Luca Ficarelli of the Grove City High School boys swimming and diving team regularly went for 10,000-meter swims in his native Italy, so 500-yard swims in central Ohio pools haven't fazed him.
As a result, Ficarelli finds himself within four seconds of the Greyhounds' 500 freestyle record and has flexed his muscles in a few other events.
Never mind that Ficarelli just joined the program two months ago -- and doesn't even attend Grove City. When teammates Adam and Isaac Stretch, who are neighbors of Ficarelli's host family, saw him swimming during a late summer excursion to Deer Creek State Park, they wasted no time making their pitch for him to join their team.
"We could see he was talented, but I'm not sure we expected him to be this good," Isaac Stretch said. "He's adapted pretty quickly."
Ficarelli, a native of Gonzaga, Italy, is a senior at Grove City Christian. He is able to compete for the Greyhounds because of a recent addendum to Ohio High School Athletic Association Bylaw 4, which allows students of non-public schools to compete in a sport at that district's public high school if the sport is not offered at the private school.
Ficarelli's best 500 free time is 5 minutes, 6.2 seconds in the Grandview Yule at the Pool on Dec. 28 at Columbus Aquatics Center. He also has clocked 59 seconds in the 100 butterfly and 1:55 in the 200 free.
"We don't have high school sports in Italy. If you do sports, you just compete on local teams," said Ficarelli, who arrived in central Ohio on Aug. 8 and will stay until July 1. "I've always enjoyed swimming. I just had to get used to the distances and lanes. In Europe, we go by meters instead of yards, and courses are triangular instead of having lanes like here. I think I've adjusted pretty well."
According to coach Amy Miller, the 500 free school record is 5:02, set by Gus Bailey in 2010.
"We love having him," Miller said of Ficarelli. "Once the Stretch brothers told me about him, I hoped he could do some big things. He hasn't disappointed."
Ficarelli competed in cross country at Grove City Christian and was the boys team's top runner in the Division III district meet, placing 58th in 18:36.05.
In the Yule at the Pool, Ficarelli won the 200 free (1:55.19) and 500 free and helped the 400 free relay to first place (1:35.13) with Kalvin Koethke, Adam Stretch and Isaac Stretch.
Ficarelli is hardly alone in having a standout season, and he has helped others do the same.
Isaac Stretch broke his own school record in the 100 breaststroke (1:04.34) on Dec. 14 in a meet at Kenyon College. Koethke won the 50 free (22.59) in the Yule at the Pool and helped the 200 medley relay to second (1:49.77) with William Best, Ficarelli and Isaac Stretch.
Grove City has 21 boys swimmers and eight girls. Miller said junior Margo Leist, a district qualifier last year in the 200 free and with the 200 and 400 free relays, is nearing her return after offseason surgery.
The Greyhounds resume competition Tuesday, Jan. 21, against Madison Plains, Ready and Whetstone at Grove City YMCA. The OCC-Ohio Division meet is Jan. 25 at Thomas Worthington.
"Generally, we have more girls out. It's funny how that's worked, but we definitely need to get out and recruit some more girls to the team," Miller said.
Ficarelli might be happy to share his tale with potential swimmers.
"It's been a great experience," he said. "I want to try other sports, too. I'd like to try playing baseball in the spring, but I haven't played that much. Maybe I'll go out for track and field. I've made a lot of friends in cross country and now in swimming. I'm just going to do as well as I can and see what happens."
Comets competing in Northridge meet
Central Crossing's last warm-up before the OCC-Central meet Jan. 25 at Thomas will be Saturday, Jan. 18, in the Northridge Select Invitational at New Albany.
The nine-team field also consists of the host Vikings, Granville, Heath, Lakewood, Liberty Union, Mount Vernon, Newark Catholic and Watkins Memorial.