The addition of an impact freshman to a group of returning contributors has the Gahanna Lincoln High School girls cross country team feeling optimistic that it can approach the success it has achieved the past several seasons.
The Lions have won six OCC-Ohio Division championships in seven seasons, including last fall when 2018 graduate Claire Steigerwald won the title in 18 minutes, 57.34 seconds and junior Natalie Clay was runner-up in 19:52.33.
Although Steigerwald is now competing for Toledo, sophomore Elise Wunderlin, seniors Areli Ramos-Ochoa and Ari Redmond and juniors Riley Dickson and Tara Shope join Clay as key returnees from a team that finished 16th at state last fall.
Freshman Alyssa Shope, who is Tara's sister, has been the team's No. 1 runner so far.
"(Alyssa) has a lot of high hopes and potential," 14th-year coach Ernie Ziegler said. "She (didn't lose) a race in two years (in middle school) so she's really good, (but) very raw. With her, Natalie Clay and Elise Wunderlin, we've got a team that has three potential hammers that can score every meet."
On Aug. 25 in the Pickerington North Invitational, Gahanna was fourth (110) in the 12-team Panther Race behind champion Olentangy Orange (70) as Alyssa Shope was 10th (20:09.54), Redmond was 15th (20:34.31) and Dickson was 23rd (20:59.14).
Others key runners should include senior Sara Buckner, junior Grace Morrica and sophomores Rachel Bolumen and Olivia Keener.
"If we can get Ari Redmond and Tara Shope to be strong runners and if we can find us two more girls to pack behind (our top five), we can be pretty dangerous," Ziegler said. "Lancaster is the real deal. They will be a formidable foe this year (in the OCC-Ohio), and (Pickerington) Central and North are always in the mix."
Boys runners look to take step forward
The boys cross country team also has a newcomer fueling what could be an even more successful season after it finished fourth in the OCC-Ohio and 13th at regional last fall.
Junior Ben Towler placed 97th (17:19.1) while competing in the Division II state meet last season for DeSales.
In the 17-team Panther Race of the Pickerington North Invitational, Towler finished ninth (16:41.01) to lead the Lions to the championship with 85 points.
Junior Riley Jackson was 11th (16:43.54) and sophomore Steffano Molina was 14th (17:07.87) as just a little more than a minute separated the Lions' first through seventh runners.
"We've got a pretty big squad, a little bigger than last year, with a ton of freshmen and not many seniors," sixth-year coach Ryan Beck said. "Last year we were super young and this year we're just kind of young, but I anticipate that we're going to be significantly improved over last year. A lot of our pretty talented guys have kind of matured physically, mentally and emotionally and have taken huge steps forward as far as I can tell."
Senior Mitchell Webb, who missed most of the past two seasons with an injury, has been among the top runners along with juniors Max Devine, Ryan Mehalic, Max Rincon and Caleb Shovlin and sophomores Donovan Hight and Connor Hughes.
Jason Mehalic, who was 10th in the league meet, 16th at district and 78th at regional last season, was part of the 2018 graduating class.
"We have a really strong front five and a lot of really quality depth," Beck said. "One of our challenges is developing a six and seven who are as close to our top five as they are to each other."
Boys golfers on track to win another title
With four of the top six in scoring average in the OCC-Ohio through three rounds of the league tournament, the boys golf team is on track to win a second consecutive title.
On Aug. 28 at Denison Golf Club, the Lions shot 320 to edge Pickerington Central (323) for first as Michael Hahn and Dylan Errington each shot 77 and Mitchell Soma had a 79.
Gahanna is 15-0 and Central is second at 12-3 heading into the final round Wednesday, Sept. 12, at Turnberry.
Drew Bailey had an 87 in the third round after being medalist in each of the first two rounds, shooting 71s on Aug. 7 at Darby Creek and Aug. 13 at Apple Valley. He is second in league average (76.3) through three rounds, followed by Errington (third, 76.7), Soma (tied for fifth, 78.7) and Hahn (tied for fifth, 78.7).
Girls golfers prep for final OCC round
The girls golf team competes in the final round of its OCC-Ohio tournament Wednesday, Sept. 12, at Royal American.
The Lions were runners-up in each of the first two rounds and finished second (340) in the third round Aug. 29 at Westchester behind Pickerington North (338).
The Panthers lead the league at 15-0 and the Lions are second at 12-3.
Kayla Davis was co-medalist in the first round (71) and medalist in the second round (69) and third round (68).
Aug. 25 -- Pickerington North Invitational
Sept. 1 -- Asics Hot Summer Bash at Hilliard Davidson
Sept. 8 -- McGowan Invitational at Watkins Memorial
Sept. 15 -- Central Ohio Invitational at Three Creeks Metro Park
Sept. 29 -- Erin Nance Fall Distance Classic at London Country Club
Oct. 6 -- Eisenhart Invitational at Thomas Worthington
Oct. 13 -- OCC-Ohio meet at Lancaster
Below are the coming schedules for the Gahanna Lincoln boys golf, girls golf, boys soccer, girls soccer, girls tennis and girls volleyball teams:
Sept. 8 -- Hickory Hills Invitational
Sept. 12 -- OCC-Ohio at Turnberry
Sept. 8 -- Eagle-Panther Invitational at Cooks Creek
Sept. 10 -- Canal Winchester and Hilliard Darby at Kyber Run
Sept. 12 -- OCC-Ohio at Royal American
Sept. 6 -- Home vs. Westland
Sept. 11 -- At Dublin Jerome
Sept. 8 -- Home vs. Dublin Coffman
*Sept. 6 -- Home vs. Pickerington Central
Sept. 10 -- At Hilliard Bradley
Sept. 12 -- Home vs. Granville
*Sept. 6 -- Home vs. Pickerington North