The Gahanna Lincoln wrestling team has returned two of its six Division I district qualifiers from last season.
Perhaps just as important for the Lions is that Mike Flusche is back for his second season as coach after becoming the fourth coach in as many seasons last year.
"The big thing was last year's senior class was on their fourth coach in four years," Flusche said. "The stability and the fact that I was coming back was huge for some of these parents. You can tell it was different for the kids."
Gahanna, which competes Saturday, Dec. 14, in the Hamilton Township Invitational, should be led by seniors Paolo Dragin (160 pounds) and Torian Rachel (152), juniors Ricky Alli (170/182) and Charles Williams (126/132) and sophomore Carter Pearson (120).
Williams went 2-2 at district at 120 and 24-10 overall last season, as the Lions placed fifth in the OCC-Ohio Division at 1-4 behind champion Lancaster (5-0).
The other returning district qualifier is Pearson, who went 0-2 at district and won six matches at 106 but has moved up two weight classes.
Dragin finished fifth at sectional and won 12 matches last season, while Rachel went 19-13 and Alli won 11 matches.
Senior Justice Richardson Falls (220) and sophomore Patrick Christie (145) are others who competed in last year's postseason.
Freshman Gavin Larrison is expected to be at 106, while freshmen Henry Colbert and Elijah Lee could fill spots at 113 or 120.
Junior Mason Schumacher, who is new to the team but has previous experience in the sport, is among those who could be at 138, along with freshman Finn Devine. Sophomore Chandler Block and freshman Skylar Barr are others at 145, while junior Marcus Rogers should be at 145 or 152 and junior Quran Burns is another at 160.
Sophomore Jordan Mann should see time at 182 or 195, with senior Albert Simpson and freshman Griffin Flusche among those at 220. Sophomores Victor Anderson and Lamond Rhodes and freshmen Jaden Hammond and Ali Kaba are others who could help at 220 or heavyweight.
The biggest losses to graduation were Nate Garbark (195), who went 2-2 at district and finished 21-13 overall; Juan Porras (126), who went 1-2 at district to finish 28-14; and Dylan Kankiewicz (152), who advanced to district but did not compete and finished 25-10.
"We're going to be awfully young," coach Flusche said. "We've got high hopes for (Williams) and some of the other juniors and seniors. It's going to be a big-time learning year for these freshmen and a couple of these sophomores. We're hoping they grow and everybody is hitting on all cylinders by the sectional."
Young girls swimmers excited for potential
There are no seniors on the girls swimming and diving team, but expectations for this season haven't changed much from a year ago when the Lions won the OCC-Ohio title and were Division I district runners-up.
"The girls team is looking to repeat as OCC champs," sixth-year coach Jeff Riegler said. "We've finished in the top five at districts the last two years, so we'd like to finish that high again, qualify multiple swimmers to the state meet and break some school records. With no senior girls, the team is very young, but there are some lofty expectations."
The Lions lost a four-time state qualifier in diver and 2019 graduate Maycey Vieta, who is now competing at Purdue, but three of their four swimmers who competed at state last season have returned.
Sophomore Reagan Reetz, who finished 22nd in the 500-yard freestyle (5 minutes, 12.09 seconds), and classmates Kendall Hitler and Sami Kiss, who joined Reetz and 2019 graduate Lydia Gilger on the 200 medley relay that placed 20th (1:48.39), are the top returnees.
Juniors Mackenzie Massmann, Rylee Slisher and Olivia Zeltman, sophomores Eloise Fisher, Kiersten Marks and Gwyneth Payton and freshmen Marie Belli and Stella Brofford also should be among the key swimmers.
Vieta, who placed fourth at state as a freshman, won the state title as a sophomore and was state runner-up each of the past two seasons, and 2019 graduate Lina Alli, who was eighth at district last season, were the Lions' top divers a year ago.
Junior Ashleigh Provan and freshmen Benita Alli and Vicky Miller are competing in diving this winter.
Other swimmers include juniors Destiny Ishmael, Sami Jolley, Addy Redman and Eden Weber, sophomores Abigail Basinger, Sophia Francisco, Danica Nelson and Brynn Weisenberger and freshmen Zoey Callander, Tatum Ebbeskotte, Caroline Kuiken, Margaret McGregor, Chayse Neese and Sofia Rivera.
The Lions opened Dec. 6 by beating Grove City 126-44.
Boys swimmers also thinking big
The boys swimming and diving team is coming off a season in which it won a second consecutive OCC-Ohio championship and placed third in a Division I sectional.
The team has 19 members, with seniors Johnny Belli, Darin Fields, Josh Handel and Derek Yu, juniors Caleb Gilger, Brandon Patrick, McCord Riegler and Nathan Vogelgesang and sophomores Morgan Govekar, Michael Jolley and Ethan Krier expected to be among the top competitors.
The other senior is Ethan McComb, while Nate Foster rounds out the junior class.
Others looking to contribute in swimming are sophomores Matthew Jeter, Vincent Piccolantonio and Ryan Sherman and freshmen Preston Cooper and Noah Weber.
Freshman Jayden Wells is competing in diving.
Belli and Vogelgesang joined 2019 graduates Logan Marks and Jacob Sherman on the 400 free relay that placed eighth (3:16.89) at district last season and Marks, Belli, McCord Riegler and Vogelgesang were on the 200 free relay that was ninth (1:29.16) at district. Casey Jordan (diving), Marks (50 free, 100 free) and Wharton (500 free) were other district competitors lost to graduation.
Also at district last year, Belli placed 11th in the 100 backstroke (53.8) and 13th in the 100 butterfly (53.43), while Gilger (100 back), McCord Riegler (200 individual medley, 100 breast) and Yu (100 breast) also competed.
The Lions opened Dec. 6 by beating Grove City 110-57.
"The boys team is going for its third straight OCC title," coach Riegler said. "We lost a lot of top point-scorers from last season, but so far the returning squad looks to be up to the task of defending. We want to qualify as many swimmers to the district meet, hopefully qualify individuals or relays to the state meet and set a few new school records along the way."
Below are the coming schedules for the Gahanna Lincoln boys basketball, girls basketball, bowling, hockey, swimming & diving and wrestling teams:
*Dec. 13 -- At Pickerington North
*Dec. 13 -- Home vs. Pickerington North
Dec. 14 -- At Watterson
*Dec. 16 -- Lancaster at HP Lanes
*Dec. 18 -- Marysville at Dragon Lanes
*Dec. 13 -- Thomas Worthington at Chiller North
*Dec. 14 -- Watterson at Chiller Dublin
SWIMMING & DIVING
Dec. 13-14 -- Ned Reeb Memorial Invitational at Ohio State
Dec. 14 -- Hamilton Township Invitational