Girls Track & Field: 'Hungry' Pickerington North Panthers plan to rely on depth

Dave Purpura
ThisWeek group
North's Mayson Bates competes in the high jump during the Hammond Relays on March 27 at Central. Bates, a senior, is expected to be one of the Panthers' top sprinters.

The Pickerington North girls track and field team won its first meet this season despite placing first in just one event, something that might be indicative of the depth coach Dave Spring hopes to see throughout the next two months.

Toledo recruit Amara Okpalaoka’s win in the long jump (17 feet, ½ inch) led the way March 27 during the Hammond Relays at Pickerington Central, a day on which the Panthers recorded 14 top-eight individual finishes, five of their relays were second and the other three finished either fourth or sixth.

North scored 86 points to edge runner-up, OCC-Ohio Division rival and perennial power Gahanna (82) in the seven-team field.

“This group is hungry,” Spring said. “We have a deep sprint group combined with a good combination of experience and youth on the distance side. The throwers group, although smaller, should also score well.”

Okpalaoka finished second in the triple jump (37-6 ¾) in the Division I indoor state meet March 6 at SPIRE Institute in Geneva. She also was fifth in the long jump (17-0), while senior Mayson Bates — who with Okpalaoka should be among the team’s top sprinters — was fourth in the 60-meter hurdles (9.13 seconds).

Seniors Lauren Greegor and Kara Thomas, junior Ellie Riekert and sophomores Avery Bowden, Taylor Hartman, Cate Pickering and Sofia Walton also will be key contributors in the sprint events, according to Spring, who is in his first season coaching the girls team and 13th overseeing North’s boys team.

He succeeds Jim Langenderfer, who had led the girls team since the program’s inception in 2004.

Top distance runners should include seniors Emily Harness and Elizabeth Martin, juniors Lainy Grube, Gia Wetherell and Bryn Woodruff, sophomore Ashley Khatib and freshman Camille Sabau.

Sophomores Sophia Bartells, Chelsea Daniel and Lainey Mack and freshman Erin Piekenbrock will compete in jumping events. Throwers include senior Faith Bittinger, junior Aryess Waugh and sophomores Caroline Lamb and Shubomi Olubaj.

“Their minds are where they need to be,” Spring said. “You want to see how some of the new kids compete at this level and how the nerves shake out. You iron things out and see what you have.”

INSIDE THE PANTHERS

Coach: Dave Spring, first season

Next meet: April 10 Stingel Invitational at home

Key athletes: Mayson Bates, Faith Bittinger, Emily Harness, Lainey Mack and Amara Okapaloka

Central's Amber Carter competes in the 1,600 during the Hammond Relays. The sophomore is a key distance runner for the Tigers.

First-year Central

coach sees balance

Senior Grace Adegoke, who finished 16th at state in the high jump as a sophomore, returns to lead a Central team that first-year coach Darrin Green said is promising across the board.

Adegoke will compete in jumps and sprints, leading a small senior class that also includes Zora Shakhan (sprints) and Grace Vega (distance) and is complemented by a large group of underclassman distance runners and throwers.

“We’re balanced all over the place,” Green said. “Our job is matching kids up with the right relays, the right events, but we have certain girls who we know will do big things. We’re young overall. The future is bright, and I don’t mean just long term. We’re thinking about the immediate future. We’re excited for wherever this is going to go.”

Green joined the Central staff in the 2019-20 offseason to work with jumpers, then replaced Shane Ricker as girls coach last summer. Ricker had succeeded Hunter Nichols, who coached the Tigers from 2016-19.

Green coached the boys team at his alma mater, Centennial, from 2015-19 and was a girls basketball coach with the Stars from 2011-17 and Whitehall from 2017-19.

Senior Carmen Green and juniors Nysaa Robinson and Ramiya Roy have emerged as other leaders of the sprint group. Distance runners include sophomores Amber Carter, Anna Heren and Talia Mauro, while sophomore Camia King and freshmen Kylie Finnan and Avrie O’Neal are among the top throwers.

“The key for me is literally seeing them on the track, seeing times and how their competitive nature will come out,” Green said. “In our first few meets, everybody got to run, everybody got times and then we could start pinpointing people.”

INSIDE THE TIGERS

Coach: Darrin Green, first season

Next meet: April 10 at Stingel Invitational

Key athletes: Grace Adegoke, Amber Carter, Ramiya Roy, Zora Shakhan and Grace Vega

dpurpura@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekDave