The Thomas Worthington High School boys cross country team has a tremendous one-two punch in seniors Arjun Jha and Andy Payne.
Both were all-state last season, finishing among the top 15 runners in the Division I state meet, so it was no surprise when they finished second and third, respectively, of 218 runners in the McGowan Invitational on Sept. 9 at Watkins Memorial.
What is somewhat surprising is that Payne set a personal record this early in the season by finishing in 15 minutes, 24.1 seconds.
"We are very proud of Andy," coach Bill Darling said. "We couldn't ask any more of him and he is running better than ever, and there are a lot of big meets coming up. He is having such a great year and consistency has been his hallmark. He wants to be good and he's willing to do the work to reach that level.
"But most importantly, Andy just wants to do well for his team. He's been a real leader this year. He's the type of runner who doesn't come along very often, and we have been very lucky to have him."
Jha finished in 15:21.1 in the McGowan Invitational, as the Cardinals placed fifth (211 points) of 32 teams in the Division I race, behind champion Olentangy Liberty (93).
"It was my best cross country race ever and it's always been my favorite meet," Payne said. "I love the atmosphere there because you have plenty of places in the woods where friends and teammates can cheer for you. They separate the j.v. race and open race from the varsity, so you get all those boys and all of the girls team cheering for you. Actually, you pass them four times in the woods.
"I lowered my PR by two seconds and finished 20 seconds faster than I did last year (in the McGowan Invitational). The funny thing is, I had a cold leading into (the meet) and I felt pretty sick until I got off the bus there and then the adrenaline kicked in. It was like the cold was gone, just like that."
As for Jha, Darling thinks he is just starting to build.
"Arjun took some time off in the summer to heal up from track, but he is starting to round into form," Darling said. "He had a great race at the McGowan Invitational. He's right where we want him to be. I think he is in position to have an outstanding senior season. He's a special talent in that he is one of the better performers in the state from 800 meters through 5K, which is quite a range. His career best time is 14:56.7, which he ran at the (Les) Eisenhart (Invitational) last year."
Jha and Payne were followed in the McGowan Invitational by Isaac Wise (64th, 17:16.5), Zubin Jha (66th, 17:17.1), Morgan Chavez (79th, 17:27.5), Jack Caine (83rd, 17:29) and Noah Silliman (96th, 17:42).
"The rest of our pack is progressing nicely," Darling said. "They hold the key to the success of our team this year. They are working very hard and buying in, and the plan is to have them ready to run fast times when the postseason arrives."
Thomas competed in Trinity-Valkyrie Invitational in Louisville, Kentucky, on Sept. 16. The Cardinals placed 10th (281) of 21 teams, behind champion Carmel, Indiana (69), as Arjun Jha placed third (15:30.4) and Payne was 18th (15:57.3).
Girls runners place
second in McGowan Invite
Four members of the girls cross country team finished among the top 18 places in the McGowan Invitational, as the Cardinals (106) were runners-up behind Liberty (80) in the 28-team Division I field.
The Cardinals were led by Gia Napoleon, who placed fifth (18:26.1) of 186 runners, and her sister, Carina Napoleon, who finished ninth (18:54.5).
"Gia and Carina push each other at practice," coach Andy Cox said. "They are sisters and are different individuals. However, the one thing that stands out thus far is that they truly care for one another."
Tori Banks finished 14th (19:16.5) and Lydia Miller was 18th (19:28).
"Tori and Lydia have worked extremely hard over the summer and it shows in how confident they are as they race," Cox said. "Even though they did not run track in the spring, they understand the importance in cross country of building an aerobic base. Tori ran indoor track last winter and then played lacrosse. Lydia played basketball and then focused on AAU spring basketball."
What excites Cox most is knowing that he had just one senior in the lineup at the McGowan Invitational. Gia Napoleon and Banks are juniors, Miller is a sophomore and Carina Napoleon is a freshman. They were followed by senior Anna Lisa (65th, 21:04.7), sophomore Cassidy Shaver (73rd, 21:14.9) and junior Olivia Burrell (52nd, 21:28.36).
"The coaching staff is very excited for this year and the years to come," Cox said. "We have excellent leadership from our seniors and talented underclassmen. It is a great combination to have."
The Cardinals finished 16th (369) of 23 teams in the Trinity-Valkyrie Invitational, behind champion Centerville (138), as Gia Napoleon placed 24th (19:09.5).
Boys golfers place
second in league
The boys golf team finished second in the final OCC-Cardinal Division standings after shooting a 310 in the fourth round of the league tournament Sept. 13 at Clover Valley.
The Cardinals placed third behind Dublin Scioto (291) and Dublin Jerome (293) in the final round, but finished 19-5 overall to place behind Jerome (23-1) and ahead of Scioto (18-6), Kilbourne (11-13), Hilliard Bradley (9-15), Hilliard Darby (5-19) and Delaware (0-24).
Curran Gimeson shot a 72 to lead the Cardinals in the final round, followed by David LaLonde (77), Aaron Zeller (78), Bailey Utterback (83) and Jack Savage (94).
Zeller had the second-best league average (73.8) behind Jerome's Ethan Snyder (73.3). Gimeson (75.8) was third and LaLonde (76.5) tied for fourth, as the top five earned first-team all-league honors.
Utterback (84.3) was honorable mention all-league, while Savage averaged 91.3.
Girls golfers place
seventh in league
The girls golf team had just two competitors in the fourth and final round of the OCC-Cardinal tournament Sept. 12 at Cooks Creek.
Caitlin McWilliams shot 100 and Megan Burris carded a 111.
The Cardinals placed seventh (3-21) in the final league standings, behind Jerome (24-0), Delaware (19-5), Bradley (17-7), Scioto (10-14), Kilbourne (7-17) and Darby (4-20).
Field hockey team
out to strong start
The field hockey team was 7-0 overall before playing Columbus Academy on Sept. 19.
The Cardinals were 3-0 in the Central Ohio Field Hockey League-West Division before playing Scioto on Sept. 20.
Below are the coming schedules for the Thomas cross country, field hockey, boys golf, girls golf, boys soccer, girls soccer, girls tennis, girls volleyball and water polo teams:
Sept. 23 -- Saturday Night Lights at Centerville
*Sept. 25 -- At Dublin Jerome
*Sept. 27 -- Home vs. Olentangy Liberty
Sept. 23 -- Wedgewood Invitational at Wedgewood
Sept. 25 -- OCC Shootout at Moundbuilders
Sept. 27 -- Worthington Cup at Worthington Hills
Sept. 21 -- Kilbourne at Tartan Fields
Sept. 25 -- DeSales at NorthStar
Sept. 26 -- Dublin Scioto and Kilbourne at Mentel Memorial
Sept. 21 -- At Reynoldsburg
Sept. 23 -- Home vs. Upper Arlington
*Sept. 26 -- At Dublin Scioto
Sept. 21 -- Home vs. Westerville South
*Sept. 26 -- Home vs. Dublin Scioto
Sept. 26 -- Home vs. Westerville Central
Sept. 27 -- Home vs. Olentangy Orange
Sept. 21 -- At Gahanna
Sept. 23 -- Home vs. Westerville North
*Sept. 26 -- At Delaware. The Cardinals lost to the Pacers 21-25, 18-25, 25-17, 25-17, 15-9 on Aug. 29.
Sept. 27 -- At Centennial
Sept. 22-23 -- Boys: Packer Classic at Cincinnati Princeton; Girls: Dave McClennon Invitational at Cincinnati Sycamore