Coaching at the prep level wasn't necessarily on Nick Eley's radar when a friend asked him if he might be interested in getting into the profession a couple years ago.

CORRECTIONS: Because of a reporting error, the print and earlier online version of this story contained errors. Gahanna girls soccer coach Nick Eley graduated from Pickerington Central, not Pickerington North. Soccer player Ann Troutman is a senior, not a junior.

Coaching at the prep level wasn't necessarily on Nick Eley's radar when a friend asked him if he might be interested in getting into the profession a couple years ago.

Since then, the pieces have fallen into place for Eley, a 2010 Pickerington Central graduate who is in his first season as the Gahanna Lincoln girls coach.

An assistant under former coach Bob McGee last season, Eley inherits a program that has been among central Ohio's best for the last decade.

Gahanna went 40-6-11 with two OCC-Ohio Division championships and a 2016 Division I district title under McGee, who stepped down after leading the Lions to a 10-3-5 record and a share of the league title with Pickerington North last season. McGee was named coach at DeSales in July.

Eley takes over a Gahanna program with college recruits scattered throughout the field and a veteran roster that lost only two players to graduation.

"I love coaching," Eley said. "I wasn't even looking for a high school coaching position and one of my friends was like, 'Do you want to be a high school coaching assistant?' It all just happened, and all of a sudden, it's all I'm doing outside of work right now. I'm enjoying it. The girls are great and they work hard. We have a really great core of leadership with a lot of experience."

Gahanna opened Aug. 16 with a 1-0 win over Canal Winchester but doesn't play its OCC-Ohio opener until Sept. 10 at Reynoldsburg. The Lions and North both went 4-0-1 in the league last season.

Expected to lead Gahanna are senior forward Katie Stafford, senior defensive midfielder Taylor Molli and junior midfielder Alexei Whittaker. Stafford has committed to the University of Akron and Molli is a Xavier commit.

Stafford saw time at midfielder, defender and forward last season and had eight goals and four assists and Whittaker had 15 goals and six assists.

Senior forward Emily Beach, who had four goals and five assists last season, is an Ohio Dominican commit.

Other forwards are senior Isabelle Morrica, junior Natalie Stewart and sophomores Olivia Herzog and Taylor Marcum. Stewart had four goals and three assists last season.

Joining Whittaker in the midfield are seniors Kynsie Jonke and Julia Foresi, sophomore Jocelyn Wyant and freshman Dalyn Schepman. Marcum and junior Hannah Cumbow also should see time at that position.

Senior Peyton Marquez is leading a defensive unit that also includes junior Thalia Johnson and sophomores Meredith Clay and Ryanne Michel. Senior Ann Troutman provides depth in the back.

Junior Alyssa Redmond returns at goalkeeper, with junior Maddy Willis serving as the backup.

"We have a pretty hefty goal in front of us," Eley said. "A lot of the girls want to push toward obviously repeating as league champs and get to the regionals, if not state. I'm really happy with the group we have, and if we come together to push ourselves, we have a good chance to do something special."

Veteran boys soccer team has high hopes

A 13-member senior class that includes a fourth-year starter in midfielder Jarrett Lukacsko would like to lead the boys soccer team back to OCC-Ohio and area prominence.

The Lions had won at least a share of 12 consecutive league championships before having that run end in 2016.

"We're a senior-laden bunch," sixth-year coach Matt Kovach said. "The No. 1 goal is to win the OCC, and for this group of seniors, they haven't won one. They know about this program's tradition. We've had a lot of games in the last two years where if we'd have gotten a break here or there and made a play here or there we could have won a few more. We want to get to that next level of our play to turn those close losses or draws into wins. It's finding the next level of competitiveness and focus."

Lukacsko and senior Josh Gates, a midfielder who has started since his sophomore season, scored two goals apiece last season as Gahanna went 5-6-6 overall and 2-1-2 in the OCC-Ohio to tie Grove City for second behind Pickerington North (5-0).

The Lions opened Aug. 16 with a 2-1 loss to Canal Winchester and begin league action Sept. 10 against Reynoldsburg.

Joining Gates and Lukacsko at midfielder are senior Kalifa Manneh and sophomore Brenton Molli, with senior Ryan Butter and junior Cooper Solomon providing depth.

"Jarrett Lukacsko is our team engine, for sure, and we're going to challenge him to play a bigger role in our attack," Kovach said. "We think he's up for the challenge and is going to have a big, big season."

Senior Dominic Spradlin and sophomore Niko Kokales should lead the forward line along with senior Matt Haun and juniors Phillip Fallon and Mustapha Kinteh. Spradlin previously played mostly at outside back.

Senior Noah Erick missed all of last season with an injury but is expected to lead the defense along with seniors Alex Baker and Abdul Abdullahi. Senior Luke Clay should see time at center back and defensive midfielder, with senior Kalifa Manneh and junior Ty Bentley also playing key roles and seniors Ethan Chiovarelli and Steven Nance providing depth in the back.

Senior Payton Smith returns at goalie, with juniors Jacob Cole and Juan Miranda serving as the backups.

"We're excited for the season," Kovach said. "We're going to compete."

julrey@thisweeknews.com

@UlreyThisWeek

Schedules

Below are the coming schedules for the Gahanna Lincoln cross country, boys golf, girls golf, boys soccer, girls soccer, girls tennis and girls volleyball teams:

CROSS COUNTRY

Aug. 24 -- Pickerington North Classic

BOYS GOLF

Aug. 27 -- OCC-Ohio at Denison Golf Club

Aug. 28 -- Worthington Christian at Little Turtle

GIRLS GOLF

Aug. 22 -- Olentangy Liberty at Scioto Reserve

BOYS SOCCER

Aug. 22 -- At Westland

Aug. 24 -- Home vs. Olentangy Liberty

Aug. 27 -- At New Albany

GIRLS SOCCER

Aug. 24 -- At Troy

Aug. 27 -- Home vs. New Albany

GIRLS TENNIS

*Aug. 22 -- Home vs. Reynoldsburg

*Aug. 27 -- At Pickerington North

Aug. 28 -- Home vs. Bexley

GIRLS VOLLEYBALL

Aug. 22 -- Home vs. Olentangy Liberty

Aug. 27 -- At New Albany

*League contest