Judging by how the Division I regional meet began, Pickerington High School North boys track and field coach Dave Spring could not have envisioned how it would end.
Spring had to replace one-fourth of his 3,200-meter relay the morning of May 23, hours before the first event, when Ethan Cale was sidelined by food poisoning. Cale was replaced by Jake Prestileo, who rarely runs the 800 but still partnered with Ashwin Briggs, Matt Duvall and Harper Moore to finish second in 7 minutes, 51.7 seconds.
That got the Panthers rolling to 47 points and a fourth-place finish behind champion Pickerington Central (97) as 41 teams scored, but more importantly to Spring, all of his athletes who competed at regional also will compete in the state meet Friday, June 1, and Saturday, June 2, at Ohio State.
"In all my years of coaching, I don't know that I've ever had that situation. It's rare, and it's definitely more than you can hope for," Spring said. "When Ethan got sick -- he couldn't get out of bed and he couldn't even keep water down -- we were really scrambling. I found out at 7 in the morning (May 23). Jake was amazing, and that absolutely gave us some momentum."
Briggs won the 800 (1:52.68) on the final day of the meet May 25 to lead North. Tyrik Carter was second in the 110 hurdles (14.25), Duvall placed third in the 3,200 (9:17.37), the 400 relay of Enrique Cabotage, Carter, Jalaun Covington and Kavaughn Robinson finished third (42.25) and Robinson was fourth in the 100 (10.92).
The top four finishers in each regional event automatically advanced to state, while two at-large state berths also were awarded in each running event based on regional times statewide.
Moore placed fifth in the 1,600 (4:18.31) and earned an at-large berth.
Also competing at regional was the 1,600 relay of Cabotage, Carter, Covington and Robinson (11th, 3:26.88).
Led by the 800 relay of Alicia Donley, Nia Grant, Jemeila Hunter and Celeste Pierce that finished first in 1:41.02, the girls team scored 37 points at regional to tie Thomas Worthington for seventh behind champion Gahanna (84) as 32 teams scored.
The 400 relay of Burke, Hunter, Pierce and Lexi Walker placed second (47.78), .05 of a second behind Olentangy Orange.
"We felt like we were supposed to beat (Orange), but it's OK, we've got another week," Walker said. "We still broke our school record."
Also competing at regional were Pierce in the 100 (fifth, 12.52), Jemeila Hunter in the 200 (sixth, 26.12), Donley in the 400 (seventh, 57.63), the 1,600 relay (seventh, 3:58.52), Grant in the 400 (eighth, 59.28), Avery Hart in the pole vault (ninth, 10 feet), Burke in the 100 hurdles (10th, 15.49), Mayson Bates in the high jump (tied for 10th, 5-0) and Amara Okpalaoka, who fouled on each of her three attempts in the long jump.
Boys volleyball team finished strong
Boys volleyball coach Marci Truex said that while she didn't expect her team to surge the way it did late in the season, winning six consecutive matches, she knew there was potential for such success.
The Panthers' winning streak, which began with a 25-17, 25-19 win over Akron Hoban on May 5 at St. Charles and continued through the first round of the Division I East Region tournament, allowed them to finish 14-12 overall. North's season came to an end with a 25-11, 25-15, 25-23 loss at top-seeded Hilliard Darby in a regional semifinal May 22.
"I knew I had athletic kids and kids who played in the offseason and proved themselves, but I wasn't sure what was going to happen," Truex said. "I hoped we could handle a tough schedule and come together. At points, our schedule was grueling and that took a toll physically and mentally. But for them to bounce back and win six in a row with a loss to the No. 1 seed, I was very excited and very proud."
Seeded 10th in the 20-team regional tournament, the Panthers defeated 11th-seeded Upper Arlington 18-25, 29-27, 27-25, 25-22 in a regional quarterfinal May 19 before falling to Darby.
"We stayed positive and focused on what we could do," Truex said. "They mentally committed and did everything they needed to. It was all within their grasp. They just had to do it."
North went 6-6 in the OCC-Ohio Division to tie Dublin Coffman and UA for third, behind Hilliard Davidson (10-2) and Gahanna (9-3) and ahead of Central (5-7) and Reynoldsburg (0-12).
Junior setter Bradley Johnson had a team-best 152 kills and 324 assists to earn second-team all-league and honorable mention all-region honors with senior middle hitter Jack Kowalczyk (145 kills, team-high 70 blocks).
Junior outside hitter Eli Lubow (135 kills, 31 aces) was honorable mention all-league.
Senior libero/outside hitter Kyle Roach led the Panthers in digs with 199, and senior outside hitter Nate Martin, who signed May 21 to play at Midway University, had 78 kills.