Boys Track & Field
Hornets' Justice reaches podium at state
Bryan Justice already had cemented his place in the history of the Licking Heights High School track and field program when he became the first athlete to qualify for the state meet at the Division I level.
The junior made more program history when he became the Hornets' first athlete to reach the awards podium at state at the Division I level by clearing 14 feet, 6 inches in the pole vault June 8 at Ohio State to tie Toledo Whitmer's Nick Holley for sixth.
The top eight finishers in each state event made the podium.
Licking Heights, which moved up from Division II last year, and Whitmer each scored 2.5 points from the pole vault results to tie for 47th in the team standings behind champion Lakewood St. Edward (62) as 62 teams scored.
Justice was seeded ninth of 16 competitors in the event entering state.
"Bryan had a good, solid performance, especially for it being his first time there," coach Tim O'Cain said. "It's a different environment than anything he has experienced before. I thought he handled it well.
"We were real happy with sixth. I know he always wants to win, but it was a good day for him. In fact, he represented the school, community and his family and friends well throughout the whole postseason."
The last time the Hornets' boys team had an athlete not only make the podium at state but qualify for state was 2009, when Colt Denig accomplished both feats by placing third in the 300-meter hurdles in Division II.
"I've really come a long way in one year, so I'm excited to see what I can do with another year of training (with Dave Garcia at Buckeye Pole Vault Academy in Lewis Center)," Justice said.
"I'm really excited about my senior season next year."
Justice advanced to state by tying for second (14-0) in the regional meet May 29 and 31 at Pickerington North.
The only other regional qualifier for Licking Heights was sophomore Matt Gebremedhin, who placed sixth in the 800 (1 minute, 55.63 seconds), as the top four finishers in each event qualified for state.
The Hornets scored 10 points at regional to finish 20th behind champion Pickerington North (99) as 39 teams scored.
"Bryan and Matt really stepped up, but I thought all the boys progressed well," O'Cain said. "We were close to advancing to the regional in a few other events and a step away from doing a lot better at district. I thought we did much better in the postseason this year. Plus, we did well (in the MSL-Cardinal Division meet) and scored well at three or four other meets."
In the 15-team district 1 meet that concluded May 25 at Hilliard Darby, Justice won the pole vault by clearing a personal-record 15-0 and Gebremedhin placed third in the 800 in 1:55.9, as the top four finishers in each event advanced to regional.
Also at district, the 800 relay of senior Mychal Suggs, sophomore Kendall Bradley, sophomore Curtis Richardson and junior Devon Eubanks placed fifth (1:32.05) to miss advancing by one spot.
The same four runners placed seventh in the 400 relay (45.15) and Bradley finished seventh in the 100 (11.69).
The Hornets finished 10th (24) at district behind champion Pickerington North (159.5).
Licking Heights placed second (119) in the MSL-Cardinal meet May 14 and 17 at home, behind Liberty Union (156) and ahead of Grandview (104), Millersport (71), Berne Union (70), Fisher Catholic (66), West Jefferson (36) and Harvest Prep (34).
Winning league titles were Justice in the pole vault (14-7), junior A.J. Velasquez in the discus (134-4), the 800 relay of Suggs, Bradley, Gebremedhin and Eubanks (1:31.67) and the 1,600 relay of Gebremedhin, Suggs, Eubanks and junior Jared Richardson (3:32.27).
Velasquez earned the league's top field event award.
Licking Heights loses three seniors, including Suggs. Among those expected to be key returnees are Bradley, Eubanks, Gebremedhin, Justice, Velasquez, Curtis Richardson and Jared Richardson.
"We've got a good core group returning and we have a very good group of eighth-graders coming up," O'Cain said.
"They're solid across the board and could help us in many areas, especially the sprinters."