Mike Flusche has been enjoying the return to his roots the past few months.
A 1984 Gahanna Lincoln High School graduate, Flusche has coached wrestling and football for several programs over the past two-plus decades, including spending the 2017-18 school year as Columbus West's football coach and St. Charles' wrestling coach.
When the Lions' wrestling coaching position came open this winter, though, he applied for a job he's long kept an eye on.
Flusche joined Gahanna's football coaching staff as an assistant this fall and is heading the wrestling program this winter after competing in both sports for his alma mater.
"I've lived in Gahanna since the 1970s," Flusche said. "It's something I've been angling for for a long time. I've literally been waiting for this job.
"They had an outstanding program, one of the top programs in central Ohio in the early 1980s. We're just trying to get the numbers up to where they should be. It's the biggest high school in central Ohio and we should have 50 to 80 kids, but they've been in the 30s. We have three middle schools and only have two middle school programs, and that's something I have to address."
Gahanna opened Dec. 1 by finishing runner-up (393 points) in the 12-team Bad Apple Brawl at Mount Vernon behind the host Yellow Jackets (459).
Flusche, who also formerly coached wrestling at Eastmoor Academy and Licking Heights, led the West football team to a 55-56 record in 11 seasons. In his only season at St. Charles, he coached four district qualifiers.
Flusche takes over a Lions program that is under its third coach in three seasons after Kyle Bentley coached Gahanna for 10 seasons.
Last season under Steve Sommer, who stepped down after one season, the Lions had one Division I state qualifier in Cristian Salazar, a senior who is expected to compete at 113 pounds this season after going 0-2 at state last year to finish 27-13.
Seniors Nate Garbark (170, 182, 195) and Juan Porras (126) and sophomore Charles Williams (120) are other returning district qualifiers. Last season, Garbark went 16-14, Porras was 26-19 and Williams went 23-6.
Senior Luke Garbark (170, 182, 195), who placed sixth at 160 at sectional and went 15-12 last season, is another key returnee.
Junior Brian Walthaw placed sixth at 170 at sectional last season but has been battling an injury.
Seniors Paulo Dragin (160, 170) and Dylan Kankiewicz (145, 152), juniors Ricky Ali (160, 170), Reggie Pace (160) and Torian Rachal (145, 152) and sophomore Marcus Rogers (138) are others looking to contribute.
Gahanna lost a graduating class that included Anthony Lawson (145), Adam Grimard (182) and Max Wright (152). Lawson was a district qualifier last year and Grimard and Wright both placed fifth at sectional.
In the Bad Apple Brawl, Salazar (120), Williams (126) and Kankiewicz (152) all finished first and Porras (132) was runner-up.
Boys basketball team reloads around Thomas
Now in his 17th season as boys basketball coach, Tony Staib isn't sure whether he's had such a young group of players filling varsity roles.
That doesn't mean there isn't talent, but it certainly will be tested in an OCC-Ohio Division that features a Division I state semifinalist in Pickerington Central, a defending district champion in Reynoldsburg and the No. 1 seed for last year's district tournament in Pickerington North.
Gahanna opened Nov. 30 with a 60-39 win over visiting Watkins Memorial and defeated Richmond Heights 65-52 on Dec. 1 at home in the All-Ohio Nike Hoops Showcase. The Lions begin league play Friday, Dec. 7, at Reynoldsburg.
"This is probably the youngest team I've ever had," Staib said. "The biggest thing is we have a very quick, athletic team. We'll get up and down the floor and we have a deep team, so anybody on the roster can get minutes. We'll try to use our depth and play an up-and-down game. A lot of it depends on how fast these young guys grow up."
The Lions' situation changed significantly Nov. 16 when 6-3 senior guard Josh Corbin suffered a season-ending elbow injury during practice.
A Winthrop-commit, Corbin averaged 12 points and was first-team all-league and second-team all-district last season as Gahanna finished 17-8 overall, tied Reynoldsburg for third in the OCC-Ohio at 5-5 and reached a district semifinal.
Gahanna has returned another senior guard in Elijah Thomas (6-1), who averaged 13 points and was special mention all-league and honorable mention all-district last season.
"You just feel for Josh and Elijah, who have been on varsity for three years and both played as sophomores," Staib said. "Every player wants to have a chance to lead a team their senior year and both have done a good job at it. They had a chance to be the best backcourt in central Ohio."
Junior forward Jaiden Davis (6-4) averaged four points last season and should take on a bigger role inside for the Lions after they lost a senior class that included wing players Cameren Carlisle (6 points per game) and Nate Ward (8 ppg) and post player Mike Reeves (8 ppg, honorable mention all-league).
Juniors Phillip Pontious (6-0, guard), Nate Staib (5-10, guard) and Travis Whittaker (5-11, guard) are others who should help fill the void left by the loss of Corbin and 2018 graduates Chase Rankin (11.5 ppg, second-team all-league) and David Miller (5.5 ppg). Rankin is playing for Purdue Northwest, Reeves is playing for Central State, Carlisle is playing football for Findlay and Miller is playing football for Navy.
A pair of freshmen, guard Sean Jones (5-10) and forward Josh Whiteside (6-6), are expected to make an immediate impact.
Also on the team are juniors Zane Leitwein (6-2, wing player) and Jamal Williams (5-9, guard) and sophomores Jarius Jones (6-5, forward) and Maceo Williams (6-5, forward).
Junior A.J. Sneed (5-9, guard) was expected to be another contributor, but likely is out for the season with an injury.
Against Watkins Memorial, Pontious had 17 points and Thomas scored 16. Against Richmond Heights, Jones had 17 points, Leitwein scored 12 and Pontious scored 11.
"We'll definitely be fun to watch," coach Staib said. "We'll get up and down the floor and we're hoping to have strength in numbers."
Nov. 30 -- vs. Watkins Memorial
Dec. 1 -- Richmond Heights in All-Ohio Nike Hoops Showcase at home
*Dec. 7 -- at Reynoldsburg
Dec. 8 -- vs. Logan
*Dec. 14 -- vs. Pickerington North
Dec. 17 -- vs. Westerville South
*Dec. 21 -- at Grove City
Dec. 29 -- at Zanesville
Jan. 2 -- vs. Linden-McKinley
*Jan. 4 -- at Lancaster
Jan. 8 -- at Olentangy Liberty
*Jan. 11 -- vs. Pickerington Central
Jan. 12 -- at Mifflin
*Jan. 18 -- vs. Reynoldsburg
Jan. 19 -- vs. Whitehall
Jan. 22 -- vs. New Albany
*Jan. 25 -- at Pickerington North
*Feb. 1 -- vs. Grove City
Feb. 2 -- at Chillicothe Zane Trace
Feb. 5 -- at Westerville Central
*Feb. 8 -- vs. Lancaster
*Feb. 15 -- at Pickerington Central
Dec. 1 -- Bad Apple Brawl at Mount Vernon
Dec. 8 -- Big Walnut Classic
Dec. 14-15 -- Olentangy Liberty Classic
Dec. 27 -- Winter Warhawk Classic at Westerville Central
*Jan. 10 -- Home vs. Pickerington North and Pickerington Central
Jan. 12 -- Porter Memorial at Hilliard Bradley
Jan. 19 -- Hamilton Township Classic
*Jan. 24 -- at Reynoldsburg
*Feb. 7 -- at Grove City with Lancaster
Feb. 9 -- All-North Tournament at Dublin Jerome
Below are the coming schedules for the Gahanna Lincoln girls basketball, bowling and hockey teams:
*Dec. 7 -- Home vs. Reynoldsburg
Dec. 12 -- Home vs. Watterson
*Dec. 6 -- Pickerington Central at Rule 3
Dec. 8 -- Holiday Baker Marathon at Columbus Square Bowling Palace
*Dec. 10 -- Thomas Worthington at Capri Lanes
*Dec. 11 -- Hilliard Bradley at Wayne Webb's Columbus Bowl
*Dec. 8 -- Dublin Scioto at Chiller Dublin
*Dec. 9 -- Olentangy at Chiller Easton