Last spring saw a return to prominence for the Gahanna Lincoln High School boys track and field team.
The Lions won 31 league championships from 1953-2013 under former coach Ed Rarey, but 2008 was the last time they had finished first until capturing the OCC-Ohio Division title last season.
Then in the Division I state meet, Gahanna earned a runner-up finish with 31 points, behind Thomas Worthington (36). That marked the first time it placed among the top two since winning the 2009 state title.
Remaining among central Ohio's top teams this season figures to be within reach, as the Lions return a trio of state veterans and also have a slew of other experienced returnees.
"Our team has been coming together quite well," said senior Jason Mehalic, who was a regional qualifier in the 3,200 meters last season. "We have a lot of young guys who are developing and learning how to race while older guys are both stepping up in leadership and performance as spring progresses.
"Last year we set the bar high, which was setting the standard, and we intend to meet and exceed that standard."
Senior sprinters Jerome Buckner and Joseph Gathuru, junior sprinter LaCarr Trent and Mehalic figure to lead the way this spring.
At state last season, the 1,600 relay of Buckner, Gathuru and 2017 graduates Dontae Deas and Jayvonta Tolliver captured the title in 3 minutes, 14.9 seconds.
Trent added a runner-up finish in the 100 (10.73), and the 400 relay of Buckner, Gathuru, Trent and Tolliver also was second (41.73).
Gahanna opened March 26 by scoring 100 points to win the seven-team Hammond Relays at Pickerington Central and followed by scoring 108.5 to capture the title in the 11-team Wildcat Premier on March 31 at Hilliard Davidson.
"We've gotten off to a really good start," second-year coach Shawn Johnston said. "We do have some new faces and some young guys we wanted to take a look at."
Other key seniors should include Davion Bryan (sprints), Jaire Latta (middle distance), Cameron Riddle (shot put), Ian Slaughter (hurdles) and Tyler Story (middle distance, distance).
Junior Kelly Wilson was the alternate in the 1,600 relay last season and also should be one of the top hurdlers.
Junior Jayden Hill is a transfer from St. Charles who could contribute in sprints, as should junior Alex Drenski.
Sophomore A'che Sanchez-Baccus should be among the top competitors in the shot put and discus.
Sophomores Derrick Brad-ley (middle distance, long jump), Riley Jackson (distance), Dylan Kaylor (high jump, discus) and Ryan Mehalic (distance) and freshmen Mondra Curry (long jump, sprints), Donovan Hight (middle distance, distance) and Steffano Molina (distance) are others looking to contribute.
"We're a little deeper than we were last year in the sprints," Johnston said. "We're young and inexperienced in distance and field (events), but we've got guys that we think can develop and fill those roles."
Girls track team again thinking big
No girls track team in central Ohio has been as consistently good in recent years as Gahanna.
In addition to having won five consecutive OCC-Ohio championships, the Lions shared the 2015 Division I state title with Cincinnati Withrow before finishing second to Withrow each of the past two years.
Last season, the Lions scored 51 points as Withrow won with 58.
Gahanna also has won four consecutive indoor state championships.
"The main goal is to win outdoor states," junior middle-distance runner Madison Martinez said. "We have come close two years in a row. To finally win would be awesome. I think that we're capable of doing really well at the state meet. We're looking forward to seeing what this season has in store."
Gahanna was runner-up (102) in the Hammond Relays behind Lancaster (112) and won the Wildcat Premier with 134 points.
In last year's state meet, Martinez was runner-up in the 800 (2:08.94), ran on the first-place 1,600 relay (3:46.74) with junior Shynae Deas, sophomore Alexis Thigpen and 2017 graduate Ivy McKee and ran on the second-place 3,200 relay (8:56.73) with Deas, senior Claire Steigerwald and junior Ari Redmond.
Deas added a third-place finish in the 800 (2:10.14), Steigerwald was seventh in the 3,200 (10:58.89) and the 800 relay of McKee, Thigpen, senior Amariah Thomas and sophomore Shaina Rutledge placed third (1:39.74). McKee, Rutledge, Thomas and 2017 graduate Benja Duff were seventh in the 400 relay (47.73).
Thomas, who added a seventh-place finish in the 100 (12.14) and placed ninth in the 200 (25.24), has committed to Penn State.
Also at state, Thigpen competed in the 400 (13th, 58.13) and junior Bronte Johnson competed in the discus (14th, 116 feet, 3 inches).
Nia Chandler (hurdles), Allison Groves (800, 1,600 relay) and Rheagan Jennings (400) are other key seniors.
Brooke Johnson, who was a regional qualifier in the shot put, and hurdler Nayana Barksdale are other key juniors.
Sophomore Trinity Houpe is another top hurdler.
Sophomores Natalie Clay and Tara Shope should contribute in distance events, and sophomore Lacey Stringer is one of the team's top shot putters.
Freshman Joi Bradley joined Rutledge, Thigpen and Thomas on the 800 relay that was runner-up (1:41.99) in the indoor state meet.
Freshmen Nya Bailey, Ciara Carter, Sophia Hill, Jordyn Thomas and Zoe White provide depth to the sprint corps.
Freshmen Faith Hunter, Amanda Lee and Tamryn Lindsay are among the team's high jumpers, and freshman Elise Wunderlin is looking to contribute in distance events.
In the pole vault, Gahanna features junior Hannah Schlegel and freshmen Anna Lower and Kassie Pearson.
"We've got a great mix," 30th-year coach Roger Whittaker said. "The depth we have is very, very hard to deal with, and it's extreme quality depth."
Senior-led tennis team has high hopes
While going 15-3 and winning a second consecutive OCC-Ohio championship last season, the boys tennis team had just two seniors.
The Lions could have as many seven seniors contributing this spring.
"I would put my team up against just about anybody in central Ohio," ninth-year coach Chris Schwinnen said.
Gahanna opened with a 5-0 league win over Reynoldsburg on April 5, defeated Westerville Central 5-0 on April 6 and returned to league action April 10 against Pickerington North.
The top returnee is senior Colin Jordan, who is in his second season at first singles. After teaming with 2016 graduate Chris Kusovski to reach the second round of the Division I district tournament in doubles as a sophomore, Jordan lost to Dublin Jerome's Ryan Worthen 6-0, 7-5 in the first round of district singles last season.
Senior Daniel Shtein is at second singles after losing in a sectional quarterfinal in singles a year ago.
Sophomore Kyle Fout, who teamed with 2017 graduate Jake Selker to reach a quarterfinal in doubles at sectional, is at third singles.
Seniors Oliver Cope and Connor Barnette are playing first doubles. Last season, Fout and Cope spent much of the season at first doubles.
Senior Josh Miller, who played much of last season at second doubles with Barnette, is another key returnee.
Senior Josh Russell is expected to see significant time at second doubles after previously playing on the junior varsity, and senior Zach Paquette provides depth in doubles.
The Lions open the Ohio Tennis Coaches Association team tournament Friday, April 13, at Marietta.
"We're coming back pretty strong and looking for a good season," Schwinnen said. "With my doubles players, I could put any of them out there in any of the combinations and I could see any of them beating any of the others on any given day, so they're all pretty equal. Seven of my top eight are seniors. The good news is that we've got a good freshman class, but they're just not quite as good as the seniors yet. It's a good group of guys and we're going to have a lot of fun."
*April 5 -- vs. Reynoldsburg
April 6 -- vs. Westerville Central
April 7 -- Hilliard Bradley Doubles Tournament
*April 10 -- at Pickerington North
April 11 -- at Thomas Worthington
*April 12 -- vs. Grove City
April 13 -- at Marietta
April 16 -- at Dublin Scioto
*April 17 -- vs. Lancaster
April 18 -- at New Albany
*April 19 -- at Pickerington Central
April 21 -- Elida Invitational Doubles Tournament
April 23 -- at Hilliard Bradley
April 25 -- at Dublin Jerome
April 26 -- vs. Olentangy
April 27 -- at Bexley
April 30 -- at Hilliard Davidson
May 1 -- at Worthington Kilbourne
May 2 -- vs. Marysville
May 3 -- vs. Granville
TRACK & FIELD
March 26 -- Hammond Relays at Pickerington Central
March 31 -- Wildcat Premier at Hilliard Davidson
April 3 -- Girls: Huber Heights Wayne Relays
April 7 -- Stingel Invitational at Pickerington North
April 9 -- at Hilliard Darby
April 17 -- at Westerville South
April 18 -- Gahanna Relays at home
April 27 -- Boys: Berea Kiwanis Titan Relays at Baldwin Wallace
April 30 -- at New Albany
May 4 -- Africentric Invitational
May 9, 12 -- OCC-Ohio meet at Lancaster
Below are the coming schedules for the Gahanna Lincoln baseball, boys lacrosse, girls lacrosse, softball and boys volleyball teams:
*April 13 -- At Grove City. The Lions also played the Greyhounds on April 11.
*April 16 -- Home vs. Lancaster
*April 18 -- At Lancaster
*April 12 -- At Marysville
April 14 -- At Bexley
*April 17 -- Home vs. Pickerington Central
*April 12 -- Home vs. Marysville
April 14 -- At Hilliard Bradley
April 16 -- Home vs. Centennial
*April 17 -- At Pickerington Central
*April 12 -- At Pickerington North
April 14 -- Home vs. Amherst Steele and Grafton Midview
*April 16 -- Home vs. Grove City
*April 18 -- Home vs. Lancaster
*April 12 -- Home vs. Reynoldsburg
April 14 -- Spike for Tykes at Hiram College
*April 17 -- At Hilliard Davidson