The Pickerington High School North boys track and field team had depth in just about every event and state championship-caliber athletes like senior Desmond Palmer to lead it to its best season in its 10-year history.
Coach Dave Spring believes the Panthers had another key quality as well.
"It's one of the tightest teams I've coached," he said June 8, moments after his team had been handed the Division I state runner-up trophy.
Palmer, who won state championships in the 110-meter hurdles (14.03 seconds) and 300 hurdles (36.31), led a senior class that also included state-competitors Cortez Goodwin, Jamie Hence, Godwin Igwebuike, Kody Kasey and Roland Ladipo.
The Panthers scored in six events in the state meet held June 7 and 8 at Ohio State, with the 800 relay of Palmer, Igwebuike, Ladipo and sophomore Nick Gray (1:26.14) and the 1,600 relay of Gray, Palmer, junior Trey Browder and sophomore Lucas Miller (3:14.73) also winning in program-record times.
North's other state points were scored by Gray in the 400 (fifth, 48.28) and junior John Harris in the high jump (sixth, 6 feet, 6 inches), as the Panthers finished second (47) behind Lakewood St. Edward (62) as 62 teams scored.
Also competing at state were Igwebuike in the 100 (15th, 10.87), Hence in the shot put (ninth, 21-8), junior Kirill Loginov in the pole vault (15th, 13-0), sophomore Ronald Bonner in the shot put (13th, 21-5) and the 400 relay of Goodwin, Kasey, Ladipo and Igwebuike (14th, 43.22).
North won its fourth consecutive OCC-Ohio Division title, scoring 202 points in the league meet May 16 and 18 at Thomas Worthington to finish ahead of Pickerington Central (99), Gahanna (98), Lancaster (90), Groveport (67), Newark (54), Reynoldsburg (26) and Grove City (19).
The Panthers then scored 159.5 points in the 15-team district 1 meet that concluded May 25 at Hilliard Darby to finish ahead of runner-up Central (77.5) and scored 99 points in the regional meet May 29 and 31 at home, finishing well ahead of runner-up Granville (59.5) as 39 teams scored.
North expects to return six state qualifiers in Bonner, Browder, Gray, Harris, Loginov and Miller. Others expected to be key contributors next season include sophomores Ryan Kronk (distance), Darius Ragland (hurdles) and Zach Zimmerman (distance).
"We've got huge potential in our sophomore and junior classes," Spring said.
Central girls expect 'good core' to return
The Central girls team is eligible to return all but three athletes after earning a share of the Division I regional title.
The Tigers expect to return six of their seven state qualifiers. The exception is Jada Williams, who entered the year as a junior but elected to graduate early.
"I think they were pretty happy with how it went (at state), and the big thing is that we're young," coach Robb Hammond said. "We only have three seniors. We want to get better and I think we will be better next year."
Central scored 141 points to place second in the OCC-Ohio meet, behind Gahanna (177.5) and ahead of North (116.5), Reynoldsburg (78), Lancaster (46.5), Grove City (43.5), Newark (35) and Groveport (21).
Among the top performers for the Tigers in the league meet was sophomore Dana Shoff, who won the pole vault by clearing 11-8, setting a league and program record. She broke the program record three weeks later at state.
In the 17-team district 1 meet, Central scored 78 points to place second behind Hilliard Davidson (90) and then scored 55 points at regional to tie Gahanna for first, just ahead of Davidson (52) as 39 teams scored.
At state, the 800 relay of Williams and juniors Shalon Conley, Irene Skinner and Tyler Williams placed third (program-record 1:40.5), Shoff placed fourth in the pole vault (11-9) and the 400 relay of Skinner, junior Cortisha Short, Jada Williams and Conley finished fifth (program-record 47.98), as the Tigers scored 15 points to tie Big Walnut and Gahanna for 13th behind champion Solon (47) as 74 teams scored.
Also competing at state were Jada Williams in the 200 (11th, 25.37), Tyler Williams in the 400 (14th, 1:00.17) and the 1,600 relay of Jada Williams, Tyler Williams, Conley and junior Morgan Richardson (16th, 4:05.61).
Others expected to return include sophomores Edwina Barnett (sprints, hurdles) and Dorian Johnson (sprints).
"We want to win the conference next year, but our conference is always going to be good," Hammond said. "We're excited about next year. We've got a good core group coming back."
North girls expect to return state qualifier
The lone Division I state qualifier for the North girls team, Annette Echikunwoke, is expected to be its top returnee next year.
The sophomore placed third at state in the shot put (44-9 3/4), scoring six points for the Panthers, who tied two other teams for 38th.
In the OCC-Ohio meet, Echikunwoke won the shot put (41-2) and discus (131-9) and senior Rashelle Myers won the high jump (5-4) as the Panther finished third.
North placed sixth (50) in the district 1 meet and finished 16th (14) at regional, where senior Andrea Hazelwood placed sixth in the 110 hurdles (15.27), senior Kristen Eisenhauer finished 10th in the 800 (2:23.37) and the 3,200 relay of Eisenhauer, senior Fayth Greegor, junior Sinclair Stockard and sophomore Rosa Rumora was eighth (9:53.92).
"It's the end of an era for our (nine) seniors," coach Jim Langenderfer said. "Over the last four years they accomplished so much. Their legacy is going to be hard to fill as a program."
Others expected to be key contributors next season include junior Kourtny Morgan (sprints), sophomores Morgan Jones (hurdles) and Alerks Jovanovski (sprints) and freshman Kat Lowe (distance).
Central boys coach again looking to field
The top performer this season for the Central boys team was senior Alex Nichols, and coach Jason Roach wouldn't be surprised if other athletes emerge next season in field events to lead his program.
"In the last 20 years, it's always been field events where we've been strongest," Roach said.
"Especially in the high jump and long jump, we could get really good in those two events."
In the OCC-Ohio meet, junior Kameron Smith placed second (21-11 1/2) and freshman Devahn Jackson placed third (21-2 3/4) in the long jump and junior Jordan Cummings finished fifth in the high jump (6-0), helping the Tigers finish as league runners-up.
Nichols reached the Division I state meet in two events, placing 13th in the shot put (51-1 1/4) and fouling on all three attempts in the discus as Central didn't score.
The Tigers placed second (55) in the district 1 meet and finished ninth (30.5) at regional, where Nichols placed second in the shot put (52-5) and third in the discus (159-8).
Also competing at regional were senior Nathan Kosnich in the 110 hurdles (fifth, 15.18), senior Gemel Trent in the 400 (fifth, 49.58), Smith in the high jump (fifth, 6-4), junior Nathan Martin in the pole vault (sixth, 13-6), the 400 relay of juniors Tawain Gordon, Tyler Martin and D'Aaron Williams and Jackson (seventh, 43.44) and the 1,600 relay of Trent, Williams, Tyler Martin and Jackson (disqualified in final).
Others expected to be key contributors next season include junior Terrence Carpenter (shot put), sophomores Jacob Chapman (middle distance) and Clayton Glasco (shot put) and freshman Steven Bauers (distance).