The van rides to and from matches for the Gahanna Lincoln High School boys tennis team have been especially lively this spring with the addition of exchange students Pierre Christiaen and Aoi Higuchi.
Christiaen, a junior from France, and Higuchi, a sophomore from Japan, have been regulars in the Lions' lineup and have been at the center of the team's growing camaraderie despite being new to the program as well as the school.
"The exchange students have been amazing this year," coach Chris Schwinnen said. "It's totally changed the dynamic of the team. They're good tennis players, but what I've noticed is how much fun the guys are having. The conversations they have are like, 'What's it like in France? What's it like in Japan? What are the differences here and there?' And the guys joking around, 'How do I say this in Japanese or how do I say this in French?'"
Higuchi played first singles in the first half of the season but moved to second singles when junior Kyle Fout joined the team, while Christiaen has spent most of the season at first or second doubles.
Fout and Higuchi are the top-seeded doubles team at a Division I sectional Thursday, May 9, and Saturday, May 11, at Pickerington Central. Christiaen and sophomore Zach Wunderlin also will play doubles.
Playing singles at sectional are junior Thomas Giles and sophomores Shawn Ugbana and Nick Wunderlin.
The top four finishers in singles and doubles advance to the district tournament May 16 and 18 at Reynoldsburg.
The additions of Higuchi and Christiaen helped the Lions go 12-2 overall in dual matches and win the OCC-Ohio Division title at 5-0.
Higuchi, who has been playing tennis since age 6, is from Sakura, a city located in the Chiba Prefecture of Japan near Tokyo.
"I wanted to learn English and about American culture," Higuchi said. "I wanted to find my dream, so I came here. It's been good. Everyone is so kind. I really like the food here, hamburgers and French fries."
Christiaen's sister, Marion, was an exchange student at DeSales last school year and competed for the Stallions' girls track and field team.
His family lives in Bordeaux, France, which he says feels similar in size to Columbus.
"It's been pretty cool to see the differences between school here and school in France and all the different culture we have here," Christiaen said. "It's been a good experience. Here you move between classes, but in France you stay in the same classes all the time. Also, I would say that in France, sports are not included in school, so it's pretty cool that they have it here. In France, you only compete in private clubs.
"I've had a very good time. I've met great people and like everybody on the team. About two months before I came here, it seemed like (being in America for the entire school year) would seem like a long time, but I feel like I came here two months ago because everything is different and you learn a lot. There is no time to be bored."
Higuchi and Christiaen have been staying with host families. Christiaen has stayed with Michelle Jarrett, a club manager and tennis pro at Olympic Indoor tennis.
The Lions have no seniors on varsity, although Higuchi and Christiaen both will be returning to their home countries at the end of the school year.
"The conversations have been fun and I think they've added such a fun, energetic dynamic to the team," Schwinnen said. "Someone asked, 'Where does your family go?' And Pierre was saying that about every other weekend he goes skiing in the Alps and the guys were like, 'What?' To these guys, Mad River Mountain is the closest thing. Pierre's like, 'That's nothing.' It's been fantastic."
Volleyball team wins league title
A year after finishing as runner-up in the OCC-Ohio, the boys volleyball team wrapped up the league championship with a 25-7, 25-12, 25-8 victory over Reynoldsburg on May 2.
The Lions were 19-2 overall and 13-0 in the league before closing league action May 7 at Hilliard Davidson. They will conclude the regular season with matches Thursday, May 9, at home against Licking Heights and Tuesday, May 14, in the OCC Challenge at Hilliard Darby.
"This OCC run has been great because we've had numerous people contributing all season long," coach Mike Sage said.
Against Reynoldsburg, Adam Chandoul had six kills, Kurt Klamfoth had five kills, Mason Milan had four kills and Milan and McCord Riegler each had six serving aces. Setter Logan Burrell had 22 assists and Logan McDonald led the defense, according to Sage.
The Division I East Region tournament drawing will be held Monday, May 13. First-round matches will be played May 18.
Track teams ready for league meet
The track and field teams are set to compete in the OCC-Ohio meet Thursday, May 9, and Saturday, May 11, at Groveport.
The Lions then will shift their attention to the postseason, which begins next week with the Division I district meet that concludes May 18 at Hilliard Darby.
According to girls coach Roger Whittaker, his team should contend for championships in each of its remaining meets.
In last week's area honor roll, the Lions were first in the 400-meter relay (48.5 seconds), first in the 800 relay (1:42.22), first in the 1,600 relay (3:57.6) and fifth in the 3,200 relay (9:51.18).
Individually, senior Madison Martinez was first in the 800 (2:14.35) and second in both the 400 (57.56) and 1,600 (5:07.12). She also had the 14th-best time in the 3,200 (11:36.47).
Junior Alexis Thigpen was first in the 400 (56.85), senior Brooke Johnson was first in the shot put (41 feet, 9 inches), sophomore Faith Hunter was third in the high jump (5-4) and sophomore Ciarra Carter was fifth in the long jump (17-1).
"Things are progressing well," Whittaker said. "We're on track right now. It's all about peaking at the right time and staying healthy. You don't want to be ahead of schedule too far because by the time regionals arrive, you want to be near peak form. Obviously, the goal is to peak at state."
In last week's boys area honor roll, senior LaCarr Trent was first in the 100 (10.6) and junior Riley Jackson was second in the 3,200 (9:24.26).
Baseball team in thick of title race
The baseball team entered the week entrenched in a battle with Lancaster and Pickerington North for the OCC-Ohio title.
The Lions were 14-4 overall and 9-3 in the league before playing Grove City on May 6 and Lancaster on May 8. They play host to Pickerington Central on Friday, May 10, and must make up a game against North that was postponed May 3.
Gahanna split its first two games with Lancaster, winning 10-8 on April 22 on the road and losing 7-5 on April 24 at home.
After the loss to the Golden Gales, the Lions won their next three games, beating Central 8-1 on April 29 at home and 12-1 on April 30 on the road and completing a season sweep of Reynoldsburg with a 14-2 victory May 1 on the road.
Blake Reed was the winning pitcher in the first game against Central. Zach Marzetz picked up the win and Max Bowman, Noah Laurent and Luke Baker all had three hits in the second matchup against the Tigers.
Against Reynoldsburg, Mason Weber was the winning pitcher and Evan Wolfe went 4-for-4 with three RBI.
The Lions, who play host to Teays Valley on Thursday, May 9, and visit Olentangy on Saturday, May 11, are the fifth seed in the Division I district tournament and will open Wednesday, May 15, at home against 37th-seeded Thomas Worthington or 44th-seeded Franklin Heights in the second round.
Softball team begins postseason
The ninth-seeded softball team opened the Division I district tournament May 6 at home against 43rd-seeded Mifflin.
The winner played in a second-round game May 8 at seventh-seeded Watkins Memorial, with that winner facing eighth-seeded Olentangy Liberty or 18th-seeded Newark in a district semifinal Monday, May 13, at a site to be announced. The district final will be played May 17 or 18 at Pickerington Central.
The Lions were 13-8 overall before facing Mifflin.
Gahanna was in the middle of the OCC-Ohio title race before losing to Grove City 7-2 on April 30 and Pickerington Central 15-7 on May 1. The Lions finished 6-4 in the league, tying Grove City for third behind co-champions Lancaster and Central (both 8-2).
Against Grove City, the Lions led 2-0 after two innings and the game was tied at 2 before the Greyhounds scored five runs in the top of the seventh.
Lacrosse teams to open postseason
The boys lacrosse team is the 15th seed in the Division I, Region 3 tournament and will open Tuesday, May 14, at third-seeded New Albany in a first-round game. The winner plays fifth-seeded Thomas Worthington or sixth-seeded St. Charles in a regional quarterfinal May 17.
The girls team is seeded 14th and will open the Region 3 tournament Monday, May 13, at fifth-seeded Dublin Scioto, with the winner playing fourth-seeded Dublin Coffman or 16th-seeded Hilliard Bradley in a regional quarterfinal May 17.