Having one of central Ohio's most experienced backcourts after being a Division I district runner-up a year ago, the Gahanna Lincoln girls basketball team entered this season expecting to start strong.

Instead, the Lions lost their first three games and five of their first seven.

"They've been through a lot," coach Ron Bailey said. "They were frustrated at the beginning because we started out 0-3. It was rough on them, but I told them to just keep fighting, keep playing, keep believing and everything will work out."

That's exactly how things played out for Gahanna.

The seventh-seeded Lions won their second district championship in three years, defeating fourth-seeded Dublin Coffman 52-39 in a district final Feb. 29 at the Greater Columbus Convention Center.

Gahanna, which beat 10th-seeded Hilliard Bradley 60-38 in a district semifinal Feb. 26 at Jonathan Alder, was 20-6 before playing Newark -- the district's top seed -- in a regional semifinal March 3 at Otterbein.

The winner plays Pickerington Central or Reynoldsburg in a regional final Friday, March 6, at Otterbein. The regional champion advances to a state semifinal March 13 at St. John Arena. The state final is March 14.

Bailey was an assistant in 2018 when the Lions won a district title under former coach Betsy Baker. Last season, Gahanna lost to Westerville South 70-58 in a district final.

"It feels real good to get an opportunity to play in a regional," Bailey said. "I'm happy for our seniors. They've been to district finals four straight years. All I wanted for them was a shot."

Seniors Edyn Battle and Morgan Darnell were freshmen in 2017 when the Lions lost to Newark 52-37 in a district final.

Battle scored 29 points in 2018 when the Lions beat Reynoldsburg 54-52 in a district final and scored 21 in the loss to South last season.

A Miami University recruit who was named district Player of the Year, Battle struggled early on against Coffman, missing eight of her first 10 shots. She finished with 16 points, including eight in the fourth quarter.

The Lions trailed Coffman 9-0 midway through the opening quarter.

"I just knew that if my shots weren't hitting that I had to keep my team together and play good (defense) to make sure we stayed together to get a 'W,'" Battle said. "We just had to run through our offense and be patient. The main thing was to stay calm."

Boys basketball team reaches district semi

The top-seeded boys basketball team improved to 23-1 and advanced to a Division I district semifinal with a 79-35 victory over 46th-seeded Independence on Feb. 28 in a second-round home game.

The Lions played 22nd-seeded Whitehall in the semifinal March 4. The winner plays sixth-seeded Walnut Ridge or 17th-seeded Reynoldsburg in a district final Saturday, March 7, at Ohio Dominican.

The district champion faces Bradley, Coffman, Newark or Westerville South in a regional semifinal Wednesday, March 11, at Ohio Dominican. The regional final is March 14.

The last time Gahanna last reached a district final in 2016. The Lions won a district title that season before losing in a regional final to eventual state champion Westerville South.

Gahanna beat Reynoldsburg 67-43 on Dec. 6 and 58-50 on Jan. 17 in OCC-Ohio Division contests and defeated Walnut Ridge 53-50 on Dec. 21.

Walnut Ridge senior forward VonCameron Davis, a Kent State commit, was named district Player of the Year. He has more than 2,000 career points.

Gahanna defeated 45th-seeded Olentangy Berlin 58-30 in a first-round game Feb. 22.

Against Independence, Sean Jones had 20 points and Maceo Williams scored 17. Against Berlin, Jarius Jones had 16 points, Sean Jones scored 12 and Williams added 10.

Coach Tony Staib was named district Coach of the Year.

Hockey team should return strong nucleus

Despite having only two seniors, the hockey team took another step forward in its third season under coach Kevin Schodorf.

The 20th-seeded Lions won a district tournament game for the second consecutive season, defeating 21st-seeded Centerville 8-4 on Feb. 22 at Chiller North before falling to third-seeded Olentangy Liberty 10-0 in the second round Feb. 23 at the same site.

Gahanna finished 11-20-1-1 overall, posting one more win than they did a year ago.

"I'm pleased with the continued growth of the underclassmen this year," Schodorf said. "Next year, we're looking to add a (junior varsity) team with 10-plus freshmen coming into the program. This will lead to healthy competition between players for varsity minutes."

Gahanna went 5-11 (10 points) in the CHC-Blue to finish third behind champion Columbus Academy (16, 7-7-1-1) after finishing fifth last season.

Among the biggest highlights was sophomore forward Rohan Schmidt scoring a program-record seven goals in an 11-2 victory over Scioto on Jan. 2.

Schmidt, who finished with 17 goals and 13 assists, should be among the top returnees next season.

Senior forward Hayden Sindledecker had a team-high 35 goals, the second-most in a season in program history, and 16 assists.

Senior goaltender Matt McElligott, a Hartley student who competed in three of his four prep seasons with Gahanna, posted a program-record six shutouts and also holds the program mark for career shutouts.

Junior defenseman Thomas Giles should be another top returnee after recording 12 goals and 27 assists. Junior defenseman Ashwin Kumar had nine goals and nine assists, sophomore Brendan Phillips had seven goals and 10 assists and also served as the backup goalie and sophomore defenseman Nick Hoerig added nine goals and six assists.

Other key contributors included juniors Mykohl Martin (forward) and John Warner (defenseman), sophomores Noah Amos (forward), Ethan Brehm (forward), Josh Knuckles (forward), Defang Ntedatebem (forward), Chase Pry (forward), Cole Tiberio (forward) and Hayden Waara (forward) and freshman Josh Goldman (forward). Sophomore Bradley Geiman (defenseman) also is eligible to return.

"Our goal next season is not just to compete in the CHC-Blue, but to win it outright," Schodorf said.

julrey@thisweeknews.com

@UlreyThisWeek