Knowing that several strong squads resided in other parts of the state, Gahanna Lincoln High School girls cross country coach Ernie Ziegler projected that his regional championship team would finish between fifth and eighth in the Division I state meet Nov. 2 at National Trail Raceway.
The performances of two of the Lions' younger runners helped them meet those expectations.
Freshman Ally Wharton, who was the team's No. 4 runner in the regional Oct. 26 at Pickerington North, turned in a team-best 46th-place finish in 19 minutes, 23.35 seconds. Sophomore Kelsey Thompson followed with a 78th-place finish in 19:45.4 as the Lions were seventh (235 points) of 16 teams behind champion Mason (76).
Gahanna was the highest finisher among four central Ohio programs.
"Ally Wharton and Kelsey Thompson stepped up," Ziegler said. "It was not our best day, but that's what you get at state. Kind of our ultimate goal was to finish in the top four. We also wanted to defend our region, and we were the highest-placing team from our region."
Junior Kelsey Sandlin, who won the individual regional title in 18:47.77, ran 19:51.02 at state to place 86th. She was followed by junior Rylee Tanner (94th, 19:58.25), sophomore Kearstin Turner (112th, 20:15.93), junior Allison Matney (135th, 20:33.6) and freshman Ivy McKee (144th, 21:02.49).
According to Ziegler, Sandlin "just didn't have her best day."
"(It) shows that even the great ones have off days," he said. "I like that she didn't pout, and whenever I was coaching her during the race she tried for her teammates and they were running for her.
"Ally and Kelsey were really the only ones that had really good races. Rylee didn't run terrible and Kearstin ran well."
Wharton didn't begin competing in cross country until eighth grade. "It's my first state race, so I was really nervous," she said. "(One of my teammates) said that when we got here we wanted to do something and not just be happy to get here. We gave it our all."
Football season ends with loss to Tigers
The football team finished with 320 total yards and 20 first downs compared to 12 for host Pickerington Central, but the Lions ended up losing 48-28 in their season finale Nov. 1.
Sophomore quarterback Mason Blancett completed 14 of 31 passes for 171 yards with two touchdowns but was intercepted five times.
Gahanna led 21-17 at halftime before giving up 21 consecutive points.
While Central improved to 7-2 and made the Division I, Region 2 playoffs, the Lions finished 3-7.
Running back Vasean Davis rushed for 81 yards and one touchdown on 16 carries, and running backs Jake Chobany and Tyshon Holden rushed for 36 and 35 yards, respectively.
Boomer Lowe was the top receiver with nine catches for 116 yards and one touchdown, while receiver Augustine Konadu added two catches for 39 yards and one score.
Gahanna averaged 20.3 points during a four-game losing streak to end the season.
The Lions gave up 478 yards to the Tigers, who extended their winning streak in the series to four.
Boys soccer coach optimistic for future
Although the boys soccer team loses nine seniors, including six who received honors in the OCC-Ohio Division this fall, coach Todd Keenan believes there is hope for his program next season.
That optimism is based on a strong sophomore class that features midfielders Chad Barrick and Nas Christoff.
"We started four sophomores (in the district tournament), so that's a great group," Keenan said.
The Lions went 11-2-5 overall and won at least a share of their 10th consecutive league championship. Gahanna went 7-0 in the OCC-Ohio to place ahead of Grove City (5-1-1), Pickerington North (4-1-2), Reynoldsburg (4-3), Lancaster (3-4), Pickerington Central (1-4-2), Groveport (0-5-2) and Newark (0-6-1).
The Lions were the third seed for the Division I district tournament and opened with a 4-0 win over 43rd-seeded Northland on Oct. 19 but lost to 14th-seeded Westerville South 1-0 in overtime in a district semifinal Oct. 23.
Senior goalkeeper Christian Grimme, who posted 12 shutouts, was the OCC-Ohio Player of the Year and a first-team all-district honoree.
Also making first-team all-league were senior midfielders Jacob Johnson and Jaden Lunger. Senior midfielder Tyler Collins and senior defenders Eric Batke and Hayden Pfeifer were second-team all-league.
Barrick made special mention all-league and Christoff was honorable mention.
Other key returnees should include juniors Alexas Alatsis (defender), Tim Geary (defender), Brad Leonard (midfielder) and Michael Metz (forward) and sophomores Jace Lukascko (midfielder) and Cole Popelas (midfielder).
"(The seniors) really invested in the younger guys in the program and represented the school with class," Keenan said.
Much of girls soccer team should return
A strong freshman class has the girls soccer team thinking positively about the future after it went 5-10-2 under first-year coach Natasha Ballard.
Among the freshmen, midfielder Alison Smitley made first-team all-league, defender Morgan Marquez was special mention all-league and Annie Alkhimovitch started at goalkeeper.
Also eligible to return are sophomore forward Remi Eades, who was second-team all-league, and junior forward Jenna Holder, who scored in a 2-1 overtime loss to Worthington Kilbourne in the Lions' Division I district tournament opener Oct. 17.
"I'm so excited for next season," Ballard said. "Something I told (the seniors) is that they'd never be forgotten because they were the key ingredient of starting (the program) off on the right foot.
"Freshman Alison Smitley has proven a lot this year and we'll also have Remi Eades back and Morgan Marquez on defense. I couldn't have asked for a better team and group of girls this year."
Gahanna placed fourth (4-2-1) in the OCC-Ohio behind Pickerington North (7-0), Grove City and Pickerington Central (5-2) and ahead of Reynoldsburg (3-3-1), Lancaster (2-5), Newark (1-6) and Groveport (0-7).
Leading the senior class were midfielder Mary Kate Munz, who was first-team all-league, and defender Sara Richards, who was honorable mention all-league.