Whenever Gahanna Lincoln senior Ben Towler wants to go for a run, he doesn't have to go far to find a partner.
The relationship he has with one particular teammate on the boys cross country team, senior Riley Jackson, has flourished over several years.
"Me and Riley have known each other for a long time, we live in the same neighborhood and have known each other since elementary school," Towler said. "Me and Riley are also great at pushing each other. We both have had our fair share of setbacks, but we always try to push each other through each and every race."
In the OCC-Ohio Division meet Oct. 12 at Lancaster, Jackson placed third in 16 minutes, 7.4 seconds and Towler was fourth (16:18.1) as Gahanna scored 36 points but was unable to defend its league title, finishing second behind Pickerington North (33).
Towler, who also trains with senior Ryan Mehalic, and Jackson believe the Lions are in position to build on one of their best seasons in program history.
Gahanna, which made the Division I state meet last season for the first time in 14 years and finished seventh, open the postseason Saturday, Oct. 19, with the district 2 meet at Hilliard Darby, from which the top five teams and top 20 individuals advance to regional Oct. 26 at Pickerington North.
In the Les Eisenhart Invitational on Oct. 5 at Thomas Worthington, Jackson and Towler both ran personal-best times, placing seventh (15:42.7) and 10th (15:45), respectively.
"Me and Ben have a friendly rivalry between us and train together all the time," Jackson said. "We're friends outside of racing, but once the race starts, we both understand that it's every man for themselves. We're at similar fitness levels, so I know that I can stay with him and Ben can stay with me. We push each other every race. Having Ben on the team has helped me have a partner in both racing and training."
Towler, who attended DeSales his first two prep seasons and made the Division II state meet as a sophomore, finished 21st (16:32) at state last season while Jackson was 57th (16:57).
Also in the league meet, Mehalic placed fifth (16:34.2), followed by junior Donovan Hight (11th, 17:05.9), freshman Alex Eggleston (13th, 17:08.9), junior Connor Hughes-Hemsoth (19th, 17:19.9) and sophomore Vincent Siegel (29th, 17:46).
Girls runners earn OCC title
The girls cross country team scored 40 points to capture the OCC-Ohio title Oct. 12 at Lancaster, placing ahead of the host Golden Gales (47), Pickerington North (76), Pickerington Central (92), Reynoldsburg (112) and Grove City (172).
The Lions will compete in the Division I, district 3 meet Saturday, Oct. 19, at Darby, from which the top six teams and top 24 individuals advance to regional Oct. 26 at Pickerington North.
In the league meet, sophomore Alyssa Shope finished third (19:55.8), followed by senior Natalie Clay (20:19.4), junior Elise Wunderlin (seventh, 20:20.4), seniors Riley Dickson (10th, 20:55.4) and Tara Shope (15th, 21:28.3), junior Megan Massmann (17th, 21:36.4) and sophomore Olivia Perry (18th, 21:37.1).
Football team captures first win
For the first time this season, the football team will face an opponent that has a losing record when it plays host to Lancaster on Friday, Oct. 18.
The Golden Gales fell to 2-4 overall and 1-1 in the OCC-Ohio with a 34-0 loss to Pickerington Central on Oct. 11.
The teams have met 23 times since 1997, including twice in 2006 when Gahanna lost to Lancaster 34-3 in the regular season but avenged the loss with a 33-28 win in the first round of the Division I playoffs. Since that time, Gahanna has gone 12-11 against the Gales.
The Lions are coming off their first victory, a 29-28 comeback win over Reynoldsburg on Oct. 11 to improve to 1-6 overall and 1-1 in the league and will try to avenge a 31-14 loss to the Gales last season.
Gahanna beat the Raiders for the second consecutive season.
"We talk about our mindset and how we need to change it during the week and practice harder," senior quarterback Will Thomas said. "We have young guys and we're starting to get through to them. Everybody is starting to play together as a team."
Junior quarterback Titan Johnson guides Lancaster's wing-T offense and had thrown for 473 yards and three touchdowns through five games. Senior Curtis Young, who has seen time at quarterback and running back, rushed for 135 yards in a 34-12 win over Grove City on Oct. 4.
Senior wide receiver Casey Finck had 220 yards on 11 receptions through five games for Lancaster.
Against Reynoldsburg, Thomas connected with Brendon Raymond for a 33-yard touchdown with 16 seconds remaining and Travis Whittaker scored on a two-point conversion pass from Thomas for the winning points.
Boys golfers close season at district
A long drought for the boys golf team almost came to an end Oct. 8 when junior Mitchell Soma shot a 70 to share medalist honors with Westerville Central's Josh Qian and Pickerington North's Carson Bellish in the Division I district tournament at Apple Valley.
However, Bellish won the first hole of a three-way playoff and Qian beat Soma on the second hole, as Bellish and Qian secured the individual berths for the state tournament Friday, Oct. 18, and Saturday, Oct. 19, at Ohio State's Scarlet Course.
Soma was trying to become the first Gahanna golfer since Tim Collins in 1993 to compete at state as an individual. The Lions never have qualified for state as a team.
"I was striking the ball well from the start and played aggressively all day, especially from the par 5s," Soma said. "I was able to birdie all of them, so that really helped keep my momentum going. Whenever I made a bad mistake or got a bogey on a hole, I just moved along."
Making its third consecutive district appearance, Gahanna finished ninth (318) of 12 teams as Dublin Jerome (300) and Olentangy Liberty (303) advanced to state.
The only senior to compete at district for the Lions was Dylan Errington, who shot a 73 to tie for seventh. Also competing were junior Max Hahn (87), sophomore Evan Henry (88) and sophomore Kyle Lark (102).
Gahanna won the first two league championships in program history in 2017 and 2018 but tied Pickerington North for third in the OCC-Ohio at 13-7 behind Pickerington Central (16-4) and Grove City (14-6).
Soma averaged 77 and Errington averaged 78 in the four-round OCC-Ohio tournament as both made first-team all-league. Hahn (81.25) and Henry (83.5) were honorable mention all-league.
Below are the coming schedules for the Gahanna Lincoln boys soccer, girls soccer and girls volleyball teams:
Oct. 15 -- Played 17th-seeded Grove City in first round of Division I district tournament. Winner plays 19th-seeded Olentangy or 46th-seeded Newark in second round Oct. 17 at home of better seed. Winner plays 10th-seeded Olentangy Berlin, 11th-seeded Upper Arlington or 50th-seeded Franklin Heights in district semifinal Oct. 22 at home of better seed. The Lions are seeded 24th.
Oct. 16 -- Played 39th-seeded Groveport in first round of Division I district tournament. Winner plays at 17th-seeded Dublin Jerome in second round Oct. 19. That winner plays 14th-seeded Canal Winchester, 17th-seeded Upper Arlington or 34th-seeded Licking Heights in district semifinal Oct. 26 at home of better seed. The Lions are seeded 16th.
Oct. 16 -- Played 23rd-seeded Dublin Jerome or 25th-seeded Delaware in second round of Division I district tournament. Winner plays seventh-seeded Dublin Scioto, 29th-seeded Reynoldsburg or 42nd-seeded Northland in district semifinal Oct. 22 at Central Crossing. The Lions are seeded 10th.