COLUMBUS — There was no intimidation at the state championships for the battle-tested Twinsburg girls track team.
The two-time regional champion Tigers had their highest finish ever at the state meet as Twinsburg tied for second in Division I at the 44th Annual Division I State Championships June 1 and 2 at The Ohio State University's Jesse Owens Memorial Stadium.
According to Tigers sprints coach Dalanda Jackson, in just her second year in Twinsburg, it was an earlier and longer trip to Greensboro, North Carolina, for the New Balance Nationals that made all the difference.
"They got to compete at that level and they came back with a totally different mindset," Jackson said. "Here we hear Abby Steiner and of course she is amazing, and when we went to nationals and they saw that Abby Steiner didn't make it to finals, they were like, 'Wow, oh my gosh.'"
And yet they weren’t intimidated in Greensboro, where Nia Robinson took 21st in the Emerging Elite 400 with a time of 57.48 seconds, and the Tigers ran multiple relays, including a 10th-place finish in the 100-100-200-400 championship.
"Just seeing that level of competition, there versus what we have here in Ohio, it just made them more hungry," Jackson said. "It's a good group of girls. They make coaching so easy, because they do everything that I ask of them. They go above and beyond."
Those relays certainly weren’t intimidated in Columbus, snagging three medals for a total of 17 points. That included their title in the 4x200 (1:39.19), fourth-place showing in the 4x400 (3:49.79) and seventh-place finish in the 4x100 (48.65).
"We definitely have the depth and they work on the synergy that is required with the handoffs, just the relationships they've built is what puts us over the top," Twinsburg veteran head coach Sarah Kmet said. "The talent is certainly there, but the way these girls work together as teammates is what makes them even better."
The depth was so good for the Tigers that they captured the 4x200 without Bussey, who was busy taking fourth in the 100-meter dash (12.14), sixth in the 200-meter dash (25.01) and running the 4x100 and 4x400.
"I think one of the greatest accomplishments of the weekend was being state champs in the 800-meter relay even without our fastest 200-meter runner on the relay," Jackson said.
Relays made up 17 of the Tigers' 31 points, an impressive total for six runners, five of whom will be back in 2019. Powerhouse Gahanna Lincoln won the state title with 51 points. The Lions were second in 2017 and 2016 after winning the crown in 2015 and placing third in Ohio in 2014. Twinsburg tied Lancaster for second with 31 points, followed by Dublin Coffman (28), Thomas Worthington (23), Youngstown East (23), Troy (22 1/2), Nordonia (22) and Beavercreek (20).
Ten of Twinsburg's 31 points came from that 4x200 relay, consisting of sophomore Alyssa Willis, junior Mariah Myles, Robinson and senior anchor Camari Griffin. The relay won with a school-record time of 1:39.19, besting runner-up Youngstown East by more than two full seconds thanks to some superb handoffs and sheer speed. The previous school record in the 800 relay came in 2009 at 1:39.22, led by Lauren Macer.
All of the Tigers played a role. Griffin is a veteran performer who thrives on relay events while Robinson has developed into a veteran standout. Myles has had a breakthrough campaign, and Willis is showing her talents in the relays and open sprints.
"This time last year, this group of girls was riding home feeling accomplished yet defeated at the same time," Kmet said. "In 2017, they went to Columbus to compete in the 100, 200, 400, 400-meter relay, the 800-meter relay and the 1,600-meter relay, but came home with only a fifth-place finish in the 800 relay and a sixth-place in the 400.
"This year, the same group of girls took the ride back down to Columbus in the same events, but this time around, the outcome was very different."
The 4x400, after setting a school record with a 3:49.02 at regionals, took fourth in the state in 3:49.79. Meanwhile, junior Brionna McDonald joined Willis, Griffin and Bussey on the seventh-place 4x100 relay, which clocked in at 48.65 after crossing the line in 48.52 in the preliminaries.
The Nia and Nya combination was deadly once again for the Tigers.
Bussey captured eight points for Twinsburg just with her individual performances in the 100 and the 200.
"Nya went from not making the finals in 2017 to placing fourth in the 100 and sixth in the 200," Jackson said.
"Nya plays basketball in the winter, so she kind of has a slow start to the season, but once the weather finally broke, she started dropping times, started being sub-12 (in the 100)," Kmet said. "We knew that she was going to score some major points down here."
Robinson finished third in the 400-meter dash with a school-record 55.74 to bring home another six points, along with her role on the state champion 4x200 and the fourth-place 4x400.
"Nia has just been the epitome of consistency," Kmet said. "Early April, late May, she started dropping the 56s and we knew, Nia was on the podium last year, so we knew it's only up from there."
Just seven girls were able to make history for the Tigers, with the seventh being junior Julia Henderson, the alternate for the 4x100 and 4x400.
"(She) was also an integral part of the team as she ran both races in the preliminaries at regionals to help us advance to states," Jackson said.
For Kmet, it wasn't about starts and finishes, or relay handoffs, it was about individuals thriving in a team setting.
"The girls have put in the hard work and it paid off this weekend," Kmet said. "They have tremendous synergy and they respect and trust each other. This, coupled with their tremendous talent, is what earned them team runner-up accolades."
"This group of girls right here is truly special," Jackson added. "They have worked very hard for me since day one."
Editor’s note: Correspondent Steve Batko contributed to this report.