When the 800-meter state champions from 2017 and 2018 blasted off on the final leg of the girls Division I 3,200-meter relay May 31 at Ohio State, fireworks were bound to happen.
In a wild finish that required an excruciating wait on a photo finish to become official, Gia Napoleon of Thomas Worthington held off Madison Martinez of Gahanna, giving the Cardinals the state title by a nose. Thomas was timed in 8 minutes, 55.85 seconds and Gahanna in 8:55.9. The Lions had set the state record in winning the 2018 title.
“I really didn't even know who won,” said Napoleon, a senior Ohio State signee. "This is what's been happening the whole postseason when we get together. Madison pushed me so hard. Hopefully, we can have another great race (June 1) in the 800."
Martinez, a senior Villanova signee, lost her balance hurling herself across the line and left nasty scrapes on her knees and elbows.
"The crowd was so loud when we got to the line, I wasn't sure who won," Martinez said. "I felt like I got ahead of her for a little bit, but she's a battler. It's so fun racing against her."
Sophomore Carina Napoleon ran a terrific third leg as the Cardinals fought back from 12th to put her sister in position to win. Lydia Miller and Morgan Edwards made up the remainder of the team.
Moments later, Pickerington Central won the boys 3,200 relay in dramatic fashion as anchor Brady Johnson rallied to overtake Matthew Hoak of Cincinnati St. Xavier at the tape.
Central ran 7:42.68 and St. Xavier 7:43.05. Garner Wallace, Jailen Willis and Terry Simuel made up the rest of the squad for the Tigers, who took fourth in their conference meet but meshed at the right time.
"When I got the baton, I was a little scared," Johnson said. "The St. Xavier guy was out there a bit … maybe 10 meters. But running down people is one of my favorite parts of this race. My teammates got me in a great position to make this possible."
The victory got the Tigers off to a great start in their quest to repeat as team champions.
The only other area champion in the opening day of competition delayed two hours by lightning was Anthony Bowman of Africentric in the Division III high jump.
Bowman joined the track team in spring 2018 "just for something to do" and ended up state runner-up. He climbed one step higher with a career-best winning jump of 6 feet, 10 inches. He won by 4 inches.
"I knew when I jumped 6-7 I had won, so that sort of relaxed me for the rest of my jumps," said Bowman, a senior headed to Tiffin. "Everything after that was gravy. On that 6-10 jump, I don't know what happened. I had a lot of adrenaline flowing and I got over it easy on the first try."
Bowman made 6-9 and 6-10 on his first attempt. He came close on the third and final try at a state-record height of 7-1/2. Brant Reardon of Fremont St. Joseph established the record of 7-1/4 in 2011.
"I'm a natural athlete, I guess," Bowman said. "One of the coaches kept begging me to come out last year, and I figured I didn't have anything else to do so I did. I missed by an inch last year, and that wasn't going to happen again."
Delaware Christian's Lyssi Snouffer lost a tiebreaker and settled for second to Springfield Catholic Central freshman Mallory Mullens in the Division III high jump. Both jumped 5-7, but Snouffer missed an attempt at 5-6. Snouffer also placed third in the long jump with a career-best 18-1.
"I tied for third as a freshman and took second last year so, sure, I wanted to get first, but I lost to a fantastic jumper and I have nothing to be ashamed of," said Snouffer, a three-sport first-team All-Ohioan. "I can't wait to see her again next year."
Sophomore Jimmy Rhoads of Liberty Union took second in the Division II pole vault (15-2). He was eighth as a freshman.
"I hit 14-10 and 15-2 on my third tries," said Rhoads, who is tiny compared to most vaulters. "I was a distance runner, but one of my coaches noticed that I always climbed trees and thought the pole vault was made for me."
Luke Lachey of Grandview took third in the high jump (6-4). Ben Casey of West Jefferson was fourth with the same height.
"Given how I only started this at the end of March after basketball was over, I never expected to get this far," Lachey said. "My form got a lot better as the season went along."
Grove City Christian senior Calista Manns qualified with the fastest times in the Division III 100, 100 hurdles and 300 hurdles. Beechcroft's Makiya Montgomery did the same in the Division II 100 and 200.