Last fall, the Gahanna Lincoln High School boys soccer team more than doubled its win total from the previous season and reached a Division I district semifinal.

Returning to the level of league and district title contender, which the Lions enjoyed for more than a decade before they went 3-14 in 2016, is a process tied to "winning every moment we can," fifth-year coach Matt Kovach said.

Gahanna, which won at least a share of 12 consecutive league titles from 2004-15, went 7-9-2 overall and finished third (3-2) in the OCC-Ohio Division a season ago.

"For us with where we're at as a program, we don't want to get caught up in big-picture things," Kovach said. "We need to focus on making the right play in the moment. If we can keep winning moments and do what we need to do, those things will add up to hopefully more wins this year."

The Lions opened with consecutive 2-all ties against Canal Winchester on Aug. 17 and Hilliard Davidson on Aug. 21 before losing to Olentangy Liberty 2-1 on Aug. 23.

Senior forward Bachir Diane, who had three goals and three assists last fall, and junior forward Josh Gates, who scored three goals, are among the top returning scoring threats.

Senior forward/midfielder Tareeq Chambers scored one goal in each of Gahanna's first two games.

Senior forward/midfielder Aaren Celentano, sophomore midfielder/forward Jimmy-Luka Dragich and freshman forward Niko Kokales also are key players on offense.

Also at midfielder are seniors Javon Hickson-Singh and Mateo Jones, juniors Alex Baker, Jarrett Lukacsko and Luke Clay and freshman Brenton Molli, with junior Abdul Abdullahi splitting time at midfielder and defender.

One of the Lions' top expected defenders, junior center back Noah Erick, was lost for the season with a knee injury in late July.

Senior Alex Drenski, who according to Kovach is among the team's most versatile players, could see time at both forward and defender.

Seniors Logan McDonald, Brian Rapp and Nick Stanisovski and junior Dominic Spradlin are the top defenders, and junior Payton Smith is the goalkeeper.

Others looking to contribute are seniors Nehemiah Jackson (midfielder/defen-der) and Alex Mundschenk (defender).

Volleyball team to build around defense

With most of its key offensive players and its setter lost to graduation, the girls volleyball team could lean on its defense, at least early this season.

Senior Madison Martinez is an Ohio University recruit who returns at libero and seniors Helena Buccilla and Grace Yaw are returning defensive specialists.

The top returnees on offense are senior right-side hitter Jewlee Pritchard and sophomore middle hitter Anna Nie.

The Lions opened with a 17-25, 23-25, 25-18, 25-22, 15-10 win over Westerville South on Aug. 21. They also lost to Liberty 25-14, 25-12, 25-13 on Aug. 23.

"We've got a lot of work to do considering what we lost, but I'm hopeful they'll want it as bad as the team last year," second-year coach Molly Martin said. "I'm hopeful they'll put the work in."

Gahanna, which went 18-7 overall and 8-2 in the OCC-Ohio and won a Division I district title last fall, has two options to replace 2018 graduate Sophia Easton at setter in junior Kailey Mishler and freshman Kendall White.

White is the team's tallest player at 6-foot and also should see time at right-side hitter.

Other key players should include juniors Lacey Stringer (outside hitter/right-side hitter) and Lexi Tatum (middle hitter) and sophomore Kortney Grimm (outside hitter/middle hitter).

Others looking to contribute include senior Arin Owens (middle hitter/outside hitter) and sophomore Sophia Hill (outside hitter/right-side hitter).

Other than Easton, the Lions' biggest losses to graduation were outside hitter Aubrey Wrona, who is now competing for Clarion, and outside hitter Morgan Clegg.

"Our j.v. (last year) struggled a bit in finishing games, so bringing that group up with what we have I hope helps them," Martin said. "This year the j.v. should be really strong and our freshmen should be strong."

Girls soccer team has younger look

Girls soccer coach Bob McGee is excited about the potential he sees from a program that produced a Division I regional runner-up finish in 2016 and a district runner-up finish last fall.

One thing the Lions don't possess much of is varsity experience, but they hope a talented group of freshmen and sophomores can help close that gap quickly.

Gahanna opened Aug. 17 with a 1-0 loss to Canal Winchester, beat Westerville South 3-0 on Aug. 23 and tied Chillicothe Unioto at 1 on Aug. 25.

"We're building small steps at a time," said McGee, who is in his third season. "We have basically seven freshmen that are working into this lineup. We have a core of good returners and a mixture of inexperience that we're trying to bring up. After losing (eight) seniors, and those seniors played a lot of minutes for a lot of years, you need a lot of growth. Since there's not a lot of seniors, it's trying to push the underclassmen into that leadership role."

Gahanna has just two seniors in forward Mallory Beach and J.J. Lampert, who is one of three goalies in the program along with junior Julie Bray and sophomore Alyssa Redmond.

Junior Peyton Marquez, who was a key player two years ago but missed last season with an injury, returns on defense along with junior Taylor Molli.

Also in the back are sophomores Carli Smith and Thalia Johnson and freshmen Meredith Clay, Gracie Hensley and Ryanne Michel.

Hensley is the sister of 2018 graduate Kaylee Hensley, a goalie who is now playing for the University of Charleston along with 2018 graduate and defender Madison Hansen.

Junior Katie Stafford, who was second-team all-league last season as the Lions finished second (3-0-2) in the OCC-Ohio behind Pickerington North (4-0-1), leads the offense.

Joining her and Beach at forward is freshman Olivia Herzog.

Juniors Emily Beach, Isabelle Moricca and Kynsie Jonke are the top returning midfielders. They're joined at that position by sophomores Rylee Slisher, Natalie Stewart and Alexei Whittaker and freshmen Katie Farina, Taylor Marcum and Brooke Reed.

"I was blessed with a number of seniors the first couple years," McGee said. "We have the personnel and we just have some growth we need to do."

julrey@thisweeknews.com

@UlreyThisWeek

Schedules

BOYS SOCCER

Aug. 17 -- at Canal Winchester

Aug. 21 -- vs. Hilliard Davidson

Aug. 23 -- at Olentangy Liberty

Aug. 28 -- vs. New Albany

Aug. 30 -- at Hilliard Bradley

Sept. 4 -- at Westerville Central

Sept. 6 -- vs. Westland

Sept. 11 -- at Dublin Jerome

*Sept. 13 -- at Reynoldsburg

Sept. 18 -- at Westerville North

*Sept. 20 -- vs. Pickerington North

*Sept. 25 -- at Grove City

Sept. 29 -- vs. Olentangy Orange

*Oct. 2 -- at Lancaster

Oct. 4 -- vs. Olentangy

*Oct. 9 -- vs. Pickerington Central

GIRLS SOCCER

Aug. 17 -- at Canal Winchester

Aug. 23 -- vs. Westerville South

Aug. 25 -- at Chillicothe Unioto

Aug. 28 -- at New Albany

Aug. 30 -- vs. Watkins Memorial

Sept. 4 -- vs. Westerville Central

Sept. 8 -- vs. Dublin Coffman

*Sept. 13 -- vs. Reynoldsburg

Sept. 15 -- vs. Upper Arlington

*Sept. 20 -- at Pickerington North

*Sept. 25 -- vs. Grove City

Sept. 29 -- vs. Watterson

*Oct. 2 -- vs. Lancaster

Oct. 4 -- at Olentangy Liberty

*Oct. 9 -- at Pickerington Central

Oct. 13 -- at Findlay

GIRLS VOLLEYBALL

Aug. 21 -- vs. Westerville South

Aug. 23 -- at Olentangy Liberty

Aug. 28 -- vs. New Albany

*Sept. 4 -- at Reynoldsburg

*Sept. 6 -- vs. Pickerington North

*Sept. 13 -- at Grove City

Sept. 15 -- at Worthington Kilbourne

Sept. 18 -- at Upper Arlington

*Sept. 20 -- at Lancaster

*Sept. 25 -- vs. Pickerington Central

*Sept. 27 -- vs. Reynoldsburg

Sept. 29 -- at Big Walnut with Hilliard Davidson

*Oct. 2 -- at Pickerington North

*Oct. 4 -- vs. Grove City

*Oct. 9 -- vs. Lancaster

*Oct. 11 -- at Pickerington Central

*League contest

Below are the coming schedules for the Gahanna Lincoln cross country, girls golf and girls tennis teams:

CROSS COUNTRY

Sept. 1 -- Hot Summer Bash at Hilliard Davidson

GIRLS GOLF

Sept. 1 -- Lima Central Catholic Invitational at Lost Creek

Sept. 5 -- Lancaster and Olentangy Liberty at Jefferson

GIRLS TENNIS

*Aug. 30 -- At Grove City

*Sept. 4 -- At Lancaster

*League contest