One era ended and another began for the Thomas Worthington High School track and field programs during the Division I state meet that concluded June 1 at Ohio State.
For the girls team, senior Gia Napoleon capped her prep career by competing in three events, including anchoring the winning 3,200-meter relay that ran a program-record 8 minutes, 55.85 seconds. According to MileSplit.com, the Cardinals' time ranks first in the nation this spring.
Also at state, Napoleon placed third in the 800 (2:09.67) and ran on the seventh-place 1,600 relay (3:57.02).
She leaves the Cardinals with her name on four outdoor school records.
"She was more concerned with the relays than she was with her individual races at state," girls coach Andy Cox said. "She has been the ultimate team player and role model for four years. She's just so unselfish and humble and she just truly cares about all of her teammates."
For the boys team, Justin Braun became the first freshman to win a Division I state title in the 400 since Westerville South's Ryan Barber in 2007. Braun finished in 46.76, .19 of a second ahead of runner-up Zarik Brown of Huber Heights Wayne.
"Justin saved his best for last," boys coach Bill Darling said. "In his last four races, the prelim and final at regional and state, he won just one race, but it was the final one. He really opened a lot of eyes and made a name for himself on the biggest stage. His future is so bright."
In the girls 3,200 relay, Gia Napoleon ran behind junior Lydia Miller and sophomores Morgan Edwards and Carina Napoleon. Together, they edged runner-up Gahanna by .05 of a second.
"My body was about ready to give out at the end," Gia Napoleon said. "But I couldn't let those girls down. When I crossed (the finish line), I didn't know if we won because it was so close. The last 50 meters, I just gave it all I had because I knew (Gahanna's Madison Martinez) was right next to me. It was really special. Thankfully, my teammates ran amazing and got me the baton in a position for us to have a chance (to win)."
In her final event for Thomas, Gia Napoleon ran the first leg of the 1,600 relay, ahead of seniors Sarah Charley and Breanne Beatty and her sister, Carina.
"Our goal was just to reach the podium in that one and it was so wonderful to finish things with those two and Carina," Napoleon said. "We've been there together through four years and it's the way we wanted to finish."
Charley also competed at state in the long jump, setting the school record by placing eighth in 17 feet, 5 3/4 inches.
"There were some amazing jumpers there and I tried my best, so I'm happy with the long jump," said Charley, who has committed to play field hockey at Ohio State. "But I'm real happy with the (1,600 relay) and the way we were able to end our careers together."
Also at state for the girls team, Carina Napoleon finished 13th in the 1,600 (5:12.12).
"I think Gia and I were a little tired after spending so much energy and concentration on the (3,200 relay)," Carina said. "But it's all good."
For Beatty, the 1,600 relay was a bit of redemption.
"I ran terrible in the (1,600 relay) prelims (May 31) and I was just angry and looking forward to having one last chance (June 1) to help my teammates," said Beatty, who will play basketball for Oakland University in Rochester, Michigan. "It's nice to place, but the goal was to run our best and I think we did that. We've all reached a lot of goals and accomplished a lot, but the best part competing for (Thomas) is all of the friendships we've made."
In addition to the 3,200 relay, Gia Napoleon set the school and regional record in the 800 (2:08.23) in 2017 and she broke her own school and OCC-Cardinal Division meet record in the 800 (4:55.46) on May 11 at Hilliard Davidson. She also teamed with her sister and 2018 graduates Allyicia Diggs-Hall and Jazzlynn Gaiters to set the school record in the 1,600 relay (3:48.82) last year at state.
"Our seniors are definitely going to be missed," Cox said. "When you have three of the top athletes we've ever had here all go missing in the same year, it's going to be tough to replace them. But we've got some young girls who I believe will step up next year."
Other expected returnees include juniors Mia Jablonski and Cassidy Shaver, sophomore Jada Stephens and freshmen Leila Boussedra and Cora Hamilton.
Braun had the third-fastest time (47.53) in the 400 preliminaries.
"I saw what (Brown) could do when I ran with him in my prelims heat and I know that Korbin (Martino of Canal Winchester) is a great runner, so I knew what the competition would be," Braun said. "My goal was to get out fast and see if I could get the lead early. When I got to the final 200, I looked up and saw the (live scoreboard) and saw that nobody was on my heels and I just told myself to finish strong."
Martino placed third in 47.16.
"I've struggled to put into words these past few weeks about how special it is for Justin to be doing this," Darling said. "There was some very strong competition out there. Some of our alumni have been keeping an eye on his results all season. Our former record holder (in the 400), Shannon Wheatley, was live-streaming the event from Brazil. Everyone is so proud of Justin and amazed by his potential."
Also at state, Braun ran anchor behind juniors Theory Schroder and Alie Jalloh and sophomore Macario Etienne on the 10th-place 1,600 relay (3:21.15).
"Justin ran an amazing 46.5 split, but we came up just short of reaching the finals," Darling said. "But at that point, I said to myself, 'Justin could win (the 400) tomorrow.'"
The Cardinals are losing four seniors. Other expected returnees include juniors Jack Caine, Zubin Jha, Nate Johnson and Bernard Oteng and sophomores Wesley Horton, Jayvaun Lane and Luka Srsic.