Jemeila Hunter's training was oriented toward the type of performance she had during the Division I regional meet, but the Pickerington High School North girls track and field standout still was in awe of how things progressed May 24 at her home track.
Hunter won the 100 meters (12.18 seconds) and 200 (24.41) and anchored the first-place 400 relay (47.99) and winning 800 relay (1:41.41) as the Panthers finished fourth (49 points) behind champion and OCC-Ohio Division rival Gahanna (89) as 38 teams scored.
"My trainer (Jamie Hence) is a great coach. He helped me out all summer and all of this season," said Hunter, a senior and Bowling Green recruit. "All of my training has been based on peaking at the end of the season. I'm really excited to get to state and see how I can do. I had some goals set and I wasn't sure if I could get them, but this is very exciting."
The top four finishers in each regional event automatically qualified for state Friday, May 31, and Saturday, June 1, at Ohio State. In addition, two at-large berths were awarded in each event based on time, height or distance statewide.
Hunter beat runner-up Anna Kessler of Watterson by .3 of a second in the 100 and was .04 of a second better than runner-up Jaydan Wood of Pickerington Central in the 200. Wood, an Ohio State recruit, is going for her second consecutive state title in the 400.
"I know how fast (Wood) is. She has a good start and I was worried about getting a good start out of the blocks," Hunter said.
Celeste Pierce led off the 400 relay, followed by Mayson Bates, Amara Okpalaoka and Hunter. The same group comprised the 800 relay, although Bates and Pierce switched legs.
Bates and Okpalaoka earned at-large state berths by finishing fifth in the 100 hurdles (14.93) and long jump (17 feet, 5 1/4 inches), respectively.
"I was pretty upset at first with the long jump, but I am still satisfied with my place. To make it this far, this is good motivation for next year," said Okpalaoka, a junior. "Last year, I was jumping like 16 feet and this year I'm going 17 and 18 most of the time. I did indoor track with (Hence) and it really helped me. I got faster and I did a lot of weightlifting that has paid off. Last year at this time, I didn't think it was possible that I'd be on a relay going to state."
Led by Matt Duvall's win in the 3,200 (9:21.74), the boys team finished seventh (27.5) behind champion Central (101) as 42 teams scored. Harper Moore was third in the 1,600 (4:17.44) and both Duvall and Moore were on the fifth-place 3,200 relay (7:58.76) with Steven McElroy and Jake Prestileo that earned an at-large state berth.
"I'd have been happy with anything under 9:20. For state, I definitely want to try to drop some more time, but this was pretty good," said Duvall, who placed seventh at state in the 3,200 last year and finished 4.36 seconds ahead of runner-up Owen Karas of St. Charles at regional. "I didn't necessarily want to start leading as fast as I did, but nobody else really took it out so I got the lead. I wanted to tire other guys' legs so they didn't have as much left when it was time to sprint at the end."
Also competing but failing to advance were Moore in the 800 (fifth, 1:56.02), Connor Daniel in the boys pole vault (sixth, 13-0), Avery Hart in the girls pole vault (eighth, 10-8), Zemen Siyoum in the boys 110 hurdles (eighth, 15.09), the boys 400 relay of Enrique Cabotage, Jalaun Covington, Chris Scott and Zhane Wallace (10th, 43.84), the boys 1,600 relay with Cabotage, Covington, McElroy and Moore (10th, 3:29.81) and McElroy in the 400 (11th, 50.87).
Baseball team falls in district semifinal
Despite a solid complete-game performance from senior pitcher Brock Vinci, three errors ultimately decided the game as the eighth-seeded baseball team lost to 15th-seeded Hilliard Bradley 2-1 on May 21 in a Division I district semifinal at Ohio Dominican.
Vinci threw 89 pitches, allowing four hits and one walk while striking out four.
Bradley took the lead in the third inning when Luke Barren walked, stole second base and then scored when two errors were committed on the same play. A third error allowed the Jaguars' Dillon Ysseldyke to score to make it 2-0.
Senior Alec Mendoza (SS/INF) had an RBI single in the fourth to score senior Cam Jenkins (OF) and make it 2-1. The Panthers, who finished 18-10 overall, stranded one baserunner in each of the next two innings and were retired in order in the seventh.
"(Vinci) has done that for three-and-a-half years. I told the guys at our banquet, he's been a bulldog," coach Tim Thomas said. "He gave us a chance to win. We knew it'd be low-scoring. It was all about opportunities. (Bradley) made the plays and we didn't do situations as well as we needed to. That's baseball, but the end of the season always stinks."
Senior Drew Salinas (3B), a Tiffin recruit, had a team-best .360 batting average with 27 hits, 16 RBI and a home run. Vinci batted .329 with 25 hits, 16 RBI and a team-high three home runs and was 6-3 on the mound with a 1.43 ERA, 48 strikeouts and 16 walks in 53 2/3 innings.
Mendoza, a Notre Dame College recruit, batted .337 with a team-high 32 hits. Senior Luke Wilcox (C) batted .313 with 26 hits and two home runs and Jenkins had a .300 average with a team-high 18 RBI.
Salinas and Vinci were named first-team all-OCC-Ohio Division. Mendoza and Wilcox were second-team all-league, junior infielder Jarett Barnes (.280, 23 hits) was special mention all-league and junior pitcher Jacob Chadwick (3-3, 2.73 ERA, 35 strikeouts, 21 walks in 33 1/3 innings) was honorable mention all-league.
The Panthers went 9-5 in the league, finishing third behind champion Lancaster (12-3).
"This was a super-successful year," Thomas said. "We lost a lot of close games. It's frustrating and disappointing. It's hard to lose the last game because you never come into this situation thinking about what you'll say to your team after the game."
Others eligible to return include junior pitcher Zach Pressnell (2-2, 2.90 ERA, 17 strikeouts, 11 walks in 19 1/3 innings).
Volleyball coach pleased with season
Boys volleyball coach Marci Truex was pleased overall with what she called a "roller coaster" season that still saw her team go 16-9 overall and 9-5 in the OCC-Ohio but fall short of a postseason win.
Senior outside hitter Bradley Johnson recorded 206 kills, 52 aces, 26 blocks and 135 digs and senior setter/outside hitter Seth Burton had 65 kills, 42 aces, 37 blocks, 353 assists and 85 digs as North tied Hilliard Davidson for third in the league behind champion Gahanna (14-0).
Seeded ninth in the 19-team Division I East Region tournament, the Panthers lost to seventh-seeded Bradley 25-27, 26-25, 25-23, 25-21 in a second-round match May 18 at Mount Vernon.
"The year was a roller coaster. We had ups and downs and our ups were absolutely amazing and the downs were frustrating, but they never checked out or quit. They are resilient," Truex said. "We were able to beat the teams I thought we should and we were able to beat some of our tougher opponents as well. These seniors have grown a lot as young men and as volleyball players. ... I will miss this group. They are all characters but contributed vital pieces to the puzzle of our team."
Junior outside hitter Charlie Huland had 57 aces, senior libero Jason Miller had a team-high 180 digs and senior middle hitter Demetrius Davis had a team-high 57 blocks.
Johnson was named first-team all-league and second-team all-region, Burton was second-team all-league and honorable mention all-region, Miller was special mention all-league and senior middle hitter Danny Corrigan was honorable mention all-league. Others eligible to return include junior middle hitter Josh Debolt.
"I have guys coming back next year that will lack in game experience but have a core of solid skills," Truex said. "We will need to work on those during the offseason and I hope to recruit some more guys to be a part of our program. We were able to have a junior high team this year and plan to continue that so we can build a system that prepares them for high school."