Pickerington High School Central boys track and field coach Jason Roach repeatedly emphasized to his team not to get too hung up on the results of any regular-season competition.
Such thinking does not apply to the Division I state meet, which provided a perhaps fitting end to a year unlike any other in school history.
Wins from senior Matt Scrape in the 3,200 meters (9 minutes, 2.01 seconds), junior Evan Matthews in the 300 hurdles (37.13) and the 1,600 relay (3:17.7) of seniors Malcolm Briley, Crockett Schooler and Zach Robinson and junior Terry Simuel led Central to its first state championship. The Tigers scored 58 points in the state meet June 1 and 2 at Ohio State to finish well ahead of runner-up Centerville (36.5) as 69 teams scored.
With state championships in football, girls basketball and track, Central became the first school in state history to achieve that trifecta in a single school year.
"This is something we thought we could win two years ago and thought for sure that we could last year, but people got hurt," Roach said. "The kids stuck with the game plan and realized it's not about this meet or that meet, it's about staying healthy and finishing strong and that's what these guys did (last weekend).
"When you have a plan and it comes together right when it's supposed to, it means a lot. I think every one of these guys would say this is one of the best things that has happened to them in high school sports."
Central pulled away late, when Schooler provided secondary points with a fifth-place finish in the 300 hurdles (38.28). Scrape, a Syracuse recruit, won the 3,200 shortly thereafter after placing second in the event a year ago and the 1,600 relay edged runner-up Centerville by 1.88 seconds.
Matthews also was on the second-place 800 relay (1:26.63) with senior Malcolm Briley, Robinson and junior Denzell Feagin.
Briley committed to Akron on June 3. Schooler is a Pittsburgh recruit.
"I hooked my right leg (in the 300 hurdles) and it threw me off the rest of the race, but I just finished," Matthews said. "That's what we practice, finishing strong."
Feagin placed fourth in the 100 (10.78) and sixth in the 200 (21.79), Robinson was fourth in the 400 (48.27), Schooler was seventh in the 110 hurdles (14.43) and junior Brady Johnson finished eighth in the 800 (1:55.15).
Simuel finished 13th in the 400 (49.78) and the 400 relay was 14th (42.9) with Briley, senior Jules Johnson, Feagin and freshman Lorenzo Styles.
"Everybody scoring a point in their event added up together at the end," Simuel said. "It feels amazing to help the seniors get this."
Central swept through the postseason, beginning with a runaway victory in the OCC-Ohio Division meet May 10 and 12 at Dublin Coffman. With seven first-place finishes and nine runner-up efforts, the Tigers scored 166 points to finish ahead of Gahanna (108), Lancaster (94), Pickerington North (76), Reynoldsburg (44) and Grove City (33).
Central exceeded that margin of victory in the district 1 meet that concluded May 19 at Hilliard Darby, scoring 158 points to finish ahead of runner-up Coffman (94) as 16 teams scored.
The Tigers scored 97 points in the regional May 23 and 25 at North to finish ahead of runner-up Olentangy Orange (60.5) as 41 teams scored.
"We've made our mistakes and learned from them," Scrape said. "Everything went according to plan this year."
Wood's title leads girls team at state
Jaydan Wood of the girls track and field team did not get the time she thought she would need to win the 400 in the Division I state meet, but it was a win nonetheless.
The junior finished first in 54.18, 1.27 seconds ahead of runner-up Faith Banks from Macedonia Nordonia.
Wood was the top seed at state, having run a 53.85 at regional. She also finished fifth in the 200 (24.74) and was on the fourth-place 800 relay (1:41.76) with seniors Dalajah Long and Destinee McGrady and sophomore Aija Cason.
"It feels good. It's not the time that I wanted, but I'm still grateful to be able to place first and be a state champ," said Wood, who had hoped to run in the 51- or 52-second range at state. "I came in (June 2) knowing that I was going to have pretty good competition, so I was going to have to go out at a good pace. It was important to start strong and finish even stronger.
"Since I was a little girl, I always had a dream of winning a state title, so it's like a dream come true. I've been running since I was 6."
Also at state, the 400 relay of senior Shae Douglas, Cason, Long and McGrady finished 15th (49.57) and the 1,600 relay did not compete, as Central scored 19 points to tie Cincinnati Princeton for 10th behind champion Gahanna (51) as 64 teams scored.
Wood swept the 400 titles in each of the Tigers' final four meets, beginning with the OCC-Ohio meet. She finished in 55.3 that day and also won the 200 (25.18), leading Central to 107 points and a third-place finish behind Gahanna (164) and Lancaster (123) and ahead of North (97), Reynoldsburg (23) and Grove City (7).
The Tigers scored 112 points to finish first in the district 1 meet ahead of runner-up Thomas Worthington (107.5) as 16 teams scored, and they finished second (50) at regional behind Gahanna (84) as 32 teams scored.
Other athletes eligible to return include juniors Lauren Marvin (distance) and Maddie Schmidt (distance) and sophomores Simone Mahan (jumps, sprints) and Brittany Miller (sprints).