With 2015 graduates Skyy Goebbel and Colby Hanna and senior Jared Chobany among those playing major roles, the Gahanna Lincoln High School hockey team has posted five consecutive winning seasons.
That trio also had a big impact on the career of another senior, Evan Kokales.
After playing hockey for five years at the club level, Kokales elected to focus solely on soccer as an eighth-grader at Gahanna Middle School East as well as during his freshman year at Gahanna.
Goebbel, Hanna and Chobany all helped persuade Kokales to return to hockey, and he's glad he did.
"I wish I would have never stopped," Kokales said. "I'd probably be better than I am now because two years (away from the sport) definitely did something.
"We're just looking forward to trying to do better the next game and cherish every moment. It's the last time most of (the seniors) will be playing competitive hockey again."
Kokales, who is one of six seniors in the program, has been a key defenseman for a Lions team that earned a season sweep of Springboro (3-1 on Jan. 28 and 2-0 on Feb. 4) in Capital Hockey Conference play to clinch a berth in the Blue Jackets Cup championship bracket.
Gahanna was seeded seventh and lost to second-seeded Olentangy Liberty 9-0 on Feb. 9 in the first round to fall to 16-12-3.
At 5:15 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 19, the seventh-seeded Lions will play sixth-seeded Olentangy Orange in the second round of the district tournament at OhioHealth Ice Haus. The winner plays third-seeded Upper Arlington, 11th-seeded Dublin Coffman or 23rd-seeded Mason on Feb. 25.
According to Kokales, it's been an enjoyable winter after the boys soccer team struggled to a 3-14 finish as he led a six-member senior class last fall.
"At the beginning of the season we started out (9-0-3), which was so much nicer (than soccer)," Kokales said. "Soccer was a lot of fun, but it's much different when you're winning some games. (The soccer team has) got some more returning players to help them bounce back on the map."
Kokales, who is considering playing club soccer in college, has helped lead a defensive unit that also includes senior Jacob Nemec and freshman Mason Jolly. Senior defenseman Justen Shotts, who was third on the team in plus-minus rating heading into the CBJ Cup, is no longer with the team.
Kokales has one goal and 10 assists, and is plus-nine.
"He's definitely one of our defensive leaders," coach J.J. Stallsworth said. "We've been running two defensive lines and he plays one of the power-play lines and one of the penalty-kill lines.
"We've been playing well the last three or four weeks. They needed a win to get in (over Springboro on Feb. 4) and it was like the perfect storm. (Making the CBJ Cup) was definitely a goal."
Kokales, who has two younger brothers who play sports as well as an older sister, has tried to listen to advice from his father, Jeremy Kokales, about playing defense.
"Basically he says either you're not going to let the person or the puck go by you, but if it's one or the other, maybe you let the person go by you but not the puck," Kokales said. "I'm a decent backwards skater and my checking is decent. Honestly, our defense has been pretty consistent. No one really stands out (above his teammates)."
Girls basketball team
to open postseason
The girls basketball team heads into the Division I district tournament on a four-game winning streak after closing the regular season with a 41-37 victory over Lancaster on Feb. 10.
The Lions are seeded 11th and will open the postseason at 1 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 18, at home against 28th-seeded Mifflin.
The winner plays host to 33rd-seeded Delaware on Feb. 24 in a second-round matchup.
Gahanna is 15-7 overall and finished third (6-4) in the OCC-Ohio Division behind Pickerington Central (10-0) and Reynoldsburg (8-2) despite playing the first 13 games without senior post player Amanda Fire and with freshman guards Edyn Battle and Morgan Darnell serving as key players all season.
Among the non-league teams the Lions lost to were Westerville North and Watterson, which are seeded seventh and fifth, respectively, for the district tournament.
"We've got seven losses, but four of them are in our league to two of the best teams in the area," coach Betsy Morrison said. "Three of those losses came in one week (from Jan. 17-21). There's a lot of talent in our program."
on to district meet
The boys and girls swimming and diving teams are getting ready to compete in the Division I district meet at Ohio State.
The boys diving competition will be held Friday, Feb. 17, and boys and girls swimming and girls diving are scheduled for Saturday, Feb. 18. The top two swimmers in each event, the top four boys divers and the top five girls divers, along with at-large qualifiers in swimming events, advance to the state meet Feb. 23-25 at Branin Natatorium in Canton.
On Feb. 11 at Thomas Worthington, the girls placed fourth (165.5) in a 14-team sectional behind champion New Albany (323) and the boys were fourth (155) of 12 teams behind champion New Albany (225).
Ally Wharton was first in the 100-yard breaststroke (1 minute, 6.11 seconds) and the 200 individual medley (2:09.43) to lead the girls team, and the 200 medley relay was second (1:51.03).
For the boys squad, Major Belli won the 50 freestyle (22.06).
The girls and boys bowling teams are off until their respective sectional tournaments Feb. 24 and Feb. 25 at Sawmill Lanes.
The girls team, which went 18-0 overall, 14-0 in the Central Ohio High School Bowling Conference-North Division and 5-0 in the OCC-Central, earned a runner-up finish (3,039) in the COHSBC roll-off tournament Feb. 11 at Capri Lanes behind Briggs (3,301).
The boys went 12-7 overall, 9-6 in the COHSBC-North and 3-3 in the OCC-Central.
Boys basketball team
looks to continue run
Since losing to Pickerington North 58-43 on Feb. 3, the boys basketball team has won three in a row, including its last two in the OCC-Ohio.
The Lions are 13-8 overall and 3-6 in the league heading into their regular-season finale Friday, Feb. 17, at Pickerington Central. Gahanna lost the first-round matchup 65-49 on Jan. 20.
Five of the six teams in the OCC-Ohio have winning records, and the last-place team, Lancaster, led 21-8 at the end of the first quarter against the Lions but couldn't hold the lead and lost 61-51 on Feb. 10 to slip to 7-13 overall and 0-9 in the league.
Elijah Thomas made three 3-pointers and scored 15 points to lead Gahanna against the Gales.
The Lions are seeded 13th for the Division I district tournament and will open Feb. 25 at home against 35th-seeded Mount Vernon.
Wrestlers to close
On Thursday, Feb. 16, the wrestling team completes its regular-season schedule with an OCC-Ohio dual at home against Grove City.
The Lions lost to Pickerington Central 47-27 on Feb. 9 to fall to 2-2 in the league.
They open the postseason Feb. 25 with a Division I sectional at Watkins Memorial.