This season marked the third in a row that the Pickerington High School North boys track and field team earned at least a share of second place in the Division I state meet, but the best still could be to come.
That was coach Dave Spring's assessment as his team celebrated its latest state runner-up finish June 7 at Ohio State.
A returning corps led by juniors Nick Gray, Lucas Miller and Dairius Ragland has the Panthers excited about next season.
"We'll be stronger next year," Spring said. "We're all happy with (this season), but they've all had their appetites whetted."
North scored 34 points at state, finishing second to Cleveland Glenville (40) as 71 teams scored.
That followed a run that began May 15 and 17 when the Panthers scored 170.5 points to win the OCC-Ohio Division meet at Thomas Worthington ahead of Lancaster (154), Gahanna (80), Pickerington Central (79), Groveport (69), Newark (43), Reynoldsburg (34) and Grove City (27.5).
North won its fifth consecutive league title as Ragland was first in the 110-meter hurdles (14.76 seconds) and Gray captured titles in the 100 (10.83), 200 (21.92) and 400 (48.35). The 400 relay (44.34), 800 relay (1:30.94) and 1,600 relay (3:25.36) all were first as well.
The Panthers then scored 127 points to win the 17-team district 1 meet that concluded May 24 at Hilliard Darby, giving them three consecutive titles at that level.
Winning district titles were Gray in the 100 (10.8), 200 (21.32) and 400 (48.25), the 400 relay (43.38), 800 relay (1:28.89) and 1,600 relay (3:20.14).
North scored 74 points May 28 and 30 on its home track to win its third consecutive regional title.
Gray won the 200 in a regional-record 21.0, finished first in the 100 (10.69) and 400 (47.41) and joined Miller, senior Trey Browder and freshman Jayvonta Tolliver on the winning 1,600 relay (3:17.76). Ragland was first in the 300 hurdles (37.79) and second in the 110 hurdles (14.28), senior Justin Meyer took fourth in the 110 hurdles (14.69) and Miller was third in the 400 (48.23).
At state, Gray won the 400 (47.69), placed fourth in the 200 (21.49) and took fifth in the 100 (10.69), Miller was fourth in the 400 (48.75), Ragland was seventh in the 110 hurdles (14.69) and 10th in the 300 hurdles (39.11), Meyer was 14th in the 110 hurdles (14.81) and the 1,600 relay of Browder, Gray, Miller and Ragland was runner-up (3:15.65).
Senior John Harris, who was a two-time state qualifier in the high jump, will compete for the University of Akron.
Also eligible to return are juniors Ronald Bonner (sprints, long jump), Mitchell Curnett (middle distance), Che Jackson (sprints), Ryan Kronk (middle distance), Kris Perez (middle distance) and Zach Zimmerman (middle distance, distance) and sophomores Austin Hence (long jump) and B.J. James (sprints).
"We've got it rolling," Spring said. "Now if we can keep them healthy next year."
Girls to return strong sprint corps
Of the girls team's five state competitors, four are eligible to return.
Juniors Destiny Gardner, Eboni Hall and Diandria King and freshman Winnie Labis-siere competed on the 400 relay that was 15th (49.7) at state.
Also at state, senior Annette Echikunwoke was third in the shot put (42 feet, 4 1/2 inches) to give the Panthers six points as they tied for 34th behind champion Solon (47) as 77 teams scored.
"The state meet unfortunately has a lot of disappointment, but we have a lot of accomplishments to look back on," coach Jim Langenderfer said.
"We wrapped up a strong season and had our best times at the end of the season."
North placed third (91.5) in the OCC-Ohio behind Gahanna (202.5) and Central (141) and ahead of Lancaster (58.5), Grove City (56), Newark (47.5), Reynoldsburg (38) and Groveport (25).
Echikunwoke defended her title in the shot put (37-11 1/2) and added a runner-up finish in the discus (114-8).
North then scored 42 points to place seventh in the 18-team district 2 meet behind champion Gahanna (150) as Echikunwoke was runner-up in the discus (118-8) and shot put (40-6 3/4), Hall was runner-up in the 100 (12.69) and the 400 relay took third (49.89).
At regional, the Panthers placed 11th (19) behind champion Central (75) as Echikunwoke was third in the shot put (40-6) and sixth in the discus (115-5), the 400 relay was third (48.93) and Hall placed fifth in the 100 (12.49).
Hall was named the team's MVP and Echikunwoke (Best Field Events), Gardner (Best Sprinter), freshman Hannah Rickman (Best Distance) and junior Leah Blankenship (Most Improved) also were team honorees.
Echikunwoke will compete for the University of Cincinnati.
Also eligible to return are juniors Aleks Jovanovski (sprints, long jump), Chika Odemena (hurdles) and Rosa Rumora (middle distance), sophomore Kat Lowe (distance) and freshman Sierra Waite (distance).
"I don't know if we were fearless or just didn't know any better, but they raced against Pickerington Central and Gahanna and got third in the conference, and that's a pretty high bar," Langenderfer said.