The Gahanna Lincoln High School girls track and field team has returned five of its seven athletes who reached the podium at the Division I state meet last spring.
Add another three returnees who competed at state last year, and this year's roster is "probably one of the most talented teams I've had over the years," according to 31st-year coach Roger Whittaker.
Considering the Lions are coming off their first outright state championship and followed that up with a runner-up finish at the Division I state indoor meet March 2 at the SPIRE Institute in Geneva, that statement should say a lot.
"It's a young team," said Whittaker, who in January was named the national Coach of the Year by the National Federation of State High School Associations Coaches Association. "Girls mature quicker than guys, so as freshmen and sophomores, you see a lot of their ability. They're pretty talented."
The Lions, who won both the Hammond Relays on March 23 at Pickerington Central and the Hamilton Township Booster Invitational on March 26, will be host to the Gahanna Relays on Wednesday, April 17.
Leading the way are seniors Madison Martinez and Shynae Deas, both of whom ran on the 3,200-meter relay that won the state championship in 8 minutes, 53.49 seconds as well as on the 1,600 relay that won the title in 3:47.99. In the 800, Martinez was first (2:08.89) and Deas placed fourth (2:10.6).
Also returning after running on the 1,600 relay are junior Alexis Thigpen and sophomore Joi Bradley.
Sophomore Faith Hunter is the other returning state placer, having placed second in the high jump (5 feet, 9 inches).
Others who competed at state last year are juniors Trinity Houpe and Shaina Rutledge and sophomore Ciarra Carter.
Houpe and Rutledge joined Bradley and Thigpen on the 800 relay that placed 10th (1:42.82). In addition, Bradley, Houpe and Rutledge all ran on the 400 relay that was 14th (49.2), Thigpen finished 11th in the 400 (57.51), Houpe was 12th in the 300 hurdles (45.52) and Carter was 12th in the long jump (16-11).
Martinez has committed to Villanova, and Deas will compete for Indiana.
Senior Ari Redmond, who missed time last season with an injury, could end up on the 3,200 relay along with Martinez, Deas and Thigpen.
Other key seniors include Brooke Johnson (shot put) and Bronte Johnson (discus).
Also looking to contribute in sprints are sophomore Nya Bailey and freshmen Kaylan Harrison, Brianna Plummer, Lauren Stringer, Mkya Trent, Mkaia Trent and Bella Ward.
Redmond is among a group of distance runners that also includes juniors Riley Dickson and Tara Shope, sophomore Elise Wunderlin and freshman Alyssa Shope.
Other impact athletes include junior Lacey Stringer (shot put), sophomores Savannah Flusche (shot put), Amanda Lee (long jump, hurdles), Tamryn Lindsey (high jump, hurdles) and Kassidy Pearson (pole vault) and freshmen Taylor Marcum (middle distance) and Camryn Nelson (hurdles).
"The thing I like most about this team is that we've got quality options," Whittaker said. "We can hurt you in a lot of different ways."
Boys track team has strong senior group
With senior LaCarr Trent leading the way, the boys track and field team should have one of central Ohio's top sprinting corps.
Trent and senior Alex Drenski joined 2018 graduates Jerome Buckner and Joseph Gathuru on the 800 relay that won the Division I state title last year in 1:25.99. The same four also won state title in the 400 relay (41.79).
Another key sprinter has returned in senior Jayden Hill, who ran on the 800 relay during the state preliminary.
Gahanna finished fourth (28) at state last year and was fourth (26) at the state indoor meet last month as Trent won the 60 (6.79), was runner-up in the 200 (21.61) and joined Hill, Drenski and junior Derrick Bradley on the runner-up 1,600 relay (3:25.56).
Senior Lee Bennett is another key sprinter.
Trent has committed to run at Cincinnati and Hill will play football for Ohio Dominican.
There also are other areas of the track that third-year coach Shawn Johnston is excited about.
"From a depth perspective, this may the most depth we've had the past three years," Johnston said. "We've got some new guys that have come out outdoors that we'll take a look at."
The Lions, who were runners-up at the Hammond Relays and won the Booster Invitational, should be improved in the distance events with the addition of junior Ben Towler.
A DeSales transfer, Towler and junior returnee Riley Jackson helped the boys cross country team earn a program-best seventh-place finish at the state meet last November.
Junior Caleb Shovlin and sophomore Donovan Hight are others in the middle distance and distance events.
Sophomore A'Che Sanchez-Baccus returns after placing 16th at state in the shot put (48-6 3/4) last season.
At regional last year, senior Kelly Wilson placed fifth in the 110 hurdles (14.58) and ninth in the 300 hurdles (39.64), the 1,600 relay that included Drenski and Hill was sixth (3:21.51) and the 3,200 relay that included Hight, Jackson and Shovlin was 11th (8:14.1).
Junior Dillon Kaylor (high jump, hurdles) and sophomore Mondra Curry (long jump) are others looking to contribute.
"We've got some young guys that we might be talking about next year," Johnston said.
Boys tennis team fielding new lineup
After losing seven players to graduation, the boys tennis team opened with an entirely new lineup.
The only returnee is junior Kyle Fout, who will begin competing for the team in mid-April, according to 10th-year coach Chris Schwinnen.
"We're really starting over fresh this year," Schwinnen said. "The good news is that I've got a good freshman class, which reminds me of the senior class I just had. I'm going to have a good deal of sophomores playing and two foreign-exchange students. It was very unexpected to get both of them."
Sophomore Aoi Higuchi, an exchange student from Japan, is playing first singles, while junior Pierre Christiaen, an exchange student from France, is expected to mostly play doubles.
Sophomores Thomas Giles, Jacob McFall, Shaun Ugbana, Nick Wunderlin and Zach Wunderlin also are on the team.
Gahanna opened April 2 with a 5-0 loss to New Albany, as Higuchi played first singles, Ugbana was at second singles and Nick Wunderlin played third singles.
Gahanna is coming off a season in which it went 12-5 overall and 4-1 in the OCC-Ohio to share the title with Pickerington Central and Pickerington North. The Lions opened league action April 9 against Reynoldsburg.
In last year's postseason, the doubles team of 2018 graduates Colin Jordan and Daniel Shtein lost in the first round of the Division I district tournament.
"We're definitely young, but the way we've looked at this is obviously we still have a shot at the league title," Schwinnen said.
"This is going to be a rebounding year, but I'm not expecting us to go 5-15. I'm expecting us to still get 11 or 12 wins."
Below are the coming schedules for the Gahanna Lincoln baseball, boys lacrosse, girls lacrosse, softball, boys tennis, track & field and boys volleyball teams:
*April 12 -- At Pickerington North
*April 15 -- At Grove City
*April 17 -- Home vs. Grove City
*April 11 -- Home vs. Marysville
*April 16 -- At Pickerington Central
*April 11 -- At Marysville
*April 15 -- Home vs. Pickerington Central
*April 11 -- Home vs. Pickerington North
*April 15 -- At Grove City
April 16 -- Home vs. DeSales
*April 17 -- At Lancaster
*April 11 -- Home vs. Pickerington North
*April 16 -- At Grove City
April 17 -- At Westerville South
TRACK & FIELD
April 12 -- Friday Night Eagle Invitational at New Albany
April 13 -- Dublin Coffman Invitational
April 16 -- At Westerville South
April 17 -- Gahanna Relays
*April 11 -- At Reynoldsburg
April 13 -- TBA in Spike for Tykes at Mount Union
*April 16 -- Home vs. Hilliard Davidson