Last season, the Gahanna Lincoln boys basketball team had just one key senior and handed the reins of its offense to a freshman.
The Lions have much more experience heading into this season.
Expected to lead the way is 5-foot-11 sophomore point guard Sean Jones, who has emerged as one of the top players in the area after averaging 13.5 points and 3.5 assists and shooting 54 percent from the floor last season while making first-team all-OCC-Ohio Division and third-team all-district in Division I.
Gahanna has a strong senior class to complement Jones. Last season, the Lions' lone senior was Elijah Thomas, who averaged 13.9 points and earned second-team all-league honors.
"We're starting to get a lot of chemistry as a team," Jones said. "Us taking the next step is us taking ownership in doing the little things like boxing out, closing out, playing good defense and moving the ball."
Gahanna, which finished 15-9 overall and 4-6 in the OCC-Ohio last season, opened Nov. 27 with a 63-43 win over Westerville North and defeated Beechcroft 71-53 on Nov. 30 in the All-Ohio High School Hoops Showcase at home. The Lions begin league action Friday, Dec. 6, at home against Reynoldsburg.
Seniors Nate Staib (5-10, guard) and Zane Leitwein (6-1, guard) both averaged 6.5 points last season and junior Maceo Williams (6-5, forward) averaged five points. Staib was special mention all-league and Leitwein made honorable mention.
Jaiden Davis (6-4, forward), Phillip Pontious (6-0, guard), T.J. Thomas (6-5, wing player) and Travis Whittaker (5-10, guard) are the other seniors. Davis is recovering from a hip injury.
"I really like our senior class," 18th-year coach Tony Staib said. "They all complement each other very well. They're hard workers. They know and understand the game and this senior class has won a lot of games ever since middle school. They will really provide a lot of balance and leadership for us as well."
Javan Simmons, a 6-5 sophomore forward, is a Hartley transfer who gained varsity experience last season and is expected to be eligible the entire season because he already lives in the school district.
Also on the team are junior Jarius Jones (6-4, wing player) and sophomores Eljae Deas (5-11, guard), Jordan Green (6-2, guard), Cameron Johnson (6-1, guard) and Brendan Raymond (5-10, guard).
Gahanna's only other senior a year ago was Josh Corbin, who missed all of last season with an injury but is now playing for Winthrop.
"We were very young (last season)," coach Staib said. "First of all, we're healthy, and that's been a big issue for the last couple years when we had some key players hurt. The guys have been progressing very well and I feel like they improved with every scrimmage and every practice. I think the coaches and players are very pleased with the progress."
Girls bowlers have high expectations
With all but one of its key players returning, the girls bowling team is looking to defend its COHSBC-B and OCC-Central titles from a year ago.
Junior Lilu Smith is the top returnee after rolling a 506 three-game series to finish 23rd of 104 bowlers in the Division I district tournament and averaging 190.6 to finish sixth in the COHSBC.
"We have confidence in all of our bowlers and believe that they can do very well this year given the talent and their willingness to put in the work," second-year coach Yvonne Quiero said. "All of our varsity bowlers are returnees this season and we're extremely excited and optimistic about the upcoming season. The girls are focused, practicing hard, staying positive and having fun."
Senior Aubree Packer and sophomores Kaitlyn Mundschenk, Lindzi Oakman and Tori Richardson are other key returnees.
Senior Jalynn Johnson and sophomore Addison Watson are expected to be the team's other top bowlers, with juniors Bella Ferrante and Becky Gonzales likely to see time on junior varsity and varsity.
Gahanna opened Dec. 2 against Thomas Worthington at HP Lanes, which will be its home lanes this winter.
The Lions went 13-0 in the COHSBC-B and 6-0 in the OCC-Central last season.
"I don't know any coach that doesn't have high hopes for their teams," Quiero said. "Our hope this season is to make it through district competition to the state level, bowl our best and make our school proud both on and off the lane."
Boys bowlers bring back strong nucleus
There is only one senior in the program, but the boys bowling team doesn't plan to take a step back this season.
Last winter, the Lions won the COHSBC-B at 13-0 and the OCC-Central at 6-0 and finished fourth in the Division I district tournament -- one spot shy of a state berth -- for the second consecutive season.
Senior Nathan Minzler, who rolled a 300 and a program-best 728 three-game series in a regular-season match last season, is the top returnee. He finished ninth in the COHSBC with a 201.1 average.
"I'm expecting big things from Nathan Minzler, our only senior," said second-year coach Cris Ferrante, whose team opened Dec. 2 against Thomas at HP Lanes. "I know he's hoping to bowl in college, so I expect him to put on a show this season. ... Our top five are all pretty strong, just based on experience, how they performed last season and practice so far this season."
Junior Deandre Quiero is another key returnee, with sophomore Kevin Foit expected to be a varsity regular for the first time after seeing some action at that level last season.
Junior Jimmy Walther and sophomore Eddy Pax also are key bowlers.
Others looking to contribute include juniors Darrell Firks and Charlie Rich, sophomore Eli Tate and freshman Matthew Vansach.
"It will be hard to improve on last year's regular-season record, but our ultimate goal is to get to states," Ferrante said. "Our top five boys averaged 209 in tryouts for 15 games. That is 30 pins higher than I've ever seen in my five previous years of tryouts."
Below are the coming schedules for the Gahanna Lincoln boys basketball, girls basketball, bowling, hockey, swimming & diving and wrestling teams:
*Dec. 6 -- Home vs. Reynoldsburg
Dec. 10 -- At Westerville South
*Dec. 6 -- At Reynoldsburg
Dec. 10 -- Home vs. Westerville South
*Dec. 5 -- Whitehall at HP Lanes
*Dec. 9 -- Hilliard Bradley at HP Lanes
*Dec. 11 -- Worthington Kilbourne at HP Lanes
*Dec. 6 -- Olentangy at Chiller North
*Dec. 7 -- Watterson at Chiller Easton
Dec. 8 -- Troy at Chiller North
SWIMMING & DIVING
Dec. 6 -- Olentangy Liberty diving invitational at Ohio State; Grove City at Gahanna YMCA
Dec. 7 -- At Columbus Academy
Dec. 5 -- At Dublin Coffman
Dec. 7 -- At Granville Invitational