JOHN HULKENBERG/THISWEEKSPORTSNorth's Nick Gray (middle) competes in a preliminary heat of the 100 meters during the Division I state track meet June 6 at Ohio State. Gray, Solon's Brandon Bolden (left) and Sylvania Southview's Malcolm Johnson all reached the final June 7. Gray placed fifth as Bolden won the title.
 

Not everything went according to plan for the Pickerington High School North boys track and field team last weekend, but that didn't keep it from leaving Ohio State with a third consecutive Division I state runner-up finish.

During the first heat of the 300-meter hurdles preliminaries June 6, junior Dairius Ragland was in second when he tripped over the last hurdle and ended up fifth in the heat and 10th overall (39.11 seconds), one spot from qualifying for the final.

Then on June 7 in the running finals, junior Nick Gray sustained a slight hamstring pull in the 100. He ended up fifth (10.69) in that event and later settled for fourth in the 200 (21.49) after having the best preliminary time (21.2) the day before.

Despite those struggles, the Panthers still had an outside shot of winning the championship entering the final event, the 1,600 relay.

Senior Trey Browder, junior Lucas Miller, Gray and Ragland placed second (3:15.65) behind Cleveland Glenville (3:13.75) as the Tarblooders ended up winning the title with 40 points.

The 1,600 relay's performance helped North score 34 points to edge Cincinnati St. Xavier (32) and Lakewood St. Edward (31) for the runner-up trophy as 71 teams scored.

"We talked (after the running preliminaries) about how we had one thing go wrong but that our goals were still possible," coach Dave Spring said. "Nick had eight races, but he manned up for the (1,600 relay) and that relay ran a season best."

The Panthers scored 15 points in the 400, as Gray won (47.69) and Miller was fourth (48.75).

While Miller's performance in that race was a boost, according to Spring, Gray entered the event as the favorite and lived up to those expectations by running .09 faster than the preliminary.

"(My hamstring) popped in the 100, but that didn't matter," Gray said. "(My 400) was OK. I'm beyond proud of what my team did. We did amazing. It was the 200 that was actually the hard one for me because I felt the fatigue."

North tied Lancaster for second (36) behind St. Edward (48) in the 2012 state meet and then scored 47 points to place second behind St. Edward (62) a year ago.

Gray ran on two state relays that placed in 2012. Last year, he was fifth in the 400 and ran on the winning 800 and 1,600 relays.

Miller and Browder also ran on the 1,600 relay a year ago.

Miller battled illness and had just the ninth-fastest time during the 400 preliminary June 6 but battled back in the final.

"I didn't eat right (June 6) so I didn't do as well," Miller said. "I probably drank three gallons of water (June 7)."

Freshman Jayvonta Tolliver joined Browder, Gray and Ragland on the 1,600 relay during the preliminary, but Miller ran in place of Tolliver in the final.

Ragland ended up tearing ligaments in his left wrist during his fall in the 300 hurdles but bounced back by placing seventh in the 110 hurdles (14.69) as well as running the 1,600 relay.

Also competing but failing to make the final in the 110 hurdles was senior Justin Meyer, who finished 14th (14.81).

 

Echikunwoke third at state for girls team

Another strong start got senior Annette Echikunwoke a second consecutive third-place state finish in the Division I girls shot put June 7.

After an effort of 42 feet, 4 1/2 inches on her first attempt, Echikunwoke was leading before getting passed by eventual champion Sade Olatoye of Dublin Coffman (43-9 1/4) during the third throw of the flight.

Then during the finals, Echikunwoke fouled her first attempt, threw 37-4 1/2 on her second and fouled on her third. She ended up third after Dresden Tri-Valley's Kaylee Antill threw 42-5 on her second attempt of the finals.

A year ago, Echikunwoke's best throw of 44-9 3/4 came on her first attempt.

"I'm really happy about (reaching the podium)," said Echikunwoke, who will compete for the University of Cincinnati. "I'm glad to be back here. It was a very strong throwing week. Coach (Joe Whitcraft) just said don't get too easily frustrated and have fun, and I totally agree with that aspect."

The six points that Echikunwoke scored gave North a tie for 34th behind champion Solon (47) as 77 teams scored.

Also competing at state was the 400 relay of juniors Diandria King, Destiny Gardner and Eboni Hall and freshman Winnie Labissiere. They placed 15th (49.7).

"I'm glad we made it this far," Hall said. "To see all the support for our team, it was awesome. We ran our hearts out."