Much had to fall correctly for the Gahanna Lincoln High School girls track and field team to come away with the Division I state championship June 5 and 6 at Ohio State.
It was moments such as when senior Sydney Stokes exceeded expectations to earn a runner-up finish in the 300-meter hurdles that helped make it happen.
“That energy started going through our team after that,” freshman Amariah Thomas said.
The Lions needed at least a top-five finish from senior Kelsey Sandlin in the 3,200 and got exactly that.
Then in the meet’s final event, the 1,600 relay, Gahanna went back and forth with Cincinnati Withrow but again did what was necessary, winning in 3 minutes, 46.19 seconds while Withrow took second (3:47.7).
That forged a tie between the teams for the title with 50 points, earning the school its first state girls team championship in any sport.
“I told them the score was going to be 50 to 50 (on the bus ride to the first day of the state meet),” coach Roger Whittaker said. “Sydney Stokes was huge today. We knew with Kelsey if she could come in fifth that we’d still be good to go and we’d still be co-state champs.”
While the Lions’ 1,600 relay has been their most consistent event all season, they also captured the title in the 800 relay (1:38.64).
Senior Sami Shaw ran anchor on both relays. She was joined on the 800 relay by junior Mi’Angel Daniels, sophomore Ivy McKee and Thomas and on the 1,600 relay by Daniels, Thomas and senior Rylee Tanner.
Sandlin and Tanner also contributed June 5 when they ran on the sixth-place 3,200 relay (9:12.05) with junior Allison Holahan and freshman Allison Groves.
Although Daniels settled for 10th in the 300 hurdles (45.67), she placed third in the 100 hurdles (14.32).
The 400 relay of junior Makayla Scott, sophomore Journi Reese, McKee and Thomas placed sixth (48.61).
The biggest boost, though, might have been provided by Stokes, who had just the fifth-best time in the 300 hurdles preliminary but finished second (43.67). She also came in third in the long jump (18 feet, 1 inch) after she was 12th (16-8) a year ago.
On June 6, she jumped 17-4 1/4 on her first attempt to reach the final and then went 18-1 on her fourth attempt, moving her temporarily into a first-place tie.
“I was thinking, ‘This is it. I’m going to give it my all,’ ” Stokes said after the 300 hurdles.
“I’ve never gotten on the podium before this year. Overall I’m really happy.”
“The long jump was something she wasn’t even supposed to score in, and then when Mi’Angel (didn’t make the final) in the 300 hurdles, in stepped Sydney,” Whittaker said. “That was huge.”
Sandlin battled with the leaders in the 3,200 for much of the race before getting passed by two runners during the final 50 meters but still scored four points by taking fifth (10:58.07).
Also competing were senior Rachel Browne in the discus (15th, 107-7), Shaw in the 400 (10th, 57.58) and Tanner in the 800 (11th, 2:13.86).
Because of the confidence the Lions had in their 1,600 relay, even a late battle with Withrow didn’t faze them.
Gahanna led for much of the race. For a few moments during the third leg, Tanner got passed by Withrow’s Niyah Carpenter but then went back ahead of Carpenter during the final stretch of her leg.
“I knew she got out too fast and that I’d catch her at the end,” Tanner said. “The 90-second rule meant a lot for me after the 800.”
According to Thomas, the “90-second rule” means there are “90 seconds to cry (after an event) and then 90 seconds to move on and be happy.”
It’s a theme that works well for the Lions.
“Today wasn’t about individuals,” Daniels said. “It was for the team, not ‘I, I, I.’ I love our team.”