Track & Field: Westerville Central Warhawks’ Justin Braun sprints to state championship trifecta

Frank DiRenna
ThisWeek group
Central's Justin Braun reacts after placing first in the 200 meters in the Division I state meet June 5 at Hilliard Darby. He also finished first in the 100 and 400, becoming the first big-school athlete to win the three events since Dayton Dunbar’s Chris Nelloms in 1988.

When Justin Braun transferred from Thomas Worthington to Westerville Central in March, Warhawks boys track and field coach Jason Loughman knew the junior would make an immediate impact. 

Braun didn’t disappoint, as he earned a championship trifecta in the Division I state meet June 5 at Hilliard Darby. 

Braun won titles in the 100 meters (10.47 seconds), 200 (21.13) and 400 (46.44), with his time in the 100 matching the state-meet record of Gahanna’s Blake Heriot in 2009. 

“I feel great,” Braun said. “I knew I could do this. There was never a doubt. I knew if I could get out on these guys, I could finish the way that I want to and I pretty much did. I’m just glad I could be here and pull this off and make history.” 

Braun holds the program record for Central in all three events. 

“Any time you get an athlete with that elite level of talent, we didn’t know exactly what it was going to look like in regards to our team, but we knew that it would make guys on our team better and he would bring a lot to the program,” Loughman said. 

The boys team’s lone state qualifier, Braun scored 30 points to put Central in second place behind Pickerington North (43) as 84 teams scored. It was the highest finish in program history. 

Braun became the first big-school athlete to win the three sprinting events since Dayton Dunbar’s Chris Nelloms pulled off the feat in 1988. 

“I knew that he had the talent to win each of those individual events, but to do it all on the same day within a couple of hours, that’s what’s been a struggle for a lot of elite sprinters in Ohio,” Loughman said. “Winning three of those is extremely hard and taxing and challenging on the body. 

“He’s super talented and gifted and he knows his body and does an extremely good job of taking care of his body in between the individual events and during the recovery.”  

Braun became the boys team’s first individual state champion since Stuart Smith won the 100 and 200 in 2007, and the first overall state champion since Davon Reed, Channing Doermann, John Howard and Gibril Kamara won the 400 relay in 2009. 

Braun won the 400 at state in 2019 for Thomas, but missed out on last season after COVID-19 forced the cancellation of spring sports. 

He remained busy in the offseason by continuing his training with the Ohio Heat Track Club. 

“It’s been great,” Braun said of his first season with Central. “They’re real accepting of me. We’ve all made some changes and I’m really happy I was able to come out here, compete with them and do what I can for them and they’re helping me. It’s fantastic. I love them for it.” 

Loughman said he and Braun, who juggles training time with Central and his club, have a good relationship. 

“I told him from day one the most important thing for me and for our program was that we hopefully build that relationship with him and build trust and some chemistry and work together in helping him achieve his goals,” Loughman said. 

Braun’s summer will include competing in the AAU Junior Olympics scheduled for July 28 through Aug. 7 in Houston. He also has begun the process of selecting a college and expects to consider numerous Division I offers. 

Johnson leads 

girls team at state 

Senior Moriah Johnson led the Central girls team at state, finishing sixth in the 200 (25.66) and seventh in the 100 (12.48). She also joined seniors Chi-Chi Guyo and Skylar Themelaras and junior Taylor Hickman on the sixth-place 800 relay (1:41.42). 

The Warhawks tied for 25th (8) behind champion Mentor (70) as 75 teams scored. 

“The girls had a great day,” said coach David Mentlow, who completed his first season. “I’m very happy with the season. I knew we had a young group and an older group. My older kids got a chance to live out some of their goals and finish at the state meet and doing well at regional, so I’m very happy.” 

The 400 relay of Johnson, Themelaras, Hickman and freshman Olivia Pace set the program record of 47.52 at district.

fdirenna@thisweeknews.com

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CENTRAL 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 — Nicholas Anderson, Ian Barta, Tasos Cook, M.J. Davis, Haden Fulkerson, Enoch Frimpong, Fernando Gamboa, A.J. Kazmierczak, Evan Kienle, Noah Leigh, Mohammad Mohammad, Elijah Paciorek, Evan Radecki, Elijah Smith and Isaiah Smith; Girls — Kennedy Callow, Lauryn Chapman, Chi-Chi Guyo, Ashley Hockstok, Moriah Johnson, Mariah Jones, Sharon Nkoma, Chloe Stefan-Adams and Skylar Themelaras 

Key returnees: Boys — Buba Bangura, Justin Braun, Marcus Gordon Jr., Dominic Iquina, Cameron Newton and Chip Smith; Girls — Taylor Hickman, Olivia Pace and Tara Will 

Postseason: Boys — Tied for third (76) at district behind champion Pickerington Central (104), seventh (34) at regional behind champion Hilliard Darby (68), second (30) at state behind champion Pickerington North (43); Girls — Fourth (58) at district behind champion Watterson (139.5); seventh (28) at regional behind champion Gahanna (84), tied for 25th (8) at state behind champion Mentor (70)