The Thomas Worthington High School girls track and field team turned in a strong performance in the Division I state meet June 1 and 2 at Ohio State, setting two school records in relays and tying for fifth in the team standings.
"This is awesome, just incredible," said junior Gia Napoleon, who competed in three events at state. "We broke school records in the (3,200-meter relay) and (1,600 relay) and we couldn't be happier. We all ran well and we pushed Gahanna in the (1,600 relay)."
The 1,600 relay of freshman Carina Napoleon, junior Allyicia Diggs-Hall, Gia Napoleon and senior Jazzlynn Gaiters finished second in 3 minutes, 48.82 seconds, behind Gahanna (3:47.99). The Cardinals had lowered the school record to 3:50.47 at the regional meet May 23 and 25 at Pickerington North, breaking the previous mark of 3:51.84 that had been set in 2016.
"That was our goal coming in, to break the record again and see if we could catch Gahanna," Gaiters said. "It was very exciting. It's a great way for me to finish my senior year. I'm so happy for all of us."
A day earlier at state, the 3,200 relay of sophomores Lydia Miller and Cassidy Shaver, Carina Napoleon and Gia Napoleon placed fifth in 9:02.26, smashing the school record of 9:09.2 that had been set in 1997.
"The (3,200 relay) did a tremendous job rebounding from a disappointing regional performance (9:15.57)," coach Andy Cox said. "The girls were super excited about their performance and I think starting the state meet like that was a good sign of things to come."
Gia Napoleon finished third in the 800 in 2:10.49 after winning the event last season in 2:07.47. She suffered a stress fracture in her right ankle near the end of indoor season and lost more than two months of training.
"My goal coming in here wasn't to win (the 800), because I didn't think that was realistic given the amount of training I missed," Napoleon said. "But I was looking to get under 2:10, so that was a little disappointing. Still, with just a month of training, to finish third is pretty good and I should be happy about that. But as a competitor, you always want more."
Also at state, Gaiters finished fourth in the 400 in a season-best 56.01.
"I felt good and fresh going in and it was a great way to finish my career as an individual," Gaiters said. "I'm proud of myself. But I'm more excited about what we did in the (1,600 relay)."
The Cardinals totaled 23 points to tie Youngstown East for fifth behind Gahanna (51), Lancaster (31), Twinsburg (31) and Dublin Coffman (28) as 64 teams scored.
"We had a lot of smiles on Saturday evening," Cox said. "For this team to score in all four events that qualified for the state meet and to finish tied for fifth out of 211 Division I teams in the state is pretty satisfying."
Jha, Payne place fifth at state meet
Seniors Arjun Jha and Andy Payne represented the boys track and field team in the Division I state meet, with both placing fifth in their respective events.
Jha finished the 800 in 1:54.52 and Payne completed the 3,200 in 9:10.15.
Jha missed most of the regular season with a knee injury and wasn't able to train enough to compete in the postseason in his signature event, the 1,600. Last season, he was state runner-up in that event (school-record 4:09.09) and was on the 3,200 relay that won the state title.
Still, Jha was grateful just for the opportunity to get back on the track late this season.
"There's nothing like getting to compete in the state championships and representing your team, your school and your community," Jha said. "It's a special opportunity and thankfully the therapists, doctors, trainers and coaches got me back here.
"The funny thing is that I started running to help prepare me for swimming and that was my dad's idea. But I fell in love with it and it all led to this."
Coach Bill Darling remembers those days.
"He couldn't even finish a cross country race in seventh grade and now look at him," Darling said. "Between cross country, indoor track and outdoor track, he's an eight-time all-Ohioan and he's going to compete at Indiana (University)."
Payne was in a pack of five runners early in the 3,200 and passed all of them to take the lead heading into the final lap. However, each one of those four runners passed him in the final 270 meters.
"My goal coming in was to win the race and I tried to make that happen the only way I could," Payne said. "I wanted to pass them with a big move that left them behind because I didn't want them to catch me down the stretch. I wasn't really feeling that good, but I made the move anyway. My only regret is not running the final 30 (meters) a little stronger. I was just off my (school record of 9:10.07)."
Darling said Payne definitely took the correct approach to his race.
"Andy doesn't have a strong kick like a lot of the competitors, so he's got to get ahead by quite a bit to hold them off and that's what he was trying to do," Darling said. "It was one of the smartest races I've ever seen him run, especially considering the strength of the field. He is a seven-time all-Ohioan who is going to compete at Eastern Michigan."
The Cardinals scored eight points to tie for 27th behind champion Pickerington Central (58) as 69 teams scored.
"Andy and Arjun will go down as two of the best runners we've ever had at Thomas," Darling said. "They both have meant so much to this program and the cross country program. To have them together was just incredible."