The Gahanna Lincoln boys cross country team reached the Division I state meet for the first time in 14 years last fall.
Two weeks earlier, the Lions impressed seventh-year coach Ryan Beck by not only finishing first in the district 1 meet, but also winning the district open race.
Gahanna then earned a regional runner-up finish before turning in a seventh-place finish (244 points) at state behind champion Hudson (107).
"We were a pretty deep team last year and appear to be deep again," Beck said. "We've got some guys that are pretty decent below (our top varsity runners). We've got a big, deep team, guys are working really hard and they're excited. We're actually a veteran team, which I wouldn't have been able to say until about three years ago. We've been young for a couple years."
On Aug. 24, the Lions finished third (108) of 18 teams in the Panther Race of the Pickerington Classic behind host Pickerington North (59) and Thomas Worthington (107) as senior Riley Jackson placed fifth (16 minutes, 11.3 seconds) and senior Ben Towler was seventh (16:14.9).
Seniors Ryan Mehalic and Caleb Shovlin and juniors Ryan Amer, Donovan Hight and Connor Hughes-Hemsoth also are key returnees.
Seniors Max Devine, Garreth Dowlen and Max Rincon, juniors Isaac Mair, Isaiah Rowe and Ben Workman, sophomore Jordon Anderson and freshmen A.J. Eggleston and Owen Huzicka are others looking to contribute.
Eggleston has been recovering from an injury but could move into a key role when healthy, according to Beck.
"We're up around 70 (athletes) and we've had a really successful summer," Beck said. "There was a lot of buy-in. At the top end, they definitely have a goal to go to state and finish pretty high up."
Girls cross country coach likes 'options'
The girls cross country team has about 40 athletes, representing one of its highest totals under 14th-year coach Ernie Ziegler.
"We're pretty deep," Ziegler said. "We've got about 15 girls that could realistically run varsity, which is a good problem to have. It gives you options."
After finishing 16th in the Division I state meet in 2017, the Lions settled for eighth at regional last season, which served as a "wake-up call," according to Ziegler.
On Aug. 24 in the Panther Race of the Pickerington Classic, the Lions finished sixth (146) of 12 teams behind champion Thomas (83).
Sophomore Alyssa Shope, who did not compete at the Pickerington Classic, was the team's No. 1 runner at regional last year, finishing 22nd (19:50.8).
Sophomore Hannah Reich led the Lions at the Pickerington Classic with an 18th-place finish (20:37.3), while senior Natalie Clay, who missed last season with an injury, finished 26th (20:57.2) as Gahanna's No. 2 runner.
Tara Shope and Riley Dickson are other top seniors.
Juniors Olivia Keener, Megan Massmann, Kassie Pearson, Gabriella Sophocleous and Elise Wunderlin, sophomores Sophie Gartland and Olivia Perry and freshmen Vicky Miller and Ava Tominack also are looking to be key runners for Gahanna, which was runner-up (49) in the OCC-Ohio Division meet last year behind Lancaster (42).
"Last year, they thought they were going to win the conference, and a lot of the girls were shocked," Ziegler said. "They came out and have worked hard and are laser-focused. They're focused on getting to the state meet again. On paper, we're very talented. It's going to be a fun season."
Football team set to face Shamrocks
The football team's next opponent is coming off one of its most successful seasons in recent years and has one of central Ohio's longest-tenured coaches.
On Friday, Sept. 6, the Lions will travel to Dublin Coffman, which went 11-2 and was a Division I regional runner-up last season under coach Mark Crabtree, who is in his 19th season.
While Gahanna opened Aug. 30 at home against Cincinnati Elder, the Shamrocks played their opener that same night at Clayton Northmont. All four teams made the 2018 playoffs.
Coffman lost to Olentangy Liberty 21-7 in the Region 2 final two weeks after the Lions lost to the Patriots 14-7 in a first-round game.
While Gahanna has since moved to Region 3, the Shamrocks remain in Region 2.
"We've got a tough schedule, one of the toughest in Division I," coach Bruce Ward said.
The Lions were hoping to get off to a better start than a season ago when they were shut out by Elder 31-0 and followed with a 38-25 loss to the Shamrocks.
Having an experienced group of skill position players was among the reasons Ward believed that was possible.
In addition to returning senior Will Thomas at quarterback after he started all 11 games last season, the Lions brought back senior Travis Whittaker at running back after he was one of the team's top contributors at the position as well as senior wide receivers Kobie Stillwell and Cam Morris.
Gahanna also returned three of its five starting offensive linemen from last season, including senior A'che Sanchez-Baccus.
"We potentially can be real competitive with that nucleus back on offense," Ward said. "It's defense where the questions are. We graduated every one of our linebackers and three out of four in the (secondary)."
Coffman has a new quarterback in junior Connor Mathews but features six returning starters on offense, including senior Mike Drennen, who could see time at running back and wide receiver, and Jameel Williamson, who is a slot receiver.
The Shamrocks also have eight returning starters on defense after giving up an average of 13.4 points over their final eight games of last season.
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:
Sept. 7 -- Mason Invitational at Corwin Nixon Park
Sept. 7 -- Hickory Hills Invitational
Sept. 11 -- OCC-Ohio at Turnberry
Sept. 5 -- Delaware at Jefferson
Sept. 9 -- Grove City, Thomas Worthington and Worthington Kilbourne at Worthington Hills
Sept. 5 -- At Olentangy Orange
*Sept. 10 -- Home vs. Reynoldsburg
Sept. 7 -- Home vs. Findlay
*Sept. 10 -- At Reynoldsburg
*Sept. 5 -- At Pickerington Central
Sept. 9 -- Home vs. Dublin Scioto
Sept. 10 -- At Hilliard Bradley
*Sept. 5 -- At Pickerington North
Sept. 7 -- At Hilliard Davidson with Big Walnut and Thomas Worthington
*Sept. 10 -- Home vs. Grove City