Having earned 11 state medals during her career, senior Shynae Deas appreciates the culture that she believes encompasses the Gahanna Lincoln High School girls track and field program.
The Lions have become more than just the gold standard for middle distance in Ohio the past few seasons to Deas, an Indiana recruit who helped the 1,600-meter relay win its fifth consecutive Division I state title June 1 at Ohio State.
"It's really special to know I have a team that carries each other," said Deas, who ran third leg on the relay. "We just always pick each other up when we're down, and it's special to be on a team that helps each other when they're down. It means a lot."
Deas was part of six state championship relays, including four titles with the 1,600 relay. This season, she teamed with junior Alexis Thigpen, sophomore Joi Bradley and senior Madison Martinez to win the relay in 3 minutes, 46.2 seconds, more than three seconds ahead of runner-up Mentor (3:49.48).
"(We) didn't get what we wanted, but Gahanna girls (have) not lost a state championship race (in the 1,600 relay) indoors or outdoors since 2014," coach Roger Whittaker said.
Gahanna scored 40 points at state to place third behind Liberty Township Lakota East (65) and Mentor (41) as 68 teams scored. The Lions had won last year's state title and placed second at the indoor state meet in March.
Martinez, a Villanova recruit, also ran on the 1,600 relay for four seasons and joined Deas on the 3,200 relay that won the state title last season and in 2016 and was state runner-up this season and in 2017.
On May 31, the relay finished in 8:55.9, just behind champion Thomas Worthington (8:55.85). Martinez battled the Cardinals' Gia Napoleon in the final few meters but was edged at the finish line.
"I wasn't sure who won (the 3,200 relay), but I just gave it all I've got," Martinez said. "I definitely felt like I was able to get ahead of (Napoleon) for a little bit. We were pretty neck-and-neck. I was disappointed, but I was also really proud of our team and how far we've come."
Martinez and Deas were joined on this year's 3,200 relay by Thigpen and sophomore Meghan Massmann.
"We knew it was going to be a close race," Massmann said. "We came in seeded fifth (9:10.71), but that was a time we didn't really like. We knew we could get it down more. Our goal was to get as high as we could on the podium."
Martinez got another shot at Napoleon the next day in the 800 and the two appeared on track for another last-second battle. Martinez finished second in 2:09.11, just ahead of Napoleon (2:09.67) but behind Mentor's Olivia Howell (2:08.6).
Martinez won last year's 800 title after placing second behind Napoleon in 2017 and fourth as a freshman.
Also reaching the state podium were junior Lacey Stringer in the shot put (third, personal-best 43 feet, 1 3/4 inches), senior Brooke Johnson in the shot put (fourth, 42-1 3/4) and the 800 relay of junior Shaina Rutledge, sophomore Joi Bradley, Deas and Thigpen (sixth, 1:42.14),
Johnson's sister, senior Bronte Johnson, was a state qualifier in the discus in 2017.
"It was an OK day," Brooke Johnson said. "I've been throwing since middle school and this day was rewarding for me. It's a very competitive meet in itself and for (me and Stringer) to both come from the same team (and place at state) is pretty cool."
Also competing at state were Bradley in the 400 (11th, 58.22), sophomore Trinity Houpe in the 300 hurdles (11th, 45.68), the 400 relay of Rutledge, sophomore Ciarra Carter and freshmen Kaylan Hairston and Mkaia Trent (11th, 49.43), Carter in the long jump (12th, 16-11 1/4), Thigpen in the 400 (13th, 58.33) and sophomore Faith Hunter in the high jump (no height).
The Lions entered state following a fifth consecutive regional title. They scored 89 points at the regional meet that concluded May 24 at Pickerington North to finish well ahead of runner-up Westerville Central (54) as 38 teams scored.
The 1,600 relay was first (3:49.4) and placing second were Thigpen in the 400 (57.07), Martinez in the 800 (2:09.41), Hunter in the high jump (5-6), Brooke Johnson in the shot put (43-9 1/2), the 800 relay (1:41.6) and the 3,200 relay (9:10.71). The other state qualifiers were Bradley in the 400 (third, 57.4), Carter in the long jump (third, 17-6 1/4), Stringer in the shot put (third, 42-10 1/2), Houpe in the 300 hurdles (fifth, 45.23) and the 400 relay (fifth, 48.84).
Also competing at regional were Massmann in the 800 (seventh, 2:18.93), freshman Alyssa Shope in the 1,600 (seventh, 5:08.05), Bronte Johnson in the discus (eighth, 117-5), senior Sara Buckner in the 3,200 (11th, 12:12.9), Stringer in the 300 hurdles (12th, 48.42), Brooke Johnson in the discus (14th, 103-7), sophomore Sophia Hill in the high jump (14th, 5-0) and sophomore Amanda Lee in the 100 hurdles (16th, 20.82).
Others eligible to return include juniors Riley Dickson (distance) and Hannah Schlegel (pole vault), sophomores Nya Bailey (sprints), Hayley Carpico (pole vault), Savannah Flusche (discus, shot put), Tamryn Lindsay (hurdles), Jordyn Thomas (sprints), Ally VanHorssen (pole vault) and Alyse Wunderlin (distance) and freshmen Camryn Nelson (hurdles), Brianna Plummer (middle distance) and Mkya Trent (sprints).
Boys 3,200 relay makes state podium
The 3,200 relay of juniors Ben Towler and Caleb Shovlin, sophomore Donovan Hight and junior Riley Jackson represented the boys team at state, placing eighth in a program-record 7:52.47.
The Lions scored one point a tie for 69th behind champion Pickerington Central (87) as 78 teams scored.
Jackson got the baton in ninth and moved the relay into scoring position.
"The pack was pretty spread out at that point, so we had to condense the pack and start moving up," Jackson said. "All except for Ben, it's the first time getting all-state for us and we're all coming back next year. We're looking to do some big things at state next year. I can't be too mad about breaking a school record and getting all-Ohio."
Towler, a transfer from DeSales, finished 21st at the state cross country meet last fall.
"It's my first time at (the) outdoor (state meet), so it's been a great experience," Towler said.
The 3,200 relay placed fourth (7:57.2) at regional to help the Lions tie for 19th (11) behind champion Pickerington Central (101) as 42 teams scored.
Also competing at regional were senior Kelly Wilson in the 110 hurdles (seventh, 14.9), senior Lee Bennett in the 100 (seventh, 11.22), junior Ache' Sanchez-Baccus in the shot put (seventh, 50-9 1/4), Jackson in the 3,200 (ninth, 9:39.2), Towler in the 1,600 (11th, 4:28.92) and the 800 relay of Bennett, seniors Mateo Jones and Blaiden Kirk and junior Derrick Bradley (12th, 1:32.07).
"We got the school record and all-state," Hight said. "I love running with these guys. Last year we weren't even thinking about state and this year we did it."
Junior Dylan Kaylor, who won the OCC-Ohio Division title in the high jump (6-1) and also competed in the discus, should be another top returnee.
Others eligible to return include juniors Khalil Johnson (sprints), Kish McCray (sprints), Ryan Mehalic (distance) and Jamal Williams (long jump), sophomores Ryan Amer (distance), Kevin Blackwell (sprints), Alex Couch (middle distance), Mondra Curry (long jump), Christopher Finklea (hurdles), Connor Hughes-Hemsoth (distance), James Mugrage Jr. (hurdles), Mitchell Soma (jumps) and Ethan Walker (shot put) and freshmen Dwayne Carter (hurdles), Josh Kucker (high jump) and Kamran Wilson-Singleton (throws).