Gahanna Lincoln Roundup: Lions softball seniors grow into leaders

Jarrod Ulrey
ThisWeek group
Kelsey Cripe is one of four seniors learning to lead the Gahanna Lincoln softball team on the fly. “This year I felt like I really had to step up considering we don’t have many seniors and we didn’t have a season last year,” Cripe said.

Becoming a leader is something Gahanna Lincoln softball player Dani Shoulders expected to be a challenge this spring. 

One of four seniors in a program that features a talented sophomore class, Shoulders gained experience as a sophomore in 2019 when the Lions went 17-10 and reached a Division I regional semifinal. 

One of the things she missed out on when the 2020 season was canceled was the opportunity to see last year’s seniors provide guidance to younger players. But with the postseason approaching, Shoulders has found her voice as a leader and is happy to shoulder the load.

“Due to losing a season last year and losing six starters (from the 2019 team), we had a lot of catching up to do,” Shoulders said. “We’ve grown so much as a team all-around, and the younger players have really stepped up to fill those positions. 

“I was one of the captains last year, but due to the loss of the season, I wasn’t able to get my feet wet leading. I tried my best to lead by example first and foremost, (but) I’ve been trying to balance being approachable and strict. With a young team, it’s important for me to establish that there are rules we all must follow. At the same time, I want them to know that the softball team is a family and I can be there for them whenever they need me.” 

Shoulders, who has committed to Marietta, has been one of the team’s top hitters while also playing mostly at first base. 

After losing 14-2 to Westerville Central on April 27, Gahanna was 7-7 overall and 3-2 in the OCC-Ohio Division. Its other league loss came when it fell 3-0 to Grove City on April 22. 

The other seniors are Kelsey Cripe, who starts in center field, as well as Emma Upton and Olivia Zeltman, who have contributed as outfielders and as baserunners. 

“This year will be a great experience year for the young ones, but most importantly it will set them up for success in the years to come,” Cripe said. “This year I felt like I really had to step up considering we don’t have many seniors and we didn’t have a season last year. 

“The sophomores, who make up a big part of our team, haven’t had those older players to look up to, whereas I have. So I want to be a good role model for them to understand how a captain and leader should be and hope they take our directions and run with it.” 

Sophomore Kirnan Bailey, who bats leadoff and plays shortstop, and junior right fielder Juju Morris give coach Jim Campolo speed at the top and bottom of his lineup. 

Sophomore Ella Esterby has been seeing the most time at pitcher, with junior Lexi Berry and freshman Lola Campbell also contributing in the circle. 

The Division I district tournament will begin May 10. The Lions have won district titles in 10 of the past 12 seasons. 

“Obviously, Kirnan Bailey has been very steady the whole time, in the field and hitting,” Campolo said. “Juju Morris has batted well at the bottom of the order and has been OK on defense in right field. Pitching-wise, I think all three of our pitchers have thrown well. Unfortunately, we’ve made some mistakes behind them that have cost us. 

“(Our seniors) have been trying hard to be leaders. It’s really difficult, just the fact that they missed their junior year and the opportunity to see seniors ahead of them as leaders. They’re trying to keep the team together, especially with us having a young team.” 

Shawn Ugbana has been playing second singles for the Lions, who won 10 of their first 13 matches.

Tennis team to build 

from strong season 

Boys tennis coach Chris Schwinnen likes the progress his team has been making with the Division I postseason approaching. 

The Lions lost 3-2 to Olentangy Liberty on April 26 but improved to 10-3 overall and 3-1 in the OCC-Ohio with a 3-2 win over Pickerington North on April 27.  

Gahanna didn’t enter the OTCA team tournament but has played two of central Ohio’s top programs, losing 5-0 to New Albany on April 15 and 4-1 to Dublin Jerome on April 7. 

Schwinnen said sophomore Brandon Carpico has been solid at first singles and is expected to compete in singles during the postseason. 

“We got beat by Jerome and New Albany but those are two really good teams,” Schwinnen said. “It’s been going pretty well so far. Brandon’s most likely going to go singles (in the postseason). I think he can make a deep run.” 

Senior Shawn Ugbana has been at second singles and senior Nick Wunderlin has been at third singles most of the season, but Schwinnen said it hasn’t been determined whether they’ll play singles or doubles in the sectional tournament. 

The first-doubles team of seniors Thomas Giles and Zach Wunderlin are expected to fill one of the doubles spots at sectional. 

Others in the program include senior Jacob McFall, sophomore Quinn Smith and freshman Matt Ryan. 

“The whole team has been doing an outstanding job,” Schwinnen said. “Zach Wunderlin, my first-doubles player, has recently been on fire, really playing well, but all the guys have been doing a great job stepping up in matches. Even in our losses, I’m proud of the way the guys have played.” 

Track teams prep 

for league meet 

The boys and girls track and field teams are preparing for the OCC-Ohio meet May 12 and 15 at Thomas Worthington. 

After the Gahanna Relays were canceled on April 21 because of bad weather, the Lions swept the titles April 24 in the eight-team Kallner Invitational at Hamilton Township. 

The boys team scored 192.25 points and the girls totaled 202.5. 

Junior Camden Bentley has one of the nation’s top times in the girls 100-meter hurdles after recently running 13.87 seconds, according to coach Roger Whittaker, and senior Faith Hunter is among the area’s best in the girls high jump after recently clearing 5 feet, 8 inches.

Bentley did not compete in the 100 hurdles at the Kallner Invitational but did win the 300 hurdles (44.7) and the 100 (12.56). 

Also winning for the girls were senior Joi Bradley in the 200 (25.68), sophomore Amryne Chilton in the 400 (59.28), senior Hannah Reich in the 800 (2:24.58), junior Alyssa Shope in the 3,200 (11:04.95), senior Savannah Flusche in the shot put (35-10), junior Abby Schedgle in the pole vault (8-6), sophomore Daisha Decree in the long jump (16-1), the 400 relay (50.73) and the 800 relay (1:44.3). 

Turning in first-place finishes for the boys were junior Tristin Cook-Fisher in the 200 (22.1) and long jump (19-9), senior Chris Finklea in the 400 (53.16), junior Jordan Anderson in the 800 (2:06.58), junior Wesley Triplett in the pole vault (10-6), sophomore Alex Eggleston in the 1,600 (4:39.57), the 400 relay (42.97), the 800 relay (1:34.33), the 1,600 relay (3:35.96) and the 3,200 relay (8:40.31). 

julrey@thisweeknews.com 

@UlreyThisWeek