Elliott Cook of the Dublin Jerome High School boys track and field team got his first close look at Mifflin's Aman Thornton in the Division I regional meet that concluded May 24 at Pickerington North.
The two battled for the championship in the 800 meters that day, with Thornton winning in 1 minute, 51.27 seconds and Cook placing second (1:51.66).
At the state meet June 1 at Ohio State, Thornton again edged Cook for the title by the slimmest of margins, running 1:51.16 as Cook placed second in 1:51.49. Pickerington Central's Brady Johnson placed third (1:52.8).
"I knew I had to make my move with 200 left, so I swung it out to the second lane," said Cook, a junior.
"I knew Thornton was going to be there at the end. He just had an extra gear in him and kind of pushed it straight through. He's a helluva competitor."
For Cook, a three-time state qualifier in cross country who earned all-Ohio honors last fall, his performance on June 1 was a step up despite obstacles that slowed down his regular season.
After placing fifth in the 1,600 at last year's state meet, Cook transitioned into an 800 runner this spring after missing time early in the season.
He won OCC-Cardinal Division and district titles in the 800 and helped the 3,200 relay place fifth in the district 3 meet that concluded May 18 at Hilliard Darby.
"I definitely progressed well," Cook said. "I started my season in late April because I was out with an injury and I got my wisdom teeth out, so it was a rough start to the season. My first 800, I went 2:03 and then from there my coach and I started getting me on a regular training plan. I'm excited with how I progressed this season."
With Cook's eight points, Jerome tied for 29th at state behind champion Pickerington Central (87) as 78 teams scored.
He is expected to lead a group of returnees that also should feature juniors Blake Hara (sprints) and Arjun Dhankani (distance) and sophomores Silas Kayuha (hurdles) and Ezra Strickland (sprints, high jump). Dhankani was a regional qualifier in the 3,200.
Others eligible to return include juniors Jacob Bishop (pole vault), Tristian Doss (pole vault), Nate Kovach (shot put), Sam Muhleman (sprints) and Jack Rozich (middle distance), sophomores Travis Cline (distance), Kysen Gabriel (middle distance), Finn Herrmann (middle distance) and Omari Kissi (hurdles) and freshmen Garrett Cicci (long jump), Isaiah King (jumps) and Carson Smith (distance).
The biggest losses to graduation will be Alex Smythe and Ross Stevenson, who were regional qualifiers in the 100 and pole vault, respectively.
Girls 1,600 relay makes state podium
The girls team was represented in the Division I state meet by its 1,600 relay, which placed eighth in 3:57.11 on June 1.
Junior Emily Oiler led off the relay and was followed by sophomore Samantha Melican and freshmen Raegan Ernst and Maya Fuller, as the Celtics scored one point to tie for 61st behind champion Liberty Township Lakota East (65) as 68 teams scored.
The Celtics ran a program-record 3:55.46 in their preliminary heat May 31 to earn the seventh seed for the final. That race took place around 11 p.m. because of a weather delay.
"I'm normally in bed (at 11 p.m.), but it's fine, we (ran a season-best time) and broke the school record," Melican said.
The relay, according to Ernst, dropped about 20 seconds compared to when the foursome was first put together in the regular season.
"What we really wanted to do was break our school record because we were two seconds off of it (heading into state)," Oiler said. "We also wanted to advance to finals. To compete on the last day possible is really nice. It was definitely a little intimidating, but being with a (relay at state) is definitely a lot better than being here individually."
Ernst emerged as one of central Ohio's top all-around freshman athletes, advancing to regional in the 300 hurdles after winning a district title in the event.
She also was OCC-Cardinal runner-up in the high jump and ran on the 400 relay with freshmen Meryl LaRue, Ashley Westerheide and Caroline Zimovan that placed seventh at district.
Oiler was league runner-up in the 400, while the 800 relay of LaRue, Melican, sophomore Nicole Ogden and Fuller also expects to return its entire lineup after placing second in the league.
"We literally all have become so close," Oiler said.
Junior Madison Weigle (middle distance/distance), sophomore Sarah Coleman (high jump) and freshman Audrey Cook (middle distance/distance) were other key contributors.
Juniors Abigail Damewood and Mackenzie Weeks both are eligible to return in the pole vault.
Others eligible to return include juniors Deena Ayshi (discus), Olivia Bentley (hurdles), Shrea Kumar (sprints), Danya LaRosa (shot put), Lauren Scheurle (shot put) and Manaka Yamauchi (hurdles), sophomores Claire Deffet (middle distance), Lindsay Mayo (distance) and Hailey Watson (long jump) and freshmen Gwyn Lai (hurdles), McKenna Moritz (hurdles), Darya Shirzad (shot put) and Annika Sunkara (discus).