It's been an unusual season for senior Arjun Jha and junior Gia Napoleon of the Thomas Worthington High School track and field program.
Despite being slowed with injuries this season, their paths have led them back to the Division I state meet Friday, June 1, and Saturday, June 2, at Ohio State.
Napoleon will be looking to defend her state title in the 800 meters, while Jha is seeking the title in the 800 after he placed second in the 1,600 last year.
Both advanced to state by placing in the top four in the regional meet held May 23 and 25 at Pickerington North.
"I had a stress fracture in my right ankle at the end of indoor season and basically missed three months," said Napoleon, who was regional runner-up in the 800 (2 minutes, 10.67 seconds). "I didn't come back until the end of April, so I'm excited to be going back to state. I'm super excited because my regional time was significantly lower than my previous best this year.
"I'm definitely feeling better and I wasn't in a lot of pain the day after (the regional finals May 25), so that was a big milestone, to run that well in my biggest meet and not have pain. But I won't be heartbroken if I can't win the title again given the way the season has gone. I just want to do the best I can."
Napoleon also will compete at state in the 1,600 relay and 3,200 relay. She will join her sister, Carina Napoleon, as well as Allyicia Diggs-Hall and Jazzlynn Gaiters in the 1,600 relay, which ran a school-record 3:50.47 to finish second at regional.
The 3,200 relay of Lydia Miller, Cassidy Shaver, Carina Napoleon and Gia Napoleon was fifth (9:15.57) at regional, but earned one of two at-large state berths based on regional times statewide.
"There are some crazy, amazing (3,200 relays) in the state and six from our region qualified, so we were in the strongest field and were helped by the new rule," Gia Napoleon said. "The top four in our region have the second-, third-, fourth- and ninth-fastest times in the nation this year."
Also qualifying for state for the girls team was Gaiters, who placed fourth in the 400 (56.83), as the Cardinals scored 37 points at regional to place seventh behind champion Gahanna (84) as 32 teams scored.
Just falling short of advancing were Sarah Charley in the long jump (fifth, 17 feet, 5 inches), Carina Napoleon in the 1,600 (fifth, 5:14.28) and Miller in the 1,600 (sixth, 5:17.05).
Jha missed much of the season with a knee injury.
"Because I was out a good chunk of time, I'm not as fit as I would like to be and that's why we decided not to compete in the 1,600 and to just concentrate on the 800 this season," said Jha, who placed second in the 800 at regional in a school-record 1:53.73. "I'm feeling fitter and fitter every week and more capable of competing my best. I'm a competitor, so every race I'm in, I'm there to win. That's the goal.
"I pride myself in my versatility and I worked with the (3,200 relay) last year and was the anchor, so I gained experience in the 800. Right now, I'm better suited for the 800."
Coach Bill Darling said that Jha's competitiveness is his best attribute.
"I'd go to war with Arjun anytime, in just about any event he wants to run," Darling said. "He lost at least three weeks of training and is going to state in a different event than he did last season."
Also qualifying for state from the boys team was senior Andy Payne, who was regional runner-up in the 3,200 (9:14.34). He placed seventh at state last season.
"Andy has had a terrific season and is very strong and ready to go," Darling said. "I am so happy for those two getting to end their high school careers at state. They've meant a lot to this program."
The Cardinals finished 13th (17) at regional behind champion Pickerington Central (97) as 41 teams scored.
Girls lacrosse team exceeded expectations
The third-seeded girls lacrosse team lost to top-seeded Upper Arlington 15-8 in the Division I, Region 3 final May 24 at Fortress Obetz to finish 16-5-1 overall.
The Cardinals trailed just 6-4 at halftime but surrendered three goals during an 87-second span early in the second half to spark a 7-0 run by UA that pushed the Golden Bears' lead to 13-4 with 15:08 remaining.
"We felt really good about where we were at halftime, even though we scored two more goals that were taken away with the official's whistles," coach Scott Hamilton said. "They were doing their jobs. It's just unfortunate that the whistle blew both times a fraction of a second before we scored.
"One of the times, we missed the shot on the restart and (UA) took it down and scored, so instead of being 5-4 at that point, it became 6-3."
Hamilton also thought his team wore down in the hot, humid weather.
"I think (UA's) advantage in depth and the heat played roles in the second half, especially when they started to control the draws," Hamilton said. "But we exceeded expectations this year. We only had three seniors and one of them was hurt and didn't play. We start a bunch of underclassmen, so we're excited for the future."
Thomas defeated 17th-seeded Kettering Fairmont 19-1 in the first round of the regional tournament May 14, fifth-seeded Coffman 10-6 in a regional quarterfinal May 17 and second-seeded Dublin Jerome 10-9 in overtime in a semifinal that began May 21 and concluded May 22 after being suspended because of bad weather.
In the semifinal, junior defender Rachel Rinaldi scored with three seconds left in overtime and had four goals for the game. Junior midfielder Tori Banks scored five goals, as the Cardinals roared back from a 5-2 halftime deficit with three goals early in the second half.
"That was an incredible game and we got some big saves by (sophomore goalkeeper) Mackenzie Kneisly with the game tied and we made two defensive stands in overtime before Rachel scored a fast-break goal," Hamilton said.
The Cardinals went 5-1 in the OCC-Cardinal Division to place second, behind Jerome (6-0) and ahead of Kilbourne (4-2), Dublin Scioto (3-3), Hilliard Darby (2-4), Hilliard Bradley (1-5) and Delaware (0-6).
The seniors are midfielder Julia Geiger, defender Paige Lampman and attacker Elaine Miller, who missed the season because of injury.
Among the expected return-ees are Banks, Kneisly, Rinaldi, juniors Reilly Ford (defender) and Anneliese Sinclair (defender), sophomore Abbey Midnight (attacker) and freshmen Isabella Avila (defender) and Mollie Estepp (attacker).
Banks, Ford and Lampman all were named first-team all-league, while Avila, Geiger and Rinaldi were second-team all-league.