First-year Columbus School for Girls swimming and diving coach Stephanie Donley is encouraging her athletes to train and compete in several different events instead of focusing on their strongest races.
Donley said the Unicorns have bought into the idea and have become more well-rounded swimmers, which in turn has strengthened the team.
"I love how our girls are working hard in practice and learning something new each day," Donley said. "They're all open to trying new things and they're very adaptable. We've been doing a lot of tempo work and working on a lot of little things to improve their technique to match the effort level that they're giving all the time.
"It's exciting to see that they're taking it all in and learning what it takes to get to the next level while also becoming more diverse and finding new ways to help our team get better."
Sophomore Rachel Politi, who placed third in the 100-yard butterfly in a program-record 56.26 seconds and eighth in the 100 backstroke in a program-record 58.24 in the Division II state meet last season, has embraced the idea of competing in different events during the regular season.
In a 181-115 loss to visiting Cincinnati Sycamore on Dec. 15, Politi set pool records while winning the 50 freestyle (25.23) and 500 free (5:22.44). Also winning were Politi, Keiko Wilkins, Eleanor Smith and Gabrielle Eismann in the 400 free relay (3:52.03) and Sam Ziegler in diving (147.2 points).
Last season, Sycamore finished 11th (71.5) in the Division I state meet.
"Those were off-events for me, so I'm excited to get a couple of pool records in those events," Politi said. "We've been spoiled this year with having a new pool and beautiful new facilities, and we have new coaches who are bringing a lot of new ideas to our team. We've been working to fine-tune our techniques and we're becoming more well-rounded swimmers."
CSG set four other pool records in a 185-130 loss to traditional Division II state power Shaker Heights Hathaway Brown on Dec. 7 at home, as Politi won the 200 free (1:58.7) and 100 fly (58.68), Eismann won the 100 free (56.69) and Wikins, Eismann, Erin Balasky and Politi won the 400 free relay (3:50.63).
"We swam our stronger lineup against Hathaway Brown and we had a lot of our girls swim off-events against Sycamore," Donley said. "Erin Smith was sick and Gabby Eismann had a hurt foot (against Sycamore), but our girls still swam great overall.
"Rachel is proving she's not just a flyer or breaststroker and that she can do other events well, too. Our freshmen are dynamite, and our girls are stepping up and performing no matter what we ask them to do. That will only benefit them and our team in the long run."
Facing its toughest competition thus far, CSG finished 15th (100) in the Ned Reeb Invitational on Dec. 8 at Ohio State behind eight-time defending Division I state champion Upper Arlington (439) as 48 teams scored.
Politi placed fourth (59.7) in the 100 back, teamed with Balasky, Kirby Boes and Eismann to finish eighth (1:55.86) in the 200 medley relay and teamed with Balasky, Eismann and Wilkins to place 12th (3:52.6) in the 400 free relay.
It was a confidence booster for Politi, who was hampered by tendinitis in both shoulders, a sprained right ankle and left wrist and tightness in her hips and knees during the offseason.
"It was discouraging to go to championship meets with my club team and not do as well as I hoped, but those injuries have cleared up and I'm feeling good now," Politi said.
The Unicorns will compete Dec. 29 in the Grandview Yule in the Pool at Columbus Aquatics Center.
"We're using these meets as training to get better so we can do well in the CCL, sectional, district and state meets," Donley said. "I feel good about our progress. We've had people say, 'Wow, your team is already ahead of where it was at the end of last season.' That's really encouraging to hear this early in the season."