Sophomore Justin Braun set the bar high for himself last year with the Thomas Worthington boys track and field team by winning a state championship in the 400 meters.

He was the first freshman to win the Division I state title in the event since Westerville South's Ryan Barber in 2007. Braun finished in 46.76 seconds, .19 of a second ahead of runner-up Zarik Brown of Huber Heights Wayne.

"The biggest thing, especially freshman year before I did what I have, something I would hear a lot is, 'It's OK if you lose, because you're a freshman,'" Braun said. "To me, it doesn't matter how old someone is; you're still faster than me if you win the race. And I didn't want to be in a situation where I lost that race."

Braun doesn't have an opportunity to defend his state title this year, as the OHSAA canceled the spring sports season because of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic. Nonetheless, his future in track looks bright.

"It says a lot about him that when he found out the season was over, his first reaction was to be upset for his senior teammates who had a chance to do something special this spring," coach Bill Darling said. "Justin will have bright days in the future. He will just have to use this missed season as motivation to do even better and as a reminder that nothing is promised to you. Nothing is certain, so you should see every opportunity as a blessing and do your best to take advantage of it."

Braun didn't compete in a sport until he began running track in eighth grade. He said track, which is the only sport in which he competes, has helped him improve himself all-around.

"I can say confidently it's helped me round myself as a person," he said. "It hasn't just bettered one aspect of me, it's bettered me as a whole. Mentally, I know I can go into anything pretty confident that I can do it. I really like that about it.

"Winning is a big part of it, too. I don't like losing."

Braun entered preseason practice this spring coming off a strong indoor season, as he won titles in both the 400 (46.77) and 200 (21.38) and was on the first-place 1,600 relay (3:21.85) in the Division I state indoor meet March 7 at SPIRE Institute in Geneva.

Going forward, Braun wants to continue improving his acceleration as well as his technique. He said he has been training with Ohio Heat Track Club coach Tremayne Peppers, working on his form, foot placement and arm movement.

"(Peppers) has really helped me add a different side to my running," Braun said. "It's taken me from a 48-second indoor (time in the 400) last year to a 46-second indoor (time) this year. His training style has allowed me to improve myself."

Braun also has implemented weight lifting into his workout routine, lifting roughly four days a week to build strength.

Ultimately, his high school goals go beyond another state title. Braun said he would like to "wipe the spring state records clean" in the 100, 200 and 400 during his final two years at Thomas, and he is striving to compete at the Division I college level.

"Justin had a tremendous indoor season for us and was instrumental in helping us to a runner-up finish at the OATCCC indoor state championship," said Darling, whose team scored 37 points to finish second behind Olentangy Orange (42.5). "We were looking forward to the spring because you never know what this young man is going to come up with. I don't put expectations on him. My main goal is for him to enjoy these years and to prepare him to be successful at the next level. He's already one of the most decorated Thomas Worthington athletes ever, and he's only halfway home."

sborgna@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekSteve