Columbian's Autumn Nichols returns to the Division II state meet.
Last year, she didn't make it out of the preliminaries in the 300 hurdles.
This year, she qualified for state in each hurdles event. She will compete in the 100 hurdles first.
"I think the really good thing is if she has any nerves she can shake those nerves loose in her first race," TC coach Amy Cooper said.
That's because the 300 hurdles has been the senior's main event over the years.
"Being able to run that 300 hurdle race second is an advantage," Cooper said. "But she's been working hard in both races; her goal is to make it [to Saturday's finals] in both."
And Nichols has set high goals for this weekend.
"Going for that 14 seconds [in the 100 hurdles], and going for that 42 [seconds in the 300], I guess," she said when asked about goals. "When you're at state, you've got to dream big. I'm going down there; you might as well make the most of it."
Nichols has mentioned 42 seconds as her hope for the 300 hurdles several times this season.
"It's bound to be a 42 sooner or later," Nichols said. "I'm hoping to have my dream race at state."
As for Columbian's 4x200 team of Michaela Sharlow, McKenna Theis, Annie Demith and Tori Stephens, the Tornadoes go to Columbus without one of the nine best times. So it's likely the squad will need to shave time if it wants to make finals.
"I think we can run a better time, knowing we're at state," Theis said. "It's a big meet, and we know we can run (with) the best of the best."
Cooper said she's been trying to keep the group, none of which who have run at state, relaxed.
"I told them they had nothing to be nervous about, (they've) done the hard part," Cooper said.
One of the keys to the group staying loose is Stephens, the lone senior on the team.
"I'm glad to have Tori, I'm happy she's the final runner [in the relay] because she doesn't seem to be affected by the nerves," Cooper said.
Calvert coach Stewart Behm knows that reassuring feeling well, only his comes in the form of a sophomore.
Olivia Smith makes her first trip to the Division III state track meet to run in Saturday's 800, but she's already run in a high-pressure meet in state cross country.
"That's one of the things we talked about after she got done running (at the regional)," Behm said. "I kind of talked to her about 'you've been to a state competition, you know what the atmosphere feels like,' so I said just go down there and let's stick to business.
"As Livvy always does, she just said, 'OK, coach,' and that was that," he said.
She also has a bit of confidence after running second at the regional in a school-record time of 2:16.07.
"It's awesome. It's a goal that you go into at the beginning of the season, to go down to Columbus," she said. "To be able to that is awesome. I'm really excited."
But not too excited to put time over an All-Ohio finish, Behm said.
"I think at this point the goal is get on the podium. The goal's not to lower it another two seconds," he said. "If another two seconds is what it takes to get toward the top of the podium, then we'll take that, but the goal now is to get on the podium."
It's the same for Seneca East's Ashton Daniel.
The junior reached state last year in the shot and discus and made finals in the shot, but wound up ninth, one spot away from standing in front of the crowd to receive a medal.
She returns in the shot this year, capping a season of progress in which she broke her own school record to win a league title (39-10 3/4).
The goal of topping 40 feet is still out there, and coach Jim Hoover said Daniel has been performing well at the big meets all year, so hitting the mark could be in the cards. And while the state meet bring its own special atmosphere and pressure, he said Daniel's experience there should be a plus for her.
"I always think it's a huge advantage. I think it's a good advantage to have for anyone going down because they know what to expect where they're going to throw," he said. "There's more people watching than any other meet of the year, so having that experience, I think overall, helps them.
"The pressure's so much greater there, just because of the hugeness of it. Once you're exposed, you kind of know what to expect," Hoover said. "Everyone has butterflies anyway, I'm sure, but they know how to handle that pressure better."
"I think I'll be more relaxed and know what to expect," she said. "All the people are gonna be there, and you know what you have to do to get the job done."
John Knickel has seen that path to success over and over.
In his 18 years of guiding Carey, he said his most successful Blue Devils have been the ones making their return trip to state.
Friday, four of his five athletes will try to make that come true in his final act as Carey's mentor.
Oriana Billock, Lauren Wenner and Gwen Wentling return in the 4x200 for the second year in a row, with Amber Spurlock rounding out the relay, while junior Dana Newell returns in the high jump two years after her first trip in the same event.
"I've always had much better luck with kids that got down there the second time than only getting down there the one time," Knickel said. "Getting a little experience in Columbus goes a long ways when they get back down there again."
Newell enters tied for the seventh-best height coming out of the regional meets, and Knickel said the potential is there for her to reach the podium.
The relay finds itself in a similar situation with the fifth-fasted time in its heat and the eighth overall. The top two in each semifinal and the next five fastest times - a change in rules last year puts nine entries in the finals of the sprints and the three shorter relays - advance to Saturday's finals.
"That's going to be a help there. They're actually running just a little faster than what we did a year ago," Knickel said.
"Times may not be as good as what they were at regional, because weather's going to be a factor, but we just want to make sure we're in the top nine," he said, referring to a projected cool, windy, wet front moving in. "That's our No. 1 goal."
And his final goal.
Knickel has already announced he's stepping down after the season ends, bringing an end to a generation-long schedule always preparing for the next season.
"It's strange if I think about it too much," he said. "I've always been looking at summer, at the next indoor season, always had to just be planning, be figuring and trying to figure out what you're going to do and how you're going to handle things after this year, and how you're going to prepare these kids, no matter how it goes. Don't have any of that this year, just got to totally focus on them. Hopefully we'll have two really great races and a high jump and the kids can do the best they can do.
"It's different, it's very different," he said.