Gahanna Lincoln Roundup: Young Lions girls basketball team quickly grows into contender
Count sophomore guard Clarke Jackson among those who believed the Gahanna Lincoln girls basketball team wouldn't take a step back after winning a Division I district title last winter.
The Lions expected to go through an adjustment period to begin the season following the loss of five key players, including Edyn Battle, a four-year starting guard and last year’s Division I district Player of the Year.
Junior forward Bella Ward was asked to elevate her game after being a key contributor last season, and she’s become the team’s leading scorer.
Meanwhile, players like Jackson and sophomore guard Laila Marshall have stepped forward while filling key roles for the first time.
The Lions were 10-5 overall after losing 73-31 to Reynoldsburg on Feb. 2 and 7-0 in the OCC-Ohio Division after beating New Albany 54-46 on Jan. 29. They shared last year’s league title with Pickerington Central at 9-1, but the Tigers and Raiders are now in the OCC-Buckeye.
“We’re doing great right now,” Jackson said. “I’m really happy with how we’re playing as a team together and how much passion we’re playing with. We really have more fun with our games and it makes us play better.
“I definitely knew since last year, when we had four seniors and the majority of them were guards, that going into my sophomore year I’d have to step up and take on a bigger role on the team, but I had a feeling we’d be good this year and we’d jell pretty well. I also think my teammates and coaches have been really supportive.”
Gahanna lost its first three games before winning 10 of 11, with its only loss during that stretch being 50-48 to Thornville Sheridan on Jan. 23.
After following with wins over Watterson (50-41 on Jan. 26) and New Albany, the Lions fell behind 24-7 against Reynoldsburg and never gained their footing against the team that received the No. 3 seed for the district tournament.
Sixth-seeded Gahanna opens the district tournament Feb. 16 at home against 33rd-seeded Mount Vernon, with the winner to play 28th-seeded Thomas Worthington Feb. 19 on the home court of the better-seeded team.
The Lions are the second-highest seed in their bracket for the district tournament, meaning they would play at home until at least the district final. Second-seeded Dublin Coffman, which beat the Lions 67-62 on Dec. 18, also is in the bracket.
Gahanna defeated the Shamrocks in a district semifinal in 2019 and in a district final last winter.
“I dressed varsity last year but didn’t really play much,” Marshall said. “The seniors last year really helped because I got to see what they got to do last year. I think we’re doing pretty well as a team this year. Our defense is something we need to work on and our helpside, especially for all those good teams that we’ll play coming up.”
Through 15 games, Ward was averaging 17 points, Marshall 12 and Jackson nine.
Junior guards Juju Grubich and Keeley Wright, sophomore forward Emily Marzetz and freshman guards Kya Jordan and Aaliyah Younger also have taken on key roles for the first time.
Coach Ron Bailey knows his team must continue maturing after what took place against Reynoldsburg.
“They jumped out on us real quick and we couldn’t stop their runs,” Bailey said. “One thing we can do is look at the film and get better. I definitely like the potential of this team. We’re young and we’ve got to keep fighting. Games like this are going to help us get better. We’re going to see what we did wrong and fine-tune some things.”
Boys basketball team
relying on defense
A 75-49 loss to Thomas Worthington on Jan. 23 has proven to be an outlier regarding one of the strengths the boys basketball team believes it possesses this season.
Gahanna held five of its first 13 opponents under 50 points and another five under 60.
With a 62-59 victory over Pickerington North on Jan. 30, the Lions improved to 5-0 in the OCC-Ohio. They were 13-1 overall after beating Reynoldsburg 64-50 on Feb. 2.
Junior guard Sean Jones, who was averaging a team-best 15 points through 13 games, has set the tone on defense, according to coach Tony Staib.
“So far for the most part defensively, we’ve been really solid,” Staib said. “Any time you can guard people and have players that want to guard people, you’re going to have a pretty good team. We’re talented enough we’re going to score points. We’ve just got to be able to be committed on the defensive end.
“First of all, Sean Jones is an outstanding defensive player. He guards the ball extremely well and is a willing defender. When your best player also plays defense, that’s a huge piece.
“Cameron Johnson has been a spark for us. He’s been doing a good job of being that defensive spark for us. We can put Cam on any player and we feel confident he’s going to stop them. Those two guys have done a great job defending.”
Staib also has been pleased with the defense of senior forward Maceo Williams, junior forward Javan Simmons and junior guard Eljae Deas in addition to Johnson, a junior guard who averaged four points through 13 games but scored 13 against North.
The Lions are scheduled to continue league action Feb. 12 at Grove City, which they beat 70-47 on Jan. 25. They then will play host to Walnut Ridge on Feb. 15 and close the regular season Feb. 19 at home against North.
Gahanna, which was fifth in last week’s Division I state poll, is preparing for the district tournament which begins Feb. 23.
“We’ve had a handful of players that have been really instrumental (in our success this season),” Staib said.
The wrestling team has OCC-Ohio duals remaining Feb. 11 at Pickerington North and Feb. 12 at Westland before competing in the All-North Tournament Feb. 13 at Dublin Jerome.
Then the Lions shift into preparation mode for the Division I postseason which begins with sectional competition Feb. 27 at Newark.
Gahanna lost 51-17 to Grove City on Jan. 28 to fall to 1-2 in the league, with its victory coming when it beat Westerville Central by criteria after the teams tied at 33.
Winning matches against the Warhawks were seniors Charles Williams (145), Ricky Alli (182) and Tim Steele (152) and freshmen Charlie Foster (132), Anthony Judd (113) and Jayden Lewis (160).
After beating host Pickerington Central 52-30 and Licking Heights 50-24 on Jan. 30, the Lions were 11-8 overall.
“We’ve picked it up, but we’re still very young, making young wrestlers mistakes,” coach Mike Flusche said.