Although it fell short of defending its league championship last season, the Gahanna Lincoln girls soccer team beat two higher-seeded squads in the postseason and finished as a Division I district runner-up.

The Lions lost a trio of players who are now competing collegiately and three other key players to graduation after finishing 9-5-6, but the roster remains strong. Gahanna has been boosted by the return of one of the most dynamic players in the program in senior midfielder Alexei Whittaker, and it has several others who played key roles last season.

Whittaker, who has committed to Butler, was the team's leading scorer as a sophomore but missed much of the 2019 regular season because of injury.

Her sophomore sister, midfielder Jaeda Whittaker, also is a key player for the Lions, who open OCC-Ohio Division action Tuesday, Sept. 15, at home against Westland. The others in the realigned league are fellow holdovers Grove City and Pickerington North as well as New Albany and Westerville Central.

"We definitely lost some good players, but at the end of the day we have some really good people stepping into roles," second-year coach Nick Eley said. "We're excited about returning all of our defenders and a good portion of our midfield, so I'm pretty excited for the year. We have a lot of momentum and once we get more touches on the soccer ball, we'll be all right."

The Lions lost 1-0 on Aug. 21 at defending district champion Westerville North and won at Pickerington Central 4-0 on Sept. 1.

Seniors Hannah Cumbow and Thalia Johnson lead the defense, with juniors Meredith Clay and Ryanne Michel also filling key roles in the back. Others on defense are seniors Lily Coates and Cali Smith, junior Malea Erick and freshman Kylie Lewis.

Senior Natalie Stewart leads a forward line that also includes senior Alyssa Redmond, junior Taylor Marcum, juniors Abby Yandrich and sophomores Elizabeth Dietrich and Mia Sammons.

Redmond was the team's goalie last season, but sophomore Emily Marzetz is filling that role, with freshman Abby Onstad also at the position.

Freshman Emma Groves joins the Whittaker sisters at midfielder, along with juniors Brooke Reed and Jocelyn Wyant and sophomore Dalyn Schepman.

Boys soccer coach likes potential

The boys soccer team is looking to build on a strong finish to last season when it beat two higher-seeded teams in the postseason to reach a Division I district semifinal.

The Lions, who went 7-11-1 last year, were 2-1-1 after beating Pickerington Central 2-0 on Sept. 1. They open OCC-Ohio action Tuesday, Sept. 15, at Westland.

"I like this group," seventh-year coach Matt Kovach said. "One of the best things about them is that these are all great kids. It's a very high-character group for the most part and as the season goes along, they're going to start to jell. There's a lot of potential to have a good season."

Seniors Harrason Ahn (defender/midfielder), Ty Bentley (forward/defender) and Cooper Solomon (defender) and juniors Niko Kokales (forward) and Brenton Molli (midfielder) are the top returnees.

Seniors Jacob Cole and Juan Miranda have returned at goalie.

Seniors Jimmy-Luka Dragich (midfielder), Phillip Fallon (defender/forward) and Mustapha Kinteh (forward) are other returnees.

Rounding out the senior class are Junior Acosta (forward), Destin Carr (defender/midfielder), Alex Couch (defender/forward) and Kyle Gutridge (defender/midfielder).

Others looking to contribute are juniors A.J. Addison (defender), Brendon Dorsett (forward), Jack Highland (defender/midfielder), Isaiah Payne (defender) and Nathan Sweyer (midfielder) and sophomores Josiah Benjamin (midfielder), Kelvin Mkwawa (midfielder) and Owen Onstad (defender).

"It's been a roller coaster of emotions for the players and us as coaches, too," Kovach said.

"We did a lot of intrasquad scrimmaging and tried to put guys in different positions to get things sorted out. I feel like this team is going to be able to score more than in past years. Niko Kokales is a returning player at forward and a third-year varsity player and we're looking for him to step up and take the lead in goal scoring. Jimmy-Luka Dragich did not play last year, but we're looking for him to create a presence for us."

julrey@thisweeknews.com

@UlreyThisWeek