With a strong senior trio leading the way in 2016, the Gahanna Lincoln High School boys cross country team came up just two points shy of advancing to the Division I state meet.

There was no such disappointment at this year's regional meet as the Lions qualified for state for the first time since 2004.

They did so with no seniors among their top five finishers.

"We achieved our goal of making it to state, and we're just going to give it our all," junior Ben Towler said.

The addition of Towler was a big reason Gahanna took a big step up after finishing 13th at last year's regional.

Towler, who attended Gahanna schools until eighth grade, competed for DeSales the past two seasons and was a Division II state individual qualifier last fall.

With Towler leading the way, the Lions scored 134 points on Oct. 27 at Pickerington North to finish runner-up to Hilliard Davidson (95) as the top five teams and top 20 individuals advanced to state Saturday, Nov. 3, at National Trail Raceway.

Towler finished 13th of 127 runners in 16 minutes, 23.9 seconds and junior Riley Jackson was 14th in 16:25.5. Jackson was the Lions' No. 7 runner at regional in 2016 but didn't compete at last year's regional.

Junior Ryan Mehalic was the Lions' No. 3 runner at regional, finishing 29th (16:58.5), followed by sophomores Steffano Molina (52nd, 17:15.9), Connor Hughes-Hemsoth (55th, 17:17.2) and seniors Mitchell Webb (73rd, 17:28.2) and Evan Pfeifer (96th, 17:54.2).

"I do feel pretty good (about our performance)," coach Ryan Beck said. "(Second) was where we were projected to be. We knew everything was going to have to go right for us and wrong for Davidson for us to have a shot at (the regional title), but the regional is such a different beast from any other meet you run all year long. We just want to go (to state), enjoy it and have fun."

Girls runners place eighth at regional

The girls cross country team had its season end with an eighth-place finish (219) at the 17-team Division I regional Oct. 27 at Pickerington North behind champion Davidson (38).

Freshman Alyssa Shope led the Lions with a 22nd-place finish (19:50.8), but only the top five teams and top 20 individuals advanced to state.

Shope was followed by seniors Ari Redmond (48th, 20:42.7) and Areli Ramos-Ochoa (56th, 20:49.1) and juniors Tara Shope (60th, 20:57.3) and Riley Dickson (71st, 21:14.4). Sophomore Elise Wunderlin and junior Grace Morrica also competed.

Last season, the Lions finished fourth at regional and 16th at state, but their No. 1 runner from last season, 2018 graduate Claire Steigerwald, now is competing for the University of Toledo.

Most of girls soccer team should return

Despite having just two seniors in goalkeeper J.J. Lampert and forward Mallory Beach, the girls soccer team earned the seventh seed for the Division I district tournament and won a share of the OCC-Ohio Division championship.

On Oct. 23, the Lions lost to 20th-seeded Westerville North 3-1 in a district semifinal to finish 10-3-5 overall.

"This year's team continued to grow from game to game," said coach Bob McGee, whose team went 4-0-1 in the OCC-Ohio to share the league title with Pickerington North. "We were a very inexperienced team with a small core of experienced players. This year, the defense came out and played so well it kept us in games."

Sophomore midfielder Alexei Whittaker finished with 15 goals and six assists.

Junior Katie Stafford saw time at several positions, including midfielder, defender and forward, and had eight goals and four assists. Junior midfielder Emily Beach had four goals and five assists and sophomore midfielder/forward Natalie Stewart added four goals and three assists.

Key players on defense included juniors Peyton Marquez and Taylor Molli and freshmen Meredith Clay and Ryanne Michel, and junior Kynsie Jonke was a key contributor in the midfield.

Sophomore Alyssa Redmond split time at goalie with Lampert.

"The future is outstanding," McGee said. "All these young and inexperienced players had the great opportunity to gain a full year's experience. In addition, our sophomores and juniors developed into team leaders, which is usually something that you see in seniors. We're returning nearly every player and backups. In addition, our (junior varsity) team has some tremendous players. This will generate some great competition next year, which results in improving our play as individuals and as a team. This team has high expectations and is hungry to come back next year and prove themselves."

julrey@thisweeknews.com

@UlreyThisWeek