With an eye on improving her time in the 200-yard individual medley, senior Morgan Belli of the Gahanna Lincoln High School girls swimming and diving team focused earlier this season on the breaststroke portion of the event.
She recently realized that work was creating an unexpected benefit: A significant improvement in her breaststroke performances.
Although Belli was 16th (58.5 seconds) in the Division I state meet in the 100-yard backstroke a year ago, she decided for her final prep postseason that she'd compete in the 100 breast instead of the 100 back in addition to the 200 IM.
What transpired were two district championships Feb. 15 at Ohio State for the University of Kentucky recruit, who enters state as the second seed in the 100 breast (1:04.26) and the second seed in the 200 IM (2:03.1).
Belli and her teammates will compete in the state meet Thursday, Feb. 20, through Saturday, Feb. 22, at Branin Natatorium in Canton.
"I've never won a district title before, so I was happy," Belli said. "This is my first year doing the 100 breast. I switched it up for my senior year and decided to go with something that I've worked really hard at. I'd done the 100 back since I was 13 and I wasn't getting any faster. I started working really hard on my breaststroke mainly to improve it for the IM, and I noticed my times were coming down."
Belli, who finished fourth at state in the 100 back and 200 IM as a freshman but didn't reach the podium in a state event in either of the past two years, also helped the 200 medley relay advance to state.
"She did really well when we went up to Canton (for the Northeast Classic on Jan. 11), so we knew it was in her," coach Erin Darrah said. "She put in a lot of hard training."
Belli will be joined at state by senior Kirstyn Thomas, sophomore Regan Nolan and freshman Ally Wharton in the 200 medley relay, which finished eighth (1:50.74) at district but got the 24th and final seed for state.
Wharton took sixth at district in the 100 breast (1:06.65) and is seeded 16th for state.
"I was hoping to get a junior national cut time (of 1:06.39) but I missed it by (about) 0.2," Wharton said. "I've never been to a district meet before. It was intense."
The girls team finished eighth (119) behind champion Upper Arlington (522.5) as 24 teams scored.
"I don't think it's ever relaxing (being at state)," Belli said. "After being there you realize how big of a deal it is. But being a senior and knowing where I'm going to go to college, I just want to enjoy being there since it's my last high school race."
The boys team scored 11 points to place last of the 25 squads that scored at district. St. Charles (304) won the title.
The 200 medley relay of seniors Jon Chang, Kyle Clark and Josh VanDervort and freshman Major Belli placed 12th (1:44.36). The same four finished 18th (3:28.71) in the 400 free relay, a time drop of more than six seconds from their sectional finish Feb. 8.
"(The 400 free relay) was a great last race for those three seniors," Darrah said. "They're going to be missed next year for sure."