Last year, Stow didn't make the trip to Columbus.

The Bulldogs suffered a couple close calls at the 2016 Austintown-Fitch Regional, including then-senior Roman Lovell finishing a second shy in the 800-meter run, Kyle Vantrease coming a foot and five inches shy in the discus and Kayla Thompson finishing a spot short in the long jump.

This year, the Bulldogs sent five athletes -- three girls and two boys -- to Jesse Owens Memorial Stadium. The Division I state track and field meet took place June 2 and 3.

For Thompson, who placed 12th in the state in the 100-meter hurdles, and Sara Kasper, who placed 16th in the pole vault, getting to state meant being smart throughout the season.

"To do as well as we did during the season, we ended up having to use these girls quite a bit," Stow coach Aaron Morris said. "We're trying to manage this is what the team needs, but we also need to make sure this girl is going to be healthy at the end of the season. It's going to be a balancing act."

It certainly was for two of Stow's three female state qualifiers.

Kasper, for example, rolled her ankle right around the conference meet, and a careful Stow coaching staff made sure to tread on that ankle as lightly as possible. After all, her goal all year was to make it to state for the first time. She made that goal a reality by clearing 11-feet-4 on her second try, putting her in Austintown's top four.

Thompson followed a similar arc, with Morris feeling like she was overused in 2016, leading to "some pretty severe shin pain" toward the end of the year.

"She still had a little bit of that this year, but we were smarter about which events we were going to put her in," Morris said.

This year, Morris relied on a light touch, frequently having Thompson jump once in the long jump, get her points and then move on.

"Most meets, jump once, come in, you're going to win," Morris said. "We were taking jumps off of her legs."

It seemed to work, as Thompson ran the 100 hurdles in 14.79 to place second at the Austintown-Fitch Regional, thus advancing to state for the first time.

She then ran a 14.78 to place 12th in the 100-meter hurdles at Jesse Owens Memorial Stadium. It was a tight event that saw 14 different girls finish in the 14-second range.

"I think she still had a pretty nice race," Morris said. "Even if she would have ran the best time she ran in her career, which was 14.69, she still would've been 11th. She definitely was going to have to go to unchartered territory to get out."

Maria Cistone ventured into unchartered territory just to make it to Columbus -- setting the Stow school record with a high jump of 5-4 to place second in Austintown.

Cistone had been a 5-2 jumper prior to this season, and throughout the year, Morris was on her, telling her it was only through hard work that she would make it to Columbus.

"She really took the training seriously this year," Morris said. "We kept trying to drive home that girls that jump 5-2 that don't take the workout seriously, they continue to jump 5-2."

Cistone tied the school record of 5-3 during the regular season, but the Bulldogs' coaching staff kept telling her that she was capable of more.

"That was a huge feeling for everybody to get that 5-04," Morris said. "We've had lots of girls try, and Maria has been the first to get there."

On the boys side, senior Scott Cunnington ran the 400-meter dash in 51.19 seconds to take 16th in the state. He was 2.02 seconds from advancing to the finals. Even his impressive regional time of 49.38 seconds would not have been enough to make Friday's top nine.

Classmate Jeremiah Gyulai finished ninth in the state in the shot put after securing the Austintown-Fitch Regional title.

Gyulai performed well in Columbus, with a throw of 56-feet5.00, a mere inch off the medal stand, as one of his three throws over 53 feet.


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