Cross Country: Thomas Worthington’s Carina Napoleon soaring in her senior season

Stephen Borgna
ThisWeek group
Senior Carina Napoleon of the Thomas Worthington girls cross country team works out on the high school track during practice on Sept. 24. Napoleon is striving to advance to the state meet for the third consecutive season.

The cross country season has been affected like all sports by the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, but Thomas Worthington’s Carina Napoleon hasn’t let that deter her as she has emerged as one of central Ohio’s top runners. 

The senior continued her strong season at Dublin Jerome’s Celtic Clash on Sept. 26, placing first in 18 minutes, 28.29 seconds, ahead of runner-up Dillon Sweetman of Hilliard Davidson (18:33.23). 

She also won her first three races: a dual meet against Westerville Central (18:29 on Sept. 19), a quad meet at New Albany (18:36 on Sept. 12) and the Pickerington North Classic (19:28.4 on Aug. 29). 

“(The season’s) going well so far,” Napoleon said. “Definitely a slow start, but now we’re getting into the swing of things and it’s a lot more fun. It’s strange because we haven’t (competed) in so long, and so I forgot how much it hurts. But I’m loving getting the opportunity to be out there. It’s the reason I do it.”   

Thomas coach Andy Cox described Napoleon not only as a standout athlete, but also as someone who has developed into a leader. 

“From an individual standpoint, she’s matured into a leader. … Now she knows when to be goofy and also knows when to be serious,” said Cox, whose team will compete in the Midwest Meet of Champions on Saturday, Oct. 3, at Hilliard Bradley. “That leadership and that growth has been amazing.  

“Physically, she just continues to amaze me. She definitely pushes herself beyond what I would think would be normal for a high-schooler. She hasn’t reached her potential yet. … I think she could have done some pretty amazing things (during track and field season last spring).”  

Joining the varsity as a freshman, Napoleon has been a standout for a Thomas team that has qualified for the Division I state meet in three of the past four seasons. 

As a sophomore, she finished 114th (20:34.9) of 176 runners at state, and improved as a junior when she finished 35th (18:58.6) of 183 runners.   

Heading into the Celtic Clash, only Davidson’s Caityln Jones (18:28.08) and Reynoldsburg’s Avril Moyer (18:27.65) had better times in the area. 

Napoleon said her goals include breaking 18 minutes and reaching the podium at state for the first time. 

Cox said the cancellation of the spring track season might have put Napoleon in a better position to reach those goals, because of the extra distance training she was able to do.  

“As we didn’t have a track season, she didn’t have much to do, so she was running long distance,” said Cox, who also coaches the Thomas girls track team. “So she’s actually more prepared for cross country this year because of the pandemic than she has been in the past.  

“She didn’t have speed training that she usually has in the spring, so she was doing lots of mileage. I’m pretty excited to see what she can do in cross country this year.”  

Napoleon has committed to run cross country and track at Ohio State, where she will join her sister, Gia Napoleon, a 2019 Thomas graduate who runs for the Buckeyes. 

“I think (my sister) has always pushed me to be the very best runner and person that I could be,” Napoleon said. “There’s no better competition than inner family. So I think we were always able to really work together well and bring out the best in each other.”   

She said Cox and the rest of her family also have pushed and inspired her. 

“I definitely have a great coach in coach Cox. He’s my coach, but also I can go to him with anything going on with myself and I really trust him,” Napoleon said. “And also my parents and siblings are so supportive and they push me to be the very best runner that I can be, and they have trust in me. That’s really helped and pushed me and inspired me to run faster.”  

Thomas finished 10th (215 points) in the 15-team Celtic Clash, where Davidson (57) was first ahead of runner-up Upper Arlington (105). 

The Cardinals’ other runners were Rosalie Smullen (42nd, 20.51.9), Morgan Edwards (52nd, 21:05.9), Annalie Steele (54th, 21:06.8), Karlie Fidler (70th, 21:38.2), Ella Fledderjohann (79th, 22:02.8) and Naya Roebke (22:20.5, 94th).    

sborgna@thisweeknews.com  

@ThisWeekSteve