Three weeks ago at the OCC-Ohio Division meet, Jaydan Wood of the Pickerington High School Central girls track and field team knew she would need to drop several seconds in the 400 meters to contend for the Division I state championship.
Wood, who won the league title in the 400 in 55.3 seconds on May 12 at Dublin Coffman, said then she would need to be somewhere in the 52- or 53-second range "in order to compete at state."
Wood won the 400 in 53.85 at the regional meet held May 23 and 25 at Pickerington North, putting her first among the 18 state qualifiers by almost two seconds, but she still isn't satisfied.
"I want to come out on top as a state champ. I want to be in the 52 low (or) 51 range," Wood said. "I came in knowing that I would have a lot of competition in the 400 and I knew I was going to have to get out and keep myself in the race and finish strong to get to where I wanted to be. I hit the target that I wanted to."
The second-best state qualifying time belongs to Faith Banks of Macedonia Nordonia (55.63).
Wood helps lead the Tigers into the state meet Friday, June 1, and Saturday, June 2, at Ohio State after both the boys and girls teams excelled at regional.
Four first-place finishes helped the boys team amass 97 points at regional to easily win the championship ahead of runner-up Olentangy Orange (60.5) as 41 teams scored. Evan Matthews and Crockett Schooler finished first (37.57) and second (38.17), respectively, in the 300 hurdles, Matt Scrape won the 3,200 (9:10.4) and the Tigers also got wins in the 800 relay (1:26.84) and 1,600 relay (3:16.15).
The girls were second (50) behind Gahanna (84) as 32 teams scored. Wood gave the Tigers their only win, but she also placed second in the 200 (24.65) to Dublin Coffman's Abby Steiner (24.02).
Matthews and the 800 and 1,600 relays have the best times in their respective events entering the state meet. Scrape has the second-fastest time in the 3,200.
Matthews credited some of his success to his rivalry with Schooler, a University of Pittsburgh recruit who also placed third in the 110 hurdles (14.3) and was on the 1,600 relay.
"It's a fun rivalry. It's more like a friendship. We're always pushing each other in practice. He is the only reason I'm as good as I am," Matthews said. "Last year was my first year hurdling and I always would go after and chase him. That's what's made me into the hurdler that I am today."
Other state qualifiers for the boys team were Denzell Feagin in the 100 (second, 10.89) and 200 (third, 22.04), the 400 relay (second, 42.16), Zach Robinson in the 400 (third, 48.18), Brady Johnson in the 800 (sixth, 1:54.77) and Terry Simuel in the 400 (sixth, 48.92).
"(The 100) was a good race. I had a slow start, but it's all right," Feagin said. "It was probably that wind. I think it was a slow start for a lot of people because of the wind."
The top four finishers in each event automatically qualified to state. For the first time, two at-large state berths also were awarded for each running event based on regional times statewide.
Advancing for the girls team were the 800 relay (second, 1:41.05), the 1,600 relay (third, 3:50.6) and the 400 relay (fourth, 48.37).
Competing but failing to advance for the boys team were Malcolm Briley in the 200 (sixth, 22.42) and long jump (13th, 19 feet, 3 1/4 inches), the 3,200 relay (sixth, 7:57.16), Matthews in the 110 hurdles (eighth, 14.99), Garner Wallace in the 1,600 (ninth, 4:25.09), Ken Le in the pole vault (12th, 12-6) and John Brown, who fouled on all three attempts in the discus.
Also competing at regional for the girls were Grace Luther in the shot put (sixth, 36-10 1/4), Simone Mahan in the high jump (sixth, 5-2), Destinee McGrady in the 100 (sixth, 12.54), Trinity Brown in the 100 hurdles (seventh, 15.39) and 300 hurdles (eighth, 46.27), Dalajah Long in the 100 (eighth, 12.83), Iyonna Ross in the 400 (12th, 1:00.6) and Shayla Boyd in the long jump (13th, 15-10).
Young girls lacrosse team saw progress
Even though his team finished with a winning record and several of his top players are eligible to return, girls lacrosse coach Brian Walton and his players felt they left some goals unachieved.
Central finished 10-9 overall and 2-4 in the OCC-Central, losing to second-seeded Dublin Jerome 17-7 in a Division I, Region 3 quarterfinal May 17.
"We probably exceeded what everyone outside of Pickerington expected of us, but I think our girls had higher expectations for themselves and might be a little let down," Walton said. "That said, they should feel pretty good about a 10-win season. These seniors will graduate having never experienced a losing season or a first-round tournament loss, and that's something they should be proud of."
Sophomore attacker Maddie Morrell led the Tigers in goals (57), draw controls (50) and assists (16) and was named second-team all-league and first-team all-region. Senior attacker Maddi Hyer added 37 goals, 28 ground balls and 15 assists, freshman midfielder Grace Osborn scored 47 goals -- the most for a freshman in program history -- and senior goalkeeper Nadine El-Barrad, a first-year player, made 116 saves.
According to Walton, Hyer is the sixth player in team history to score more than 100 career goals.
Hyer, Morrell and freshman defender Tatum McElwain were named second-team all-league, and Osborn was honorable mention all-league and all-region. McElwain caused a team-best 26 turnovers.
Central finished fifth in the OCC-Central, behind Upper Arlington (6-0), Coffman (5-1), Gahanna (4-2) and North (3-3) and ahead of Hilliard Davidson (1-5) and Marysville (0-6).
Seeded ninth in the 17-team regional tournament, the Tigers defeated seventh-seeded Gahanna 18-9 in the first round May 14 before losing to the Celtics.
Other players eligible to return include juniors Lindy Brobeck (defender), Kelsea Friedheim (attacker), Maddy Shirer (defender) and Dylan Smith (attacker) and sophomore M.J. Logan (defender).
Senior midfielder Dani Rehm will play at Capital.
The Tigers also are losing their other goalie to graduation in Spencer Klautky.
"The year was a bit of a roller-coaster ride," Walton said.
"We struggled with consistency. We would have a great game, followed by a bad game, followed by a good game, followed by a couple bad games. I guess that's a mark of a young team. The good thing about having a young team is that we'll have a lot of girls coming back."
Boys volleyball team finished strong
Although the boys volleyball team went 6-15 overall, coach Luke Rininger saw his team play its best late in the season, alternating wins and losses in its final eight matches and winning its Division I East Region first-round tournament match.
Seeded 15th in the 20-team tournament, Central defeated 13th-seeded Thomas Worthington 20-25, 25-19, 25 in the first round May 18 before losing to sixth-seeded Gahanna 23-25, 25-16, 25-12, 26-24 in a second-round match the next day.
Two of Central's wins came against OCC-Ohio champion Davidson, 25-21, 25-21, 22-25, 25-23 on April 3 and 25-18, 18-25, 25-13, 25-22 on April 24. Those were the Wildcats' only losses in league play.
"We ended our season very strongly," Rininger said. "I wish we would've had a better start. We got a late start with (the boys basketball team) going so far in the tournament (advancing to a Division I state semifinal) and did not play the warm-up matches we normally would. Although I had a lot of leaders, I also had a lot of first-time players or first-year varsity players. It took the guys awhile to warm up and learn how to play with each other rather than try to play individually."
Senior setter Kahle Keys was named second-team all-league and honorable mention all-region, while junior setter Jason Orr was honorable mention all-league.
Central went 5-7 in the OCC-Ohio to finish sixth, behind Davidson (10-2), Gahanna (9-3) and Coffman, North and UA (all 6-6) and ahead of Reynoldsburg (0-12).
Other players eligible to return include juniors Coleton Landis (middle hitter), Nathan Lee (libero), Garhett Manofsky (right-side hitter) and Zach Nestor (middle hitter).