The Gahanna Lincoln High School boys basketball team didn't get the pay-off it had hoped for during the postseason, as it lost in the second round of the Division I district tournament.
Better days, though, should lie ahead for the Lions.
The rotation featured a potential college recruit in freshman guard Sean Jones as well as a group of juniors in guards Phillip Pontious, Nate Staib and Travis Whittaker and forwards Jaiden Davis and Zane Leitwein who played significant roles for the first time this season.
Barring any unforeseen situations such as an injury similar to the one that forced senior guard and Winthrop recruit Josh Corbin to miss the entire season, the Lions should have more depth next season.
"Travis Whittaker, Sean Jones and Nate Staib have really done a good job all year of playing both ends of the floor," coach Tony Staib said. "Since Corbin went down, (Jones has) needed to do more, play defense more and he has really elevated his game in one year. We're just really proud of the way he's grown as a freshman. He's very humble, very coachable and wants to get better, and because of those traits, he'll get better each and every year, which will be scary."
Seeded 15th, the Lions lost to 26th-seeded Big Walnut 59-52 in a second-round game March 1 at home to finish 15-9 overall.
Gahanna will have to replace the leadership and scoring ability provided by senior guard Elijah Thomas, who averaged a team-high 13.9 points and was named second-team all-OCC-Ohio Division and honorable mention all-district. The Lions placed fourth in the league at 4-6.
Thomas was expected to team with Corbin in the backcourt, but Corbin, who averaged 12 points and was second-team all-district as a junior, suffered a season-ending elbow injury Nov. 16, two weeks before the opener.
Without Corbin, Jones was asked to grow up quickly, and he responded by averaging 13.5 points and making first-team all-league and third-team all-district.
"I feel like personally I've grown as a player physically from just being a freshman playing against older guys night in and night out and just knowing when to get to my spots and get others to theirs," Jones said. "I've grown mentally as a player through playing in hostile environments and tuning out crowds. I'm working to improve on knowing when to take shots and knowing when to shoot shots I know I can make and knowing when to pass for a better shot to my teammate."
Staib and Leitwein both averaged 6.5 points and sophomore forward Maceo Williams averaged five. Staib was special mention all-league and Leitwein was honorable mention all-league.
Junior guard Jamal Williams and freshman forward Josh Whiteside are others who figure to take on bigger roles next season.
Another player who could help next winter is junior guard A.J. Sneed, who was expected to play a contributing role this season but missed the season with an injury.
Most of bowling teams expected to return
With just five seniors in the entire bowling program, the boys and girls teams both are optimistic heading into the offseason after ending their respective seasons at the Division I district tournament March 2 at HP Lanes.
The boys placed fourth at district for the second consecutive season, falling one spot and just 32 pins shy of advancing to state.
Along the way, the Lions won titles in the OCC-Central (6-0) and Central Ohio High School Bowling Conference-B Division (11-0) and set four program records. Junior Nathan Minzler bowled a 300 and rolled a program-record 728 on Feb. 3.
"This was statistically our best season ever for the boys team," coach Cris Ferrante said. "Coming up short at districts was disheartening. We were 150 pins out of the cut going into (the Baker games at district) and made a healthy charge to pass the fourth-place team and almost get third. The boys never gave up."
Dalton Cararo, who led Gahanna at district with a 583 three-game series and averaged 195.4 in COHSBC action, and Spencer Watson were the only seniors to play in all three regulation games at district.
Minzler finished ninth in the entire COHSBC with a 201.1 average. He and sophomores Hunter McKnight and DeAndre Quiero also competed at district.
Freshman Kevin Foit is another eligible to return.
"We'll have a strong, experienced core next year," Ferrante said.
Sophomore Lilu Smith should be the top returnee for the girls team after leading Gahanna at district with a 506 as the Lions placed seventh.
The only senior to compete at district for Gahanna was Taylor Burns. She and Smith were the only key returnees from last year's state championship team.
Smith averaged 190.6 and Burns 177.7 to finish sixth and 10th, respectively, in the entire COHSBC as the Lions won the COHSBC-B (11-0) and the OCC-Central (6-0).
Gahanna also won the conference roll-off Feb. 9 and the Coaches Challenge on Feb. 10.
"This was a very successful season," coach Yvonne Quiero said. "The team fell short of state competition this year. However, the girls worked hard and fought until the end. We're very proud of what they accomplished this year and look forward to more successes in the future. They're motivated by a determination and drive to be successful as a team."
Junior Aubree Packer and freshmen Kaitlyn Mundschenk and Victoria Richardson also played in all three regulation games at district.
Other contributors included junior Jalynn Johnson, sophomore Becky Gonzalez and freshman Lindzi Oakman.
"The strength of our returning bowlers is very encouraging," coach Quiero said.
Wrestlers bringing back young group
Of the six members of the wrestling team who advanced to the Division I district tournament March 1 and 2 at Hilliard Darby, two are eligible to return.
Junior Charles Williams, who went 2-2 at district at 120 pounds to finish the season 24-10, should be the top returnee next year for the Lions, who went 1-4 to finish fifth in the OCC-Ohio.
"We'll be young next year," coach Mike Flusche said. "We'll have Williams and about seven to eight other guys who got a lot of varsity time. It depends on how much they want to work in the offseason."
Freshman Carter Pearson (106) is the other district qualifier eligible to return. He went 0-2 at district and finished the season with six wins.
The biggest loss will be senior Cristian Salazar (113), a state qualifier as a junior who went 34-4 this season, including 3-2 at district to place fifth.
Senior Nate Garbark (195) went 2-2 at district and finished 21-13 and senior Juan Porras (126) went 1-2 at district to finish 28-14. Senior Dylan Kankiewicz (152) advanced to district but did not compete and finished 25-10.
The other seniors in the postseason lineup were Chris Dicocco (138) and Luke Garbark (170).
Junior Paulo Dragin (160) placed fifth at sectional and had 12 wins on the season. Junior Torian Rachel (145), who went 19-13, and freshman Patrick Christie (132) both finished sixth at sectional.
Sophomore Ricky Alli (182), who had 11 wins, and junior Justice Richardson Falls (220) were other sectional competitors.
"Hopefully, we'll have some younger guys that will step up and do a good job," Flusche said.