The Gahanna Lincoln High School girls cross country team heads into the offseason after making back-to-back Division I state appearances for the first time.
The next step, according to sophomore Natalie Clay, is taking advantage of that experience a year from now.
On Nov. 4 at National Trail Raceway, the Lions placed 16th (347) of 20 teams behind champion Centerville (122).
"It's the first time our school has gone back-to-back, so we've been stepping up," Clay said. "We know we're good. We just have to be confident in ourselves. We're going to come back stronger next year."
Clay was the team's No. 3 runner at state, finishing 88th in 19 minutes, 45.9 seconds. She also competed at state a year ago when the Lions placed 18th.
The other holdovers from last year's state team were senior Claire Steigerwald and junior Ari Redmond.
Steigerwald was in position, according to coach Ernie Ziegler, to battle for a top-25 spot but fell down a mile into the race. She battled back to get 73rd (19:31.3), and Redmond placed 141st (20:41.0).
Freshman Elise Wunderlin finished 74th (19:32.7). Sophomores Riley Dickson (114th, 20:05.0) and Tara Shope (124th, 20:15.3) and junior Areli Ramos-Ochoa (135th, 20:31.9) also competed.
"You can never get too much experience," Ziegler said. "They're all coming back except for Claire. They all did everything we asked them to do, and the reality is that that's about where we were going to finish. Next year hopefully we'll reload."
On Oct. 14, Gahanna won the OCC-Ohio Division meet with 26 points, ahead of host Lancaster (47), Pickerington Central (92), Reynoldsburg (106), Pickerington North (118) and Grove City (149), as Steigerwald won the title (18:57.34) and Clay took second (19:52.33).
Then in the 11-team district 1 race Oct. 21 at Watkins Memorial, the Lions were second (61) behind Olentangy Liberty (42) as Steigerwald took third (18:04.09).
Gahanna was fourth (159) behind champion Granville (63) in the 17-team regional Oct. 28 at North.
"We've got a team coming back next year that could honestly make some noise," Ziegler said. "We've got a couple really good eighth-graders coming in."
Volleyball season ends at regional
Although the scores got closer each game, the girls volleyball team couldn't find enough answers during a 25-16, 25-18, 25-23 loss to DeSales in a Division I regional semifinal Nov. 2 at Worthington Kilbourne.
"We always say go for a seam, sell a tip, sell a shot," said coach Molly Martin, whose team finished 18-7 overall. "We did it every once in a while, (but) it wasn't enough."
Gahanna was seeded seventh for the district tournament and beat 21st-seeded Chillicothe 25-7, 25-15, 25-13 on Oct. 19 and 10th-seeded Watterson 25-22, 25-21, 25-22 on Oct. 26 before upsetting second-seeded Liberty 25-23, 25-23, 19-25, 25-19 on Oct. 28 in a district final at Whitehall.
The Lions, who were regional runners-up a year ago, finished second (8-2) in the OCC-Ohio behind North (9-1) and ahead of Central (6-4), Grove City (3-7), Lancaster (3-7) and Reynoldsburg (1-9).
The four-member senior class was led by outside hitter Aubrey Wrona, who was first-team all-league. She led the Lions in kills (321) and serves received (374) and has committed to Clarion.
Senior setter Sophia Easton was special mention all-league and led the Lions in assists with 648. Senior outside hitter Morgan Clegg was second on the team in kills with 255 and was honorable mention all-league.
The top returnee should be Madison Martinez, a junior libero who has committed to Ohio University and was second-team all-league. She led in serving aces (53) and digs (557) and was second in serves received (329).
Others eligible to return include juniors Helena Buccilla (defensive specialist), Arin Owens (middle hitter/outside hitter), Jewelee Pritchard (right-side hitter), Lauren Ringhiser (defensive specialist/outside hitter) and Grace Yaw (defensive specialist) and sophomores Anna Nie (middle hitter) and Lexi Tatum (middle hitter).
"It's very (defensively) heavy in the junior class except for Jewelee on the right side," Martin said.
Girls soccer squad to count on sophomores
With just three juniors, the girls soccer team likely will lean a year from now on what coach Bob McGee believes is a strong sophomore class.
The Lions lose an eight-member senior class, of which nearly all were key players.
"We're going to have a large junior class next year," McGee said. "Some of those kids will have to be ready to play. The kids all get along, and a lot of times that makes a big difference."
The Lions finished 12-2-4 overall and were runners-up in the OCC-Ohio at 3-0-2, behind North (4-0-1) and ahead of Grove City (3-1-1), Lancaster (1-4), Central (1-4) and Reynoldsburg (1-4).
In the Division I district tournament, third-seeded Gahanna opened with a 4-0 win over 29th-seeded Reynoldsburg on Oct. 19 and then beat 15th-seeded Watterson 1-0 on Oct. 24 before falling to seventh-seeded Hilliard Darby 3-2 in a district final Oct. 28 at Westerville North.
Seniors Kaylee Hensley (goalkeeper) and Madison Hansen (defender) were first-team all-league. Both have committed to the University of Charleston.
Seniors Mia Dragich (midfielder) and Erin Patterson (defender) and sophomore Katie Stafford (forward) were second-team all-league, sophomore Taylor Molli (center back) was special mention all-league and senior Molly Rose (midfielder) was honorable mention.
Hensley gave up just nine goals all season while making 60 saves.
Hansen had four goals and one assist, Dragich had five goals and three assists and Rose scored six goals.
The other senior regulars were midfielder Allison Groves and forward Kailey Stanisovska.
Stafford had 11 goals and five assists to lead the offense, and freshman midfielder Alexei Whittaker had three goals and eight assists. Sophomores Emily Beach (midfielder) and Kynsie Jonke (midfielder) and freshmen Thalia Johnson (defender) and Natalie Stewart (midfielder) also were key players.
Sophomore Julie Bray was the backup goalie.
Future looks bright in boys cross country
Although the boys cross country team is losing four of its top seven runners to graduation, coach Ryan Beck has a pair of strong freshmen to build around in Steffano Molina and Donovan Hight as well as other freshmen and sophomores he's high on.
Sophomore Riley Jackson also should be a key runner next year after missing the final month of the season with an injury.
The Lions' season ended with a 13th-place finish (290) in the 16-team Division I regional Oct. 28 at Pickerington North.
"We had a lot of inexperience and young guys this year and we got hit hard by illness and a big injury to (Jackson)," Beck said. "I'm really excited about the group we have coming back. It's one of the best freshman and sophomore groups in Ohio."
Gahanna finished fourth (88) in the OCC-Ohio meet Oct. 14 at Lancaster behind North (36), Lancaster (48) and Central (69) and ahead of Grove City (151) and Reynoldsburg (166) and then was fifth (152) in the 16-team district 3 meet behind champion Liberty (49) on Oct. 21 at Watkins Memorial.
Seniors Jason Mehalic and Oliver Cope were the top two runners by season's end. Mehalic was 10th (17:10.11) in the league meet, 16th (16:33.35) at district and 78th (17:27.91) at regional.
Senior Tyler Story was 26th (16:40.1) at regional to miss advancing to state by six spots.
Senior Ryan Connor and junior Evan Pfeifer also competed in the postseason, and senior Richard Duffala and junior Kyle Mair were other key contributors.
Beck said other contributors next season should junior Mitchell Webb, sophomore Max Rincon and freshmen Ryan Amer, Isaac Mair and Cameron Marcum.