The Gahanna Lincoln High School boys and girls track and field teams couldn't have asked for better finishes to the season.
On June 3 at Ohio State, both the boys and girls captured Division I state championships in the 1,600-meter relay.
It capped a third consecutive state meet in which the girls scored at least 50 points and provided an exclamation point for a boys team that returned to state prominence this season.
The girls team, which earned a state co-championship with Cincinnati Withrow in 2015 and was runner-up to Withrow last season, finished with 51 points to again place second to Withrow (58) as 62 teams scored.
The boys finished with 31 points to place second to Thomas Worthington (36) as 80 teams scored. It was the first time since the boys' 2009 state championship that they placed among the top two teams.
Both teams could find themselves in a similar spot a year from now considering eight of the girls' 10 state competitors and three of the boys' five representatives are eligible to return.
Depth keys girls
track team's success
A strong third leg by freshman Alexis Thigpen helped the 1,600 relay stay in contention for a title that sophomore Madison Martinez completed as the Lions finished in 3 minutes, 46.74 seconds.
Sophomore Shynae Deas and senior Ivy McKee were the others on the relay.
"It's actually very exciting," said Thigpen, who celebrated her 15th birthday June 3. "It's my first year doing this and we were ready to do this."
On June 2, the 3,200 relay of Deas, junior Claire Steigerwald, sophomore Ari Redmond and Martinez as anchor finished second (8:56.73) just behind Mason (8:56.62).
"We were disappointed not to win, but I'm happy we broke our school record," said Deas, whose team now has the second-fastest time in that event all-time behind Mason.
The Lions did their best to stay in contention for the team title by scoring 14 points in the 800, as Martinez was runner-up (2:08.94) and Deas was third (2:10.14), and then got a seventh-place finish from Steigerwald in the 3,200 (10:58.89).
Withrow earned a runner-up finish in the 1,600 relay, however, to wrap up the team title.
The 800 relay of McKee, junior Amariah Thomas, Thigpen and freshman Shaina Rutledge took third (1:39.74), and the 400 relay of McKee, Thomas, Rutledge and senior Benja Duff was seventh (47.73).
Duff also added a fourth-place finish in the 100 hurdles (personal-best 14.06) and was seventh in the 300 hurdles (44.62).
Thomas was seventh in the 100 (12.14) and reached the final in the 200 but settled for ninth (25.24) as the top eight scored.
The Lions' other state competitors were Thigpen in the 400 (13th, 58.13) and sophomore Bronte Johnson in the discus (14th, 116 feet, 3 inches).
"We knew we'd have to come in and be perfect because Withrow has a lot of seniors," coach Roger Whittaker said. "We struggled a little bit on day one and didn't get as many favorable lanes as we were hoping, but it's just amazing because track and field in Gahanna is on fire."
McKee, who will compete for Ball State, and Duff are the biggest losses to graduation.
They helped Gahanna score 165 points to win the OCC-Ohio Division meet May 11 and 13 at Olentangy Orange ahead of Pickerington Central (150), Lancaster (85), Pickerington North (65), Reynoldsburg (42) and Grove City (16).
The Lions have won five consecutive league and district titles and three regional titles in a row.
Also eligible to return are juniors Nia Chandler (high jump) and Maddie Larrick (distance), sophomores Sara Buckner (middle distance), Brooke Johnson (discus, shot put) and Domini Washington (sprints) and freshmen Natalie Clay (distance), Trinity Houpe (hurdles, sprints), Taylor Molli (high jump, long jump), Tara Shope (distance) and Lacey Stringer (shot put).
Boys track team
places in four events
The 1,600 relay title by the boys track team was its biggest highlight in a state meet in which the Lions placed in four of their five events.
The relay was comprised of seniors Jayvonta Tolliver and Dontae Deas and juniors Joseph Gathuru and Jerome Buckner and finished in 3:14.9.
"That was a great way to finish," Buckner said. "We all fought hard. We had a lot of adventures, but (the state meet) was definitely something to be proud of."
The Lions had finished third in the 1,600 relay (3:20.01) at regional May 24 and 26 at Pickerington North. They scored 55 points at regional but placed fourth behind champion Thomas (73) as 37 teams scored.
At state, however, Gahanna contended for the team championship.
Earning state runner-up finishes were sophomore LaCarr Trent in the 100 (10.73) and the 400 relay of Tolliver, Buckner, Gathuru and Trent (41.73).
"Last year I was only at state on a relay, so it's bigger being here (individually) this year," Trent said. "You have to be relaxed, so that's what I tried to do."
Deas added a fourth-place finish in the 300 hurdles (37.91).
"I wanted to win but I got my (personal-best time), so that's all that matters," Deas said.
The only misstep of the meet took place in the 800 relay.
After Trent, Gathuru, Tolliver and Buckner recorded the best preliminary time (1:26.27), they ended up running the second-best time in the final despite having a bad handoff.
Ultimately, however, they were disqualified for being out of the exchange zone.
Sophomore Kelly Wilson, who was one of the Lions' alternates in the 1,600 relay, is another who should return next season.
Others eligible to return include juniors Jaire Latta (middle distance), Jason Mehalic (distance), Cameron Riddle (shot put), Ian Slaughter (hurdles) and Tyler Story (middle distance) and freshmen Derrick Bradley (middle distance), Riley Jackson (distance), Dylan Kaylor (high jump), Ryan Mehalic (distance) and A'che Sanchez (discus, shot put).
"We only lose (Tolliver and Deas), and we'll have Jerome, LaCarr and Joey back (among our state competitors)," coach Shawn Johnston said. "We've also got some good younger guys coming through, so we're just a step away."
caps softball season
In its fifth appearance in the Division I state tournament, the softball team lost to Elyria 6-4 in a semifinal June 1 at Firestone Stadium in Akron.
Junior third baseman Addie Kittel had two home runs and three RBI, and senior center fielder Lauren Woodward, sophomore left fielder Lauren Ringhiser, senior second baseman Mackenzie Soma and senior right fielder Kristen Zink all had one hit.
Senior pitcher Faith Bogard went the first five innings, giving up eight hits and striking out four while giving up three earned runs, and Kittel tossed a scoreless sixth.
Gahanna finished 25-6 overall.
"I was happy to be able to help our team get back in the game, but it was disappointing that we couldn't string our hits together better," Kittel said.
Gahanna fell behind 5-1 but got back to within 5-3. After the eventual champion Pioneers made it 6-3, Soma led off the seventh with a walk and scored on a triple to left field by Zink.
Woodward then flied out to left and Zink tried to score but was thrown out at the plate.
"I told them I'm proud of them," coach Jim Campolo said. "Unfortunately when you get (to the state tournament), three out of the four teams are going to go home sad and one's going to go home happy.
"It's just a great group of kids. We've told them all along they deserve to be here. I think if you look at the eight seniors, six out of the eight started, and they all just love the game of softball."
Kittel, who went 8-0 as the team's No. 2 pitcher, likely will take on a bigger role in the circle next season in addition to being one of the team's top returning hitters.
She was special mention all-league for the Lions as they went 7-3 in the OCC-Ohio to finish behind Pickerington Central (10-0) and ahead of Lancaster (6-4), Grove City (4-6), Pickerington North (2-8) and Reynoldsburg (1-9).
The Lions were seeded fourth for the district tournament and beat 36th-seeded Canal Winchester 10-0 on May 10, 20th-seeded Westerville North 12-0 in a district semifinal May 15 at Pickerington North and 10th-seeded Marys-ville 11-1 in a district final May 20 at Pickerington Central.
During the regional tournament, Gahanna beat Lancaster 11-7 on May 24 and Hilliard Bradley 6-2 on May 27 for the title in games at Ohio State.
Woodward and senior Aly Harrell (1B) were first-team all-league, Ringhiser and sophomore Molly Troutman (SS) made the second team and sophomore Alaina Marcum (designated player) was special mention.
Harrell was first-team all-state and Woodward was honorable mention all-state. Both also made first-team all-district, while Kittel and Troutman were second-team all-district.
Others eligible to return include junior Gracey Day (3B) and sophomore Ashley Waters (2B).