Senior forward Katie Stafford has been at the center of the Gahanna Lincoln girls soccer team's offensive success throughout her prep career.

Off the pitch, she's been involved with a local food bank, Gahanna Residents in Need (GRIN), for as long as she can remember and started a service project with the soccer program to collect goods to donate.

"I've always grown up helping people and serving people," said Stafford, who has committed to play for the University of Akron. "I think I want to major in biomedical sciences. I really like science and decided to combine the two."

Stafford's skills on the field have continued to grow since scoring 11 goals in both her freshman and sophomore seasons. She scored eight last fall when the Lions went 10-3-5, but is on pace to eclipse her career high this season.

Stafford had nine goals through 11 games for Gahanna, which lost to Watterson 4-1 on Sept. 21 and was 5-3-3 overall and 2-0-1 in the OCC-Ohio before facing Grove City on Sept. 24.

The Lions, who close league action Oct. 3 at Lancaster, have relied more heavily on her offensive skills than in years past because of injuries.

Senior midfielder Taylor Molli was lost to a season-ending injury Aug. 16 during a 1-0 victory over Canal Winchester and junior midfielder Alexei Whittaker has yet to play because of an offseason injury.

The Lions, who were averaging 2.4 goals through 10 games, are hoping Whittaker can return late this season to add an offensive boost after registering 15 goals and six assists a year ago.

In a 1-all tie with Pickerington North on Sept. 17, Stafford assisted on senior forward Emily Beach's first-half goal.

"As far as offensive production is concerned, two of our leading goal-scorers, Emily Beach and Katie Stafford, are both seniors and have scored the majority of our goals and assisted on the majority of our goals," first-year coach Nick Eley said. "Katie is a four-year starter and has a great work ethic and shows great leadership."

This season, Stafford has focused on being a strong leader as the Lions continue to adjust to not having some of their key players while also adapting to a new system under Eley.

"Because of the injuries, it's really given a lot of our younger players more experience in the game," Stafford said. "Of course, with injuries you have to kind of adapt to new positions, so we have girls who usually play defense that are now playing midfielder and midfielders who are playing at forward.

"I feel like our program is starting out fresh. (Eley) has brought in a lot of new ideas that have really made an impact on the team. One of them is togetherness, which is part of our cheer before each game. I've been a captain the last two years, so I've really had to step up in my leadership role. Of course, it's been fun, but it's also a lot of responsibility. I have to deal with situations not everyone wants to deal with."

Tennis team possesses 'wonderful' attitudes

The girls tennis team will play its final regular-season match Monday, Sept. 30, at home against Hilliard Davidson before beginning the postseason with sectional competition Oct. 3 and 5.

A roster filled with mostly freshmen and sophomores has continued to progress, according to coach Chris Schwinnen.

The Lions were 10-6 overall before facing Big Walnut on Sept. 23, Olentangy Berlin on Sept. 24 and Dublin Jerome on Sept. 25. Gahanna finished third in the OCC-Ohio at 3-2, behind Pickerington North (5-0) and Pickerington Central (4-1).

"They've all got wonderful attitudes," Schwinnen said. "We've only got one senior and we've had some really close matches. They're doing great. They've got a great work ethic, they're coachable and they're having a lot of fun and learning a lot. We're gaining some match play experience and having a great season."

Sophomore Aubrey Thomas and freshman Frankie Nuss, who have spent much of the season at first singles and second singles, respectively, are likely to compete in singles for the postseason.

Sophomore Caroline Mattox has been at third singles for much of the season, while senior Maddie Herrmann, sophomores Sophie Graham and Harshi Vathyam and freshmen Alana Amer and Mary Grace Halliday also are among the key players.

Volleyball team battling for title

The girls volleyball team entered the second half of OCC-Ohio action in first place.

The Lions were 11-4 overall and 6-0 in the league after beating Reynoldsburg 25-16, 25-23, 25-17 on Sept. 19.

On Sept. 24, Gahanna played host to Pickerington North in a rematch of a contest the Lions won 25-17, 25-14, 18-25, 22-25, 15-8 on Sept. 5. The Panthers were 5-1 in the league heading into the rematch.

The Lions snapped a two-match skid by beating Pickerington Central 25-17, 25-16, 25-12 on Sept. 17 as Kendall White had 10 kills, Lexi Tatum had nine and Sophia Hill and Anna Nie both had seven. Kelsey Cripe and Kailey Mishler both had nine digs and White and Mishler had 16 and 15 assists, respectively.

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

Sept. 28 -- Erin Nance Fall Distance Classic at London Country Club and Panther Invitational at Pickerington North

BOYS GOLF

Sept. 26 -- Granville at Little Turtle

Sept. 28 -- Pickerington Central Invitational at Turnberry

Oct. 2 -- Division I sectional at Turnberry. Top four teams and top four individuals not on qualifying teams advance to district tournament Oct. 8 at Apple Valley.

GIRLS GOLF

Oct. 2 -- Division I sectional at Blacklick Woods. Top three teams and top three individuals not on qualifying teams advance to district tournament Oct. 8 at New Albany Links.

BOYS SOCCER

Sept. 26 -- At Big Walnut

Oct. 1 -- At Hilliard Davidson

GIRLS SOCCER

Sept. 28 -- At Upper Arlington

Oct. 1 -- Home vs. Olentangy Liberty

GIRLS TENNIS

Sept. 30 -- Home vs. Hilliard Davidson

GIRLS VOLLEYBALL

*Sept. 26 -- At Grove City. The Lions beat the Greyhounds 25-18, 25-23, 20-25, 21-25, 16-14 on Sept. 10.

Oct. 1 -- Home vs. Upper Arlington

*League contest