LANCASTER – Even though Lancaster was coming off a 7-3 season in 2014, there were a lot of question marks heading into this year, mainly because the Golden Gales had to replace 23 seniors, including several key starters.
Lancaster head coach Rob Carpenter wasn’t all that concerned because although there were only 15 seniors, which is a relatively small class, he knew they were good leaders. In his mind, that is where it all starts.
“I knew that if we were going to be good, the seniors had to be great role models,” Carpenter said. “They showed that by how hard they worked in the summer, watching film to get themselves prepared, and the fact they learned from the great leaders we had the year before.
“That team went 7-3 and didn’t make the playoffs, and this year’s group knew that if they wanted to make the playoffs, they would have to work even harder, and they did.”
The Gales finished the regular season with an 8-2 record and were 5-2 in the Ohio Capital Conference-Ohio Division. They qualified for the Division I, Region 2 playoffs for the first time since 2009. They were ranked No. 4 in the final computer rankings and No. 8 in the final Associated Press state poll.
Carpenter, who just completed his 18th season as coach of the Gales, is the 2015 Eagle-Gazette Coach of the Year.
Lancaster surprised a lot of people by winning its first games. The team began the year with a big win over DeSales, and after two dominating nonconference wins over Dublin Jerome and Walnut Ridge, the Gales had a huge defensive stand to knock off Pickerington Central, and the following week went on the road and defeated Pickerington North. It marked the first time Lancaster had defeated both schools in the same year.
After beating Groveport on the road, the Gales suffered back-to-back heartbreaking losses, falling at home in double overtime against Gahanna and then in triple overtime on the road at Reynoldsburg.
The Gales bounced back to win their final two regular season games. They hosted Hilliard Darby in the playoffs, and after trailing 9-0 in the fourth quarter, Lancaster took a 10-9 lead, but couldn’t hold on and ultimately fell 17-10.
“We all had a good feel about the season, but we also knew we had a tough schedule,” Carpenter said. “It was a lot of fun watching our guys perform each week and how they worked.”
Carpenter credits his assistant coaches for molding the players to fit the Gales’ system.
“My assistant coaches really care about the kids, and they enjoy what they are doing,” Carpenter said. “That obviously translates to the players, and the players realize they care about them, and that makes it fun for me to watch that.
“We have to develop our kids, and we have kids that believe in our system. Your coaches have to have a connection to the players because when they do, it keeps them focused. You want every player to reach their potential.”
Although Carpenter has been at it a long time and isn’t as involved as far as coaching certain positions, there is no doubt that he is in charge. He lets his coaches coach and puts a lot of trust in them.
“I’ve got a great group of assistant coaches, and I really enjoy the opportunity to go around and watch every position coach,” Carpenter said. “It’s a lot of fun watching them instruct our kids and seeing our kids respond to them.
“I do know, and to be quite honest, if my assistant coaches say they aren’t going to do it anymore, I’m not sure I would stick around. They are a loyal group, and they do a great job.”