Having back-to-back large senior classes benefited the Gahanna Lincoln High School girls volleyball team the past two seasons.
After losing seven seniors each of the past two seasons, the Lions will try to build on back-to-back Division I district runner-up finishes with a six-member senior class.
According to second-year coach Alisa Franklin, several underclassmen are expected to contribute as well.
Gahanna opened by beating Westerville South 25-10, 25-22, 29-27 on Aug. 19 and began OCC-Ohio Division action Aug. 21 by beating Groveport 24-26, 25-15, 25-16, 25-13.
The Lions also lost to Olentangy Liberty 25-22, 19-25, 25-16 on Aug. 23.
"We always preach that it's 12 puzzle pieces," Franklin said. "If we can be consistent, we can be pretty well off. The question is: Can we put them in the right places?"
One factor on the Lions' side coming off a 16-10 season in which they finished fourth (8-6) in the OCC-Ohio behind champion Grove City (14-0) is that they have several tall players.
Senior Brittany Reynolds (outside hitter) and junior Diana Shamroski (middle hitter) both are 6-foot, senior Ciara Williams (middle hitter) is 5-11 and senior Madison Mundy (right-side hitter) and sophomore Alexis Young (outside hitter) both are 5-10.
Also looking to contribute on the attack are senior Alaina Monroe (right-side hitter) and sophomores Dasha Bruyako (right-side hitter) and Aliya Matthews (middle hitter).
Senior Melissa Martin and freshman Sophia Easton are at setter, with senior Taylor McIlwain and junior Mackenzie Swetland expected to be defensive specialists.
"I like the fact that we're tall and have good athleticism," Franklin said. "We want to be consistent inside our system."
Girls runners have high expectations
The girls cross country team won its third consecutive OCC-Ohio championship and made its first state-meet appearance after winning its first regional title a year ago.
More memorable finishes could be in store this fall for a Lions team that returns five of its top seven runners.
Gahanna opened Aug. 23 by scoring 57 points to win the eight-team Mount Vernon Kiwanis Invitational.
"We've got a veteran group, and our expectations are very high," coach Ernie Ziegler said. "We're really excited about our team."
The top returnee is senior Kelsey Sandlin, who won the league title in 19 minutes, 31.6 seconds and took second in the Division I, district 2 meet in 18:56.35.
She then captured the regional championship in 18:47.77.
Sophomore Ally Wharton was 46th (19:23.35) at state to lead Gahanna, which placed seventh (235) of 16 teams behind champion Mason (76).
Also back after competing at state in addition to Wharton and Sandlin are seniors Allison Matney and Rylee Tanner and junior Kearstin Turner.
Freshman Maddie Larick was among the team's top runners during the preseason.
Others looking to contribute are seniors Courtney Goddard and Sami Shaw and sophomore Kiarra Santiago.
Kelsey Thompson, who finished 78th (19:45.4) for the team's second-best finish at state, passed away Nov. 18, just 16 days after the state meet.
Sophomore Ivy McKee, who was the Lions' No. 7 runner at state, is not back with the team.
"We want to improve on our finish at state last year," Ziegler said. "They feel like they're good enough to defend the regional (title)."
Boys return trio of key runners
With three of its top runners back from a team that made it to the regional meet for the first time since 2008, boys cross country coach Ryan Beck is hoping his squad can build on last season.
Gahanna opened Aug. 23 by placing fourth (80) in the seven-team Mount Vernon Kiwanis Invitational behind champion Massillon Jackson (38).
"We're a really young team," Beck said. "We've only got a few seniors, but we've got 17 freshmen and they've been working really hard. Even with all of the freshmen, we could be faster than we were last year."
Senior Matt Ridinger, junior Aaron Schaller and sophomore Andrew Ray are the top returnees. At regional a year ago, Schaller placed 43rd (17:04.76), Ridinger was 54th (17:15.11) and Ray placed 70th (17:30.97).
Other seniors are Duke Durant, J.P Salopek and Christian Wengerter.
Looking to take on key roles are freshmen Jason Mehalic and Connor Ryan. They were among the team's top runners in the preseason.
Also hoping to contribute are sophomore Taylor Belcastro and freshmen Oliver Cope and Eric Johnson.
The Lions lost Chris Blakely, John Fife and Connor Roll to graduation after they were the team's fifth through seventh runners, respectively, at regional.
Keiffer Whiteman, a senior who was 55th (17:15.82) at regional, is not back with the team.
Gahanna's finish at regional -- 10th (271) of 16 teams behind champion Dublin Jerome (66) -- was its best at that level since it also placed 10th in 2006. The Lions last were higher than that in 2004 when they finished third.
"(Schaller and Ridinger) have been running stride for stride in practice and Andrew Ray is a sophomore who's been looking better and better every day," Beck said.
Aug. 23 -- Mount Vernon Kiwanis Invitational
Aug. 30 -- Asics Hot Summer Bash at Hilliard Davidson
Sept. 6 -- Mason Invitational
Sept. 20 -- Tiger Invitational at Pickerington Central
Sept. 27 -- Erin Nance Fall Distance Classic at London Country Club
Oct. 4 -- Eisenhart Invitational at Thomas Worthington
Oct. 11 -- OCC-Ohio meet at TBA
Aug. 19 -- vs. Westerville South
*Aug. 21 -- vs. Groveport
Aug. 23 -- at Olentangy Liberty
*Aug. 26 -- at Newark
*Aug. 27 -- at Reynoldsburg
*Sept. 2 -- vs. Lancaster
*Sept. 4 -- at Grove City
Sept. 6 -- at Dublin Scioto
*Sept. 9 -- at Pickerington North
*Sept. 11 -- vs. Pickerington Central
Sept. 13 -- at Hilliard Bradley
*Sept. 16 -- at Groveport
*Sept. 18 -- vs. Newark
*Sept. 23 -- vs. Reynoldsburg
*Sept. 30 -- at Lancaster
*Oct. 2 -- vs. Grove City
*Oct. 7 -- vs. Pickerington North
*Oct. 9 -- at Pickerington Central