Rachel Politi said the Columbus School for Girls swimming and diving team has plenty of reasons to feel optimistic about the season.
Five Division II state qualifiers have returned in senior Erin Balasky, juniors Kirby Boes and Politi and sophomores Gabrielle Eismann and Eleanor Smith.
In addition, several other Unicorns worked to improve their technique and endurance during the offseason, including sophomores Katie Belfance, Charlotte Lennox, Annie Moosavian and Nicole Narcross.
CSG's depth also has been bolstered, according to coach Stephanie Donley, by a talented freshman class led by swimmers Miranda Donley, Katie Elkina, Anna Tierney and Maggie Waggenbrenner and diver Syreeta Palackdharry.
Balasky and senior Maya Saar are captains.
With those athletes leading the way, the Unicorns finished fifth (187 points) in the Ned Reeb Invitational on Dec. 7 at Ohio State behind champion Upper Arlington (488) as 46 teams scored.
"We're really excited about our potential this season," Politi said. "We have a lot of the same people back who did well last year and a lot of our sophomores trained a lot in the offseason and are already seeing the benefits of their hard work. We've added some really good freshmen, too, so I think we're going to be an even more well-oiled machine than we were last year."
The Unicorns are aiming for their first CCL title after finishing second (360) in the league meet behind Watterson (404) last season. The Eagles have won seven consecutive CCL championships, but they finished far behind CSG -- in 18th place (61) -- in the Ned Reeb.
CSG won (505) the six-team Catholic Showdown on Dec. 14 at St. Charles ahead of runner-up Watterson (456). Politi won the 50-yard freestyle (25.27 seconds) and the 100 free (55.28).
"One of our goals is to win the CCL, but we'll need to keep everyone healthy and improving to do it," coach Donley said.
In the Ned Reeb, Miranda Donley won the 50 free (23.78) and finished second in the 100 free (52.79). Politi finished second in the 200 free (1:52.97) and 100 butterfly (56.73).
Those two also combined with Balasky and Smith to finish fifth in the 200 free relay (team-record 1:39.3) and joined Moosavian and Smith to place fifth in the 400 free relay (team-record 3:39.46).
Balasky, Boes, Lennox and Moosavian finished 10th in the 200 medley relay (1:59.03).
"Our girls walked away from the Ned Reeb feeling energized after seeing that their hard work is paying off," coach Donley said. "We're already starting to make our mark."
The Unicorns also have high hopes for the postseason after they finished 12th (53) at state last season behind champion Gates Mills Hawken (321).
Despite having viral bronchitis heading into state, Politi set a team record of 55.84 in the preliminaries of the 100 fly before finishing fourth in the event in 56.59 and 11th in the 200 free (1:54.58).
Also at state, Eismann, Boes, Politi and Balasky finished sixth in the 200 medley relay (1:50.93); Politi, Balasky and 2013 graduates Keiko Wilkins and Erin Smith placed 15th in the 400 free relay (3:43.24); Eleanor Smith, Balasky, Erin Smith and Eismann finished 16th in the 200 free relay (1:41.69) and Eismann placed 22nd in the 50 free (24.95).
"Our girls are making huge strides and we have a lot more depth, so we should definitely move up in our state-meet finish," coach Donley said.