Shortly after the Gahanna Lincoln girls tennis team recognized its seniors before a home match against Dublin Jerome on Sept. 25, nearly everyone in attendance gathered to watch the third-singles match.
The cheering got especially loud every time senior Maria Magnacca hit the ball during the first action of her prep career.
Magnacca, who has Down syndrome and has been involved in the sport through the 'Buddy Up' program, has served as Gahanna's team manager the past four years.
"It's been very heart-warming to see the other kids want to watch," said Dave Magnacca, Maria's father. "It's been a lot of fun."
Magnacca played third singles against Jerome's Reagan Resor, who Gahanna coach Chris Schwinnen has known through a junior tennis program.
Schwinnen has long wanted to get Magnacca into a varsity match.
"I actually said to Joan (Magnacca, Maria's mother), 'I'd love to have Maria play in a match,'" Schwinnen said. "Joan was like, 'Let's do it senior year,' and in the blink of an eye senior year is here. I'm good friends with coach (Ken) Berlin of Jerome and I actually work with Reagan in the summertime, so in August when we were looking for a potential match to do this in, that was an easy selection. Knowing what a great person she is, putting her on the court with Maria would be perfect because she'd know exactly what to do."
According to Schwinnen, not having Magnacca and her family around next year "will be our biggest loss."
"She started with a program called 'Buddy Up' tennis, and when she was a freshman, she started with the team as a manager," Joan Magnacca said. "Her coach, Chris Schwinnen, was the one who was open to having her come and play and has been a wonderful person to her and to our family to include her in every single way possible."
Magnacca is one of eight seniors involved with the Lions' program this season, with Madi Herrmann being the only regular in the lineup.
Gahanna was 11-8 before closing the regular season Sept. 30 against Hilliard Davidson.
The Lions will compete in a Division I sectional Thursday, Oct. 3, and Saturday, Oct. 5, at Hilliard Bradley. Herrmann and sophomore Caroline Mattox are seeded fourth in doubles, while sophomore Sophie Graham and freshman Alana Amer will comprise the other doubles team.
Competing in singles are freshmen Mary Grace Halliday and Frankie Nuss and sophomore Aubrey Thomas.
The top four finishers in singles and doubles advance to the district tournament Oct. 10 and 12 at Reynoldsburg.
Boys runners rounding into form
The boys cross country team has been stressing having a tighter pack with the OCC-Ohio meet approaching.
The Lions have no issues at the top of their lineup with seniors Riley Jackson and Ben Towler leading the way.
At the Tiger Invitational, Jackson was runner-up (15:57) and Towler placed third (16:01.4) as the Lions scored 41 points to finish first of nine teams, ahead of runner-up Upper Arlington (67).
Junior Connor Hughes-Hemsoth (ninth, 16:40.6) was next for the Lions, followed by senior Ryan Mehalic (10th, 16:43), freshman Alex Eggleston (17th, 17:08.7), senior Caleb Shovlin (19th, 17:34.4) and sophomore Jordan Anderson (20th, 17:42).
Junior Donovan Hight, who was unavailable to run at that meet, also has been one of the team's top competitors.
"It's been going OK," coach Ryan Beck said. "We started off a little rougher in the first meet than we would have liked. We didn't really do a time trial this year, so the first race on grass was a little bit of a shocker, but it's been coming together. One of the main things we're working on is getting the time separation between our first through five runners smaller. It's at about 43 seconds or so and we're looking to get it more towards 30 seconds, ideally."
Girls runners seek better health
The girls cross country team is hoping to have its full arsenal available for the OCC-Ohio Division meet Oct. 12 at Lancaster.
Sophomore Alyssa Shope, who was the team's No. 1 runner at the end of last season, has been battling injuries all season, as has senior Riley Dickson.
In addition, senior Natalie Clay has been "banged up," according to coach Ernie Ziegler.
"We're not running bad," Ziegler said. "Our issue has been just health and getting people healthy. We've had just about everybody have some kind of ailment, ache or pain that has set them back by a week or so, so just trying to get everyone healthy has been the challenge. When we're running, we've been solid."
On Sept. 21 in the Tiger Invitational at Pickerington Central, the Lions finished first (46 points) of seven teams, ahead of runner-up Pickerington North (63), as senior Tara Shope placed third (20 minutes, 21 seconds), sophomore Hannah Reich finished sixth (20:28.1) and junior Elise Wunderlin placed seventh (20:34.2).
Juniors Rachel Bolumen and Olivia Keener and sophomore Olivia Perry also have been key contributors.
"Tara Shope is running about as well as she's ever run," Ziegler said. "She's doing really, really well and is kind of the heartbeat of the team right now. Hannah Reich is running a lot on talent and doesn't really know how to race yet, but as a first-year runner, she's one of our better runners. Our strength is our pack."
Below are the coming schedules for the Gahanna Lincoln cross country, boys golf, girls golf, boys soccer, girls soccer and girls volleyball teams:
Oct. 5 -- Les Eisenhart Invitational at Thomas Worthington
Oct. 2 -- Competed in Division I sectional at Turnberry. The top four teams and top four individuals not on qualifying teams advanced to district Oct. 8 at Apple Valley.
Oct. 2 -- Competed in Division I sectional at Blacklick Woods. The top three teams and top three individuals not on qualifying teams advanced to district Oct. 8 at New Albany Links.
*Oct. 3 -- Home vs. Lancaster
*Oct. 3 -- At Lancaster
*Oct. 3 -- At Lancaster. The Lions defeated the Golden Gales 25-14, 25-20, 25-17 on Sept. 12.
Oct. 7 -- At DeSales