Gahanna Lincoln Roundup: Lions girls track team runs to more state honors
For nearly a decade now, no other girls track and field program in central Ohio has approached the consistent level of success that Gahanna Lincoln has reached at the state’s highest level.
The current run includes winning a share of the Division I state championship in 2015, earning state runner-up finishes in 2016 and 2017, capturing the title outright in 2018 and third-place finishes in 2014 and 2019.
In their return this spring — after what they believed would have been another strong state finish a year ago, before the season was canceled — the Lions produced a state runner-up finish with 36 points June 4 and 5 at Hilliard Darby. Mentor scored 70 points to win the title.
High-level performances from junior Alyssa Shope and sophomore Camden Bentley stood out.
Bentley settled for a runner-up finish in the 100-meter hurdles (14.15 seconds) after having won all of her previous races this season but came back with a championship in the 300 hurdles (43.18) and also ran on the third-place 800 relay (1:40.51).
Shope, meanwhile, executed her state plan perfectly, electing to opt out of the 1,600 to focus on the 3,200, which she won in 10:32.42 to miss the program record by three seconds.
Her finish was the Lions’ final shot at state points and gave them enough to hold off Watterson (33) for the runner-up trophy.
“Alyssa had to come through and Alyssa, our distance runner, came through,” coach Roger Whittaker said. “This year, especially with the adversity … there’s so much relief. You’ve got to give it to the girls.”
Bentley, whose brother, Ty Bentley, is a powerlifter and whose father, Kyle Bentley, formerly was the Lions’ wrestling coach, seemed to fit in immediately during her first prep season.
She trains with the Ohio Speed Academy club program.
“I like both (the 100 hurdles and 300 hurdles),” Bentley said. “It feels like a dream because I never thought I’d ever go to a state meet.”
Shope, who led central Ohio with a sixth-place finish in the state cross country meet last November, won regional titles in both the 1,600 and 3,200.
At state, she stayed with the leaders during the early laps of the 3,200 and wound up winning by more than 12 seconds.
“My plan here was to hang on to the top pack the whole race and whenever anybody makes a move, counter that move and go right up with them,” Shope said. “From the third lap, I wanted to kick it if the pace was too light and do a power last 800 and work on a good finishing kick for the last 300 to the finish. … My goal was to go out and do my best and hopefully win. I’m going to take it as it is and keep working hard so I can demolish (the program record) the next chance I get.”
Joining Bentley on the 800 relay were junior M’Kaia Trent, sophomore Ayannah Stafford and freshman Keena Sanders. They had the sixth-best time during the preliminary heat.
“We were willing to put any feelings we’ve had in the past out on the track,” Trent said. “We had better handoffs today, too, and that made a difference in placing.”
Also placing at state was senior Faith Hunter, who was seventh in the high jump (5 feet, 4 inches). She was a three-time state qualifier who will compete for Ohio State.
“It was not my best, but I’m happy with top eight,” Hunter said. “I’m actually very happy with my season.”
The other state competitors for the Lions were senior Ciarra Carter in the long jump (ninth, 17-7 1/4), Stafford in the 100 (ninth, 12.24) and 200 (13th, 25.77) and the 400 relay of Carter, Sanders, Stafford and junior Camryn Nelson (ninth, 48.99).
Senior Joi Bradley and sophomore Amryn Chilton, who were two of the team’s top 400 runners, battled injuries late in the season.
The only other key senior was Savannah Flusche, who was a regional qualifier in the discus and shot put.
Others eligible to return include juniors Meredith Clay (middle distance), Nahjae Pinager (discus), Hannah Reich (middle distance), Abby Schleagel (pole vault) and Lauren Stringer (sprints, hurdles), sophomores Eliza Brofford (distance) and Daisha Decree (long jump) and freshmen Addy Galloway (middle distance) and Nikaya Manning (sprints).
Boys team places
second in two events
The boys track team earned a pair of runner-up finishes at state.
The 800 relay of seniors Ron Blackman and Mondra Curry, junior Tristin Cook-Fisher and sophomore Maxwell Cummings ran 1:26.38 to finish behind Pickerington North (1:25.96), while the 400 relay of Blackman, Cook-Fisher, Cummings and sophomore Drew Pizzico ran 41.72 to trail only Cincinnati La Salle (41.64).
Both relays were seeded third heading into the final.
“We could have done better, but stuff happens,” Cook-Fisher said. “It’s family. You can’t ask for anything better. I wouldn’t want to do it with anybody else.”
Blackman, who added a 17th-place finish in the long jump (20-7), plans to play football for Tiffin.
“It wasn’t even about winning at this point,” he said. “It was about pushing ourselves and getting a better time but also pushing for the seniors.”
Gahanna finished 11th (16) behind champion North (43) as 84 teams scored.
Also competing at state was the ninth-place 1,600 relay (3:23.4) of Cook-Fisher, Cummings and seniors Chris Finklea and Donovan Hight.
Other key seniors were distance runners Ryan Amer, Alex Couch and Connor Hughes-Hemsoth.
Cook-Fisher, Cummings and Pizzico should lead the returnees.
Juniors Jordan Anderson and Eric Weible and sophomore Alex Eggleston ran on the 3,200 relay that qualified for regional. Eggleston was a regional qualifier in the 800, while Cook-Fisher was a regional qualifier in the 200.
Others eligible to return include juniors Dwayne Carter (hurdles), Joshua Kucker (high jump), Hayden Leffler (shot put) and Wesley Triplett (pole vault), sophomores Griffin Flusche (discus, shot put), Malvin Long (long jump), Kaden Ochs-Pettiford (discus) and Charles Slates (distance) and freshman Sontino Williams II (sprints).
TRACK & FIELD
•OCC-Ohio standings: Boys — Gahanna (144), Pickerington North (133), Westerville Central (112), New Albany (92), Grove City (34), Westland (8); Girls — Gahanna (207), North (114), New Albany (81), Central (76), Grove City (44), Westland (1)
•Seniors lost: Boys — Ryan Amer, Ron Blackman, Alex Couch, Mondra Curry, Chris Finklea, Donovan Hight and Connor Hughes-Hemsoth; Girls — Joi Bradley, Hayley Carpico, Ciarra Carter, Savannah Flusche, Faith Hunter and Alyse Wunderlin
•Key returnees: Boys — Jordan Anderson, Dwayne Carter, Tristin Cook-Fisher, Maxwell Cummings, Alex Eggleston, Griffin Flusche, Drew Pizzico, Eric Weible and Sontino Williams II; Girls — Camden Bentley, Amryne Chilton, Daisha Decree, Camryn Nelson, Keena Sanders, Alyssa Shope, Ayannah Stafford, Lauren Stringer and M’Kaia Trent
•Postseason: Boys — Third (76) at district behind champion Pickerington Central (104), 10th (26) at regional behind champion Hilliard Darby (68), 11th (16) at state behind champion North (43); Girls — First (153.83) at district, first (84) at regional, second (36) at state behind Mentor (70)