The Gahanna Lincoln High School girls basketball team finds itself in an unaccustomed situation heading into its opener Friday at home against Westerville South.

The Gahanna Lincoln High School girls basketball team finds itself in an unaccustomed situation heading into its opener Friday at home against Westerville South.

While many of the teams the Lions have fielded since Rick Hauser took over as coach eight seasons ago have featured juniors and seniors, as many as five freshmen could see significant playing time.

Although the Lions have five returning seniors and two other key returnees, newcomers have immediately made their presence felt.

"These kids all have really performed above expectations," Hauser said. "It's been a tough November trying to figure all of that out. You hope that when you have five seniors that there would be some consistency from last year, but we have a real influx of youth.

"We have three or four freshmen and one sophomore that look like they're going to be getting a lot of playing time. We haven't been unhappy with any of them."

The Lions' top returnee is senior Haley Schmitt, a 5-foot-11 post player who signed with Cleveland State University on Nov. 11. Last season, Schmitt averaged 12.5 points and made first-team all-OCC-Ohio Division and third-team all-district in Division I.

Also back are the team's second- and third-leading scorers from last year, 5-6 junior Tiyona Marshall (8.9 ppg, 10 3-pointers) and 5-7 senior Jill O'Donnell (7.1 ppg, team-best 24 3-pointers). The other returning seniors are Casey Salopek (5-6, 3.5 ppg), Phylicia Marrow (5-8) and DeAnn Deal (5-7).

Sophomore guard Ashley Gogolin is another returning player who saw significant action last year.

One of the top newcomers should be Zenobia Bess, a 6-foot freshman who might start beside Schmitt in the post.

Others who could see playing time include juniors Brittany Christian and Tiana Thompson, sophomore Miesha Parker and freshmen Chrishna Butler, Quiera Lampkins, Reyna Montgomery and T'awnna Morris.

"I'm pretty confident in our team, even though we're really young," Marshall said. "It was hard at first (with all of the new players), but we're really getting used to it. The upperclassmen are helping them all out."

Last year, Gahanna finished 14-9 overall and 7-7 in the OCC-Ohio to place fifth, behind Pickerington North (12-2), Pickerington Central (11-3) and Grove City and Reynoldsburg (10-4), and ahead of Newark (3-11), Lancaster (2-12) and Groveport (1-13). North and Central won district championships, Reynoldsburg was a district runner-up and Grove City lost in a district semifinal.

The Lions, who won their second consecutive Gahanna Cage Classic title and later beat Central 54-52 for their first win over the Tigers since Hauser took over, lost five games by 10 points or fewer last season.

After earning the 13th seed for the district tournament, Gahanna beat Teays Valley 49-23 and Olentangy 56-37 before losing to Dublin Coffman 58-37 in a district semifinal.

Gahanna lost three players to graduation, while four others who saw action last year are not back with the team. Jendy Weppler, a 2009 graduate who averaged 5 points and was the team's best ball-handler, was the biggest loss.

"It seems like we have a nice group of kids that can all run and are good defensive players," said Hauser, whose team opens league play Dec. 4 against visiting Groveport. "We've got two to three scoring options this year as well. We're definitely going to be a much different team than we were last year."

At a glance

•Coach: Rick Hauser, eighth season

•Opener: Friday vs. Westerville South

•Key players: Zenobia Bess, Ashley Gogolin, Tiyona Marshall, Jill O'Donnell, Casey Salopek and Haley Schmitt

Schedule

Nov. 27 vs. Westerville South

*Dec. 4 vs. Groveport

*Dec. 8 vs. Newark

*Dec. 11 at Lancaster

*Dec. 18 at Pickerington Central

*Dec. 22 vs. Pickerington North

Dec. 29-30 vs. Gahanna Cage Classic

*Jan. 5 at Grove City

*Jan. 8 vs. Reynoldsburg

*Jan. 15 at Groveport

Jan. 17 at All-Ohio Prep Shootout at Pickerington Central

*Jan. 22 at Newark

*Jan. 26 vs. Lancaster

*Jan. 29 vs. Pickerington Central

*Feb. 2 at Pickerington North

*Feb. 5 vs. Grove City

Feb. 6 at Eastmoor Academy

Feb. 9 at Watterson

*Feb. 12 at Reynoldsburg

*OCC-Ohio game