John Sands has made some significant changes since being hired last summer to replace Quintin Ward as coach of the Watterson High School boys and girls swimming and diving teams.
Under Sands, the Eagles spend time in the weight room before practices and participate in a team-bonding activity away from the pool at least once a week.
In addition, Sands has convinced some of his year-round club swimmers, including a key member of the girls team, senior Sam Schuttinger, to spend more time training with the high school program. Schuttinger, who is a University of South Dakota recruit, said the changes already are paying dividends for the Eagles.
"John Sands is a very hands-on coach, and he's changed our entire program from head to toe," Schuttinger said. "He's improving everything, from the way we train to the way we bond as a team. Ever since he started putting us in the weight room, we definitely feel stronger and we're already starting to see better times than we had at this point last year. The team dinners and time together in the weight room has helped us connect better and we've become a much closer team.
"There used to be a rift between the club swimmers and the high school swimmers, but there isn't anymore. We're all one big team now."
Watterson opened Nov. 30 with a dual meet at Columbus Academy. The girls team won 97-73 and the boys won 74-63.
On Dec. 1, the girls team scored 565 points to win the five-team Catholic Showdown at St. Charles ahead of runner-up Cincinnati St. Ursula (433). The boys finished fifth (72) of six teams behind champion Cincinnati St. Xavier (698).
Watterson competed in the Ned Reeb Invitational on Dec. 8 at Ohio State. The girls team finished 10th (133) behind champion Upper Arlington (439) as 48 teams scored and the boys team did not score as UA (370) won.
In addition to Schuttinger, key returnees for the girls team are seniors Maddison Durham, Caroline Lieser, Gina Livecchi and Alessandra Margello, juniors Madeline Grubbe, Abby Mefferd and Kristen Zullinger (diver) and sophomore Alicia Margello.
Livecchi and Schuttinger are team captains.
Several freshmen, including Jenna Durham, Quinn Fike, Carrie Horan, Maddie Penn, Kaleigh O'Reilly and Maddie Williams, also are expected to be key contributors this season.
"Our captains have done a great job of being leaders and we've got a lot of freshmen who are stepping in and contributing right away," Sands said.
Last season, Watterson scored 363 points to win the CCL meet for a sixth consecutive season, finishing ahead of Hartley (274), Columbus School for Girls (268), DeSales (146) and Ready (42).
The Eagles finished second (171) in the 12-team Division I sectional behind host UA (446) and tied Thomas Worthington for second (213) in the district meet at Ohio State behind UA (522).
Led by 2012 graduate Camey Rabold, Watterson scored 132 points in the state meet at Branin Natatorium in Canton to place fifth behind champion UA (300.5).
Rabold won the 200-yard freestyle in a program-record 1 minute, 49.52 seconds. She also placed third in the 100 backstroke (program-record 55.59) and teamed with Schuttinger and fellow 2012 graduates Aly Francis and Michele Rielly to place second (1:34.97) in the 200 free relay and third (3:30.55) in the 400 free relay.
Also at state, Rielly placed fourth in both the 100 back (55.69) and 50 free (23.72), Francis finished 18th (24.58) in the 50 free and Schuttinger finished 23rd (54.05) in the 100 free.
"One of our bigger goals is to win the CCL again and I'm very excited to see where the team goes because of our new coaches," Schuttinger said. "We lost some good athletes, but my jaw dropped when I first saw how talented our freshmen are."
Competing for boys team are seniors Noah Oliver, Jack Preston and Michael Schwartz, sophomore Isaiah Mefferd and freshmen Michael Carmody, Austin Leahy and Max McClelland.
Oliver, Schwartz and Mefferd are captains.
"Our boys team is small with only seven guys, but we're trying to build them up and it was nice to start our season with a win," Sands said. "Our three captains will be big for us and Max McClelland has a lot of potential in the freestyle events."
Last season, Watterson scored 119 points to finish third in the CCL meet, behind St. Charles (447) and Hartley (238) and ahead of DeSales (104) and Ready (7).
The Eagles finished third (159.5) of the five teams that scored in the Division II sectional at UA behind Grandview (383.5) and Centennial (168) and finished 16th (52) in the district meet at Ohio State behind champion Granville (325).
"The goals for our boys team are to be competitive every chance we get, gain confidence and continue to grow the program," Sands said.