-24 on Sept. 6), they stayed within striking distance against UA largely because of their defense.
Gahanna held Golden Bears quarterback Kyle Kaparos to just 3-for-11 passing for 56 yards. UA senior running back Chris Frey, a Michigan State recruit at linebacker, rushed for 184 yards and three touchdowns, but 82 yards came on a touchdown run with 3 minutes, 34 seconds remaining.
The Bears intercepted Gahanna junior quarterback Ronald Robinson three times and limited the Lions to 164 total yards.
"We can't get down," Snoad said. "We have to stay focused and positive and get ready for OCC play. We battle. We fight. Those are not issues. It's just about executing right now."
Another team that has struggled on offensive is Groveport, which also is 0-3.
The Cruisers, who are led by quarterback Austin Newman, running back Mecca Swain and wide receiver Markell Davis, finished with 143 yards of offense, including just 28 passing, in a 7-0 loss to Licking Heights on Sept. 13.
Groveport opened with a 48-20 loss to Westerville South on Aug. 30 and struggled to move the ball in a 28-6 loss to Walnut Ridge on Sept. 6.
Seniors Emile Camm (DB), Adam Davis (DL) and Victor Spencer (LB) and sophomore Jonathan Cooper (DL) have led the Gahanna defense.
"These are things that can be overcome," Snoad said. "We keep talking about how you've got to tilt the field (offensively) and then we stall."
Sandlin leading girls cross country team
With junior Kelsey Sandlin leading the way, the girls cross country team has more than stayed afloat early on despite being without one of its top runners.
Junior Rylee Tanner, who has missed time with a stress fracture, is expected to be a key contributor after helping the Lions win a second consecutive OCC-Ohio title a year ago.
On Aug. 31 in the seven-team Westerville Classic at Westerville North, Sandlin was second in 19 minutes, 45.36 seconds as Gahanna scored 31 points to win the title.
Other key contributors have been senior Rachel Rozler, junior Allison Matney, sophomore Kelsey Thompson and freshmen Ivy McKee and Ally Wharton.
On Sept. 14 in the 16-team large-school race of the Central Ohio Invitational at Three Creeks Metro Park, Gahanna was second (59) behind Upper Arlington (35) as Sandlin was second (18:27.57).
"(Sandlin) has definitely been our pace-setter," coach Ernie Ziegler said. "She's run very well, but I think there's even room for her to improve.
"I don't feel like we've actually raced. We're relying on talent and I don't feel like we've developed a killer instinct yet. When we get out and compete for 3.1 miles, the sky's the limit."
Boys runners coming together
The boys cross country team also is looking for better health as it enters the second half of the regular season.
Junior Matt Ridinger has been out with an injury and senior Chris Blakely has been competing despite a nagging injury, according to coach Ryan Beck.
Sophomore Aaron Schaller was Gahanna's No. 1 runner in the eight-team Westerville Classic, and he placed 10th (17:51.19) to help his team finish third (82) behind Toledo St. Francis (31) and host Westerville North (33).
Other key contributors have been seniors Jonathan Chang, John Fife, Forrest Fluharty and Connor Roll, junior Keiffer Whiteman and freshman Andrew Ray.
Gahanna was fourth (122) in the 14-team large-school race of the Central Ohio Invitational behind champion Dublin Coffman (70).
"We've had a lot of guys working together and I think we're going to continue to push each other," Beck said. "Our pack probably needs to drop about 30 seconds. We've had injuries with some important runners and some of the guys that have come up from the (junior varsity) have run well. I'd like us to improve, but I think we'll get there."
Girls volleyball team 'fine-tuning'
The girls volleyball team was 4-6 overall and 3-3 in the OCC-Ohio before playing Pickerington Central on Sept. 17.
On Sept. 12 in a 31-29, 25-17, 16-25, 20-25, 18-16 loss to visiting Pickerington North, Gahanna raised more than $2,000 for breast cancer research, according to coach Alisa Franklin.
"We really like where we're going right now," Franklin said. "Now it's about fine-tuning and making sure the system stays together. I think it's more of them just being disciplined, knowing where their position is and allowing the other players to play their role. The example we gave them was of an assembly line: If someone falls apart then the line falls apart."
Senior Amy Bott and junior Melissa Martin, both setters in Gahanna's 6-2 offense, have been among the standouts, according to Franklin. Others who have impressed include junior outside hitter Alaina Monroe and senior outside hitter Morgan Wrona.
Bott has been the team's top server and senior middle hitter Aleese Butler has been among the top hitters.