Winners of five OCC-Ohio Division titles in six seasons and a defending Division I district and regional champion, the Gahanna Lincoln High School girls cross country team knows it's considered one of the area's best squads.

That's fine with the Lions, according to 13th-year coach Ernie Ziegler, whose team returns its top five runners and nine of its top 12 from a year ago.

"As a collective group, we're not ducking expectations," Ziegler said. "They've talked about winning OCC, winning district and regional and making it back to state. They want to know if they can shine on the big stage. We're not shying away from it. I think it'll be a fun year."

Gahanna opened Aug. 19 in the OHSAA Preseason Invitational at National Trail Raceway by placing third (187) of 24 teams behind Centerville (52) and Hilliard Davidson (108). Senior Claire Steigerwald led with a fifth-place finish (18 minutes, 39 seconds), followed by junior Sara Buckner (45th, 20:18.9), sophomore Natalie Clay (46th, 20:19.3), senior Maddie Larick (54th, 20:25.3) and freshman Elise Wunderlin (58th, 20:27.1).

Other key runners are juniors Areli Ramos-Ochoa, Ari Redmond and Hannah Schlegel and sophomores Riley Dickson and Tara Shope.

The only other senior in the program is Lauren Starkey.

"It's a veteran team," Ziegler said. "I felt like this summer they didn't train maybe as hard as they could, but (in the opening meet) they showed they're a tough-minded group."

Depth is strength
for boys runners

After winning league and district championships in the same season for the first time since 1991, the boys cross country team might end up with a tighter and larger pack than it had a year ago.

Gahanna missed advancing to the Division I state meet by just two points and one spot as it finished sixth at regional last season.

"We're really deep, the deepest we've ever been," fifth-year coach Ryan Beck said. "I'm not sure how fast we are yet. As a team, we've talked about being better than last year. Last year the culture clicked and we started to race for each other rather than just race for time. I think the potential is there to be better than last season."

In the OHSAA Preseason Invitational, the Lions were eighth (298) of 30 teams behind champion Davidson (99) as senior Jason Mehalic took 14th (16:26.9).

Sophomore Riley Jackson, freshman Steffano Molina and seniors Tyler Story and Oliver Cope also are off to strong starts.

Other key runners are seniors Donovan Cook, Richard Duffala and Connor Ryan, juniors Evan Pfeifer and Mitchell Webb, sophomore Ryan Mehalic and freshman Isaac Mair.

Boys soccer team
looks to bounce back

Recovering from the season the boys soccer team endured last fall is what fourth-year coach Matt Kovach calls a "brick-by-brick" process.

The Lions had won at least a share of 12 consecutive league titles before struggling to a 3-14 finish and third place at 3-2 in the OCC-Ohio.

Most of the key players last year were underclassmen, and there are a dozen key returnees.

"What we wanted to see was growth," Kovach said. "We took a really young team into last year. I've been really impressed with our effort so far."

The Lions were 3-2-1 after beating Westerville Central 1-0 on Aug. 31 and Westerville North 2-0 on Sept. 2.

Seniors Sam Polonia (midfielder), Seth Smith (center back) and Cole Tysinger (forward) are the top returnees, and seniors Jacob Davenport, Will Rhymer and Ryan Taylor give Gahanna three options in goal.

The other seniors are Imad Faqih (outside back), Jordan Foulke (center back) Dalton Jones (center back), Aaron Rose (forward) and Harley Wheaton (center midfielder).

Junior Bachir Diane (midfielder) and sophomores Josh Gates (outside midfielder) and Jarrett Lukacsko (center midfielder) are other key players.

Others on the team include juniors Alex Drenski (outside midfielder), Dawson Heery (forward), Logan McDonald (outside midfielder), Brian Rapp (outside back) and Javin Singh (center midfielder) and sophomores Noah Erick (defender) and Dominic Spradlin (forward/midfielder).

"We had 86 try out for the team, so the numbers are good," Kovach said. "The biggest thing is that we're one year older."

Football team set
to battle Panthers

The football team will face the first of four consecutive 2016 playoff teams on its schedule when it plays host Friday, Sept. 8, to Cincinnati Elder.

The Panthers went 6-5 last season and opened with wins over West Chester Lakota West (21-7 on Aug. 25) and Cincinnati Oak Hills (41-12 on Sept. 2).

Elder has attempted to mix it up on offense with senior Danny Nieman, a 6-foot-5, 205-pounder, at quarterback.

In the opener, Nieman completed 22 of 34 passes for 173 yards and one touchdown. His top targets were junior Kyle Trischler (9 catches for 77 yards) and seniors Danny Faillace (4 catches for 34 yards, 1 touchdown) and Jack O'Brien (4 catches for 47 yards).

Also against Lakota West, junior Luke Massminster rushed 18 times for 64 yards and junior Michael Bittner, who also serves as the backup quarterback, had 13 rushes for 87 yards and two scores.

They run behind a line that features senior Bryce Martin (6-3, 255), who has committed to Tennessee Tech as a tight end.

The Lions opened with a 24-3 victory over Westerville Central on Aug. 25 and beat Westerville South 34-0 on Sept. 1.

Justus Harris rushed for 169 yards and one touchdown and added two touchdown receptions against South. The Lions' defense held the Wildcats to 79 total yards.

Gahanna will face a defense that features senior linebacker Jared Tepe (6-0, 215), senior defensive back T.J. Kearns (6-1, 185) and junior lineman Spencer Bono (6-4, 230).

Golf teams battling
for league titles

Heading into the fourth and final round of their respect-ive OCC-Ohio tournaments, both the boys and girls golf teams are in contention for championships.

The final round of the girls tournament is Tuesday, Sept. 12, at Mentel Memorial.

Gahanna shot 333 to finish second behind Pickerington North (330) in the third round Aug. 29 at Westchester as junior Kayla Davis was medalist with a 76. She was followed by freshman Elise Wenz (81), senior Chelsea Regner (85) and sophomore Alexis Buck (91).

The Lions are 11-2 and trail only North (12-1) as Davis leads the league in average at 75.7.

The boys are first at 12-3 heading into the final round Wednesday, Sept. 13, at Turnberry, with Grove City (11-4) and North (10-5) the next teams in the race.

In the third round Aug. 30 at Clover Valley, the Lions were second (324) behind Grove City (319). Senior Jake Simone shot 77, followed by juniors Michael Hahn (80) and Drew Bailey (82) and sophomore Dylan Errington (85).

julrey@thisweeknews.com

@UlreyThisWeek

Schedules

CROSS COUNTRY

Aug. 19 -- OHSAA Preseason Invitational at National Trail Raceway

Aug. 26 -- Panther Invitational at Pickerington North

Sept. 2 -- Dual at the DeWine's in Cedarville

Sept. 9 -- McGowan Invitational at Watkins Memorial

Sept. 16 -- Central Ohio Invitational at Three Creeks Metro Park and Galion Festival at Amann's Reservoir Park

Sept. 23 -- Bob Reall Invitational at Lancaster

Sept. 30 -- Erin Nance Fall Distance Classic at London Country Club

Oct. 7 -- Les Eisenhart Invitational at Thomas Worthington

Oct. 14 -- OCC-Ohio meet at Lancaster

BOYS SOCCER

Aug. 18 -- vs. Perrysburg

Aug. 22 -- vs. Canal Winchester

Aug. 24 -- vs. Hilliard Bradley

Aug. 29 -- at Westerville South

Aug. 31 -- at Westerville Central

Sept. 2 -- vs. Westerville North

Sept. 5 -- vs. Olentangy Liberty

Sept. 7 -- vs. Dublin Jerome

*Sept. 12 -- vs. Reynoldsburg

*Sept. 19 -- vs. Pickerington North

Sept. 21 -- at New Albany

*Sept. 26 -- vs. Grove City

Sept. 30 -- at Olentangy Orange

*Oct. 3 -- vs. Lancaster

Oct. 7 -- at Olentangy

*Oct. 10 -- at Pickerington Central

*League contest

Below are the coming schedules for the Gahanna Lincoln boys golf, girls golf, girls soccer, girls tennis and girls volleyball teams:

BOYS GOLF

Sept. 9 -- Hickory Hills Invitational

Sept. 13 -- OCC-Ohio at Turnberry

GIRLS GOLF

Sept. 11 -- Canal Winchester, Hilliard Darby and Upper Arlignton at Kyber Run

Sept. 12 -- OCC-Ohio at Mentel Mem-orial

Sept. 13 -- Watterson at Champions

GIRLS SOCCER

Sept. 9 -- At Upper Arlington

*Sept. 12 -- At Reynoldsburg

GIRLS TENNIS

*Sept. 7 -- At Pickerington Central

Sept. 9 -- Reynoldsburg Doubles Tournament

Sept. 13 -- Home vs. Bexley

GIRLS VOLLEYBALL

*Sept. 7 -- At Pickerington North

Sept. 9 -- At Parma Padua

*Sept. 12 -- Home vs. Grove City

*League contest