Winter break usually is a relaxing time for high school students, but not necessarily for those who compete on a swimming team.

Winter break usually is a relaxing time for high school students, but not necessarily for those who compete on a swimming team.

Those athletes have some of their toughest practices over winter break to prepare them for the grind of January and the postseason in February.

It was no different for the Northridge High School boys swimming team, whose winter-break practices are paying off with better performances in the new year.

"The boys have started to realize that the hard work that they put in during practice will pay off in meets," said coach Catherine Carney, whose team consists of one sophomore and eight freshmen. "We had challenging practices over Christmas (break). We called it 'death by swimming.' We told them that if they did those practices, it would be tougher than anything they would see in a meet."

In a tri-meet Jan. 23, the Vikings defeated Newark Catholic 64-15 but lost to host Coshocton 80-13.

In a five-team meet Jan. 21 at the Licking County Family YMCA in Newark, Northridge scored 100 points to win the event 10 points ahead of runner-up Heath.

On Jan. 7, the Vikings finished third (68) in the 10-team Southeastern Ohio Swim League-South Division meet at Zanesville Rosecrans behind Cambridge (119) and Portsmouth Notre Dame (99) and ahead of Athens (61). Sophomore Brandon Eckstein finished second (1 minute, 10.88 seconds) in the 100-yard butterfly, Mat Scott was third (3:10.65) in the 200 individual medley and Christopher Lindsay was fourth (1:30.1) in the 100 breaststroke.

"I have more responsibility and more is expected from me," Eckstein said of being the eldest participant in the program. "I definitely have to be more mature and be an example for the rest of the team."

Carney said Eckstein has led by example and has seen his hard work pay off.

"Brandon's whole thing is to try to make it back to district and he has done everything possible to work toward getting there," she said. "Many times, he'll practice with us at Mount Vernon and then go practice with his club team at the (Newark) YMCA.

"Brandon has gone from being a single-dimensional swimmer to being able to do the backstroke, the butterfly, the 200 and 400 freestyles. He has incredible flexibility for us."

The Vikings also have Mason Alexander, Bryce Curtis, Jasen Dean, Paul Haught, Noah Orcutt and Steven Wickham.

"It has been a big transition this year," Carney said. "Last year we had several upperclassmen and now we only have a sophomore and eight freshmen.

"We don't have transportation after the levy failed, so we have to set up carpools. Beth Curtis, one of our parents, has done a great job helping us with that."

Carney said working with a young team has been a wonderful, if not trying, experience.

"With a young team, sometimes it's tough to keep them focused," she said. "Sometimes they get giggly. Sometimes their attention is everywhere other than practice. We have to work to keep their focus.

"But when the freshmen came in, most of them could only do freestyle and backstrokes. But from there they are now comfortable in the 200 IM. They know all four strokes and they can do it in sequence."

The Vikings now are preparing for the postseason, which begins Saturday, Feb. 4, with the SEOSL meet at Ohio University. Last year, the boys tied Cambridge, New Concord John Glenn and Zanesville for 11th (18) in the 17-team event, behind champion Granville (331).

"Now they are seeing that payoff in the water," Carney said. "They see the time drops, they are scoring more points for the team and both of those things are important for them."

Scott said seeing the incremental improvement has been important to him.

"I swam in junior high for the past couple years, and I really like being in the water," he said. "I feel a lot better when I score high because I tend to beat myself up when I don't do well."