Even though Olivia Ball is the defending Division I state girls diving champion, the Olentangy Liberty High School junior breathed a sigh of relief after scoring 491.05 points to place third in the district meet Feb. 16 at Ohio State.
The top three boys divers and top four girls divers at district advanced to the state meet Thursday, Feb. 21, through Saturday, Feb. 23, at Branin Natatorium in Canton, and Ball is thrilled to be heading back after a fractured left wrist threatened to bring her season to a premature end.
Ball had periodically felt pain in her wrist over the past two years, but it hurt so much after she scored a career-high 499.7 points in the Northeast Classic on Jan. 12 that she had it examined the following day.
When the fracture was discovered, Ball's wrist was placed in a cast and she wasn't able to dive for more than a month.
"I was really scared when they put the cast on my wrist because I thought I would miss the rest of the season, but they were able to remove it in time for me to compete at district," Ball said. "I got back in the water the day I had my cast removed (Feb. 12), but I was only able to get a few practices in before district, so my goal was just to do my best and to qualify for state again. My wrist still hurts a little bit and I'm getting used to diving again, so just making it back to state is a big deal for me."
Liberty junior Brittany Menninger scored 501.55 points to place second at district behind New Albany's Estee Pryor (539.6).
"Only the top four girls are going to state, and we have a lot of strong divers in this district, so just making it back to state has been my main goal," Menninger said.
Last year at state, Ball scored 493.2 points to place first while Menninger finished 10th (432.95).
Pryor, Menninger and Ball are seeded first through third at state.
"I really want to win again, but I don't know if I will be able to because of my circumstances," Ball said. "I will have more time to practice and train in the water this week, so I'm hoping I'll keep improving my scores. Ever since I won state, I feel like people almost expect me to win every time I compete, but I'm trying to not put too much pressure on myself this year. I think finishing anywhere in the top eight to reach the podium would be fine because I don't have high expectations at this point."
Menninger is aiming for a much higher state finish this time.
"Last year was my first state meet and I was bothered by a lot of nerves," she said. "This year, I feel a lot more mentally prepared and I think I'm a lot more technically sound, so I want to finish top five at state."
The Patriots scored 167 points to place third at district behind champion Upper Arlington (491) as 24 teams scored.
The top two placers in each swimming event automatically advanced to state. In addition, 16 at-large state berths were awarded for each swimming event based on times statewide.
Justine Kenny, Olivia Bently, Caroline Racke and Reilly Haas finished fourth in the 200-yard medley relay (1 minute, 50.49 seconds) and are seeded 24th for state.
Cameron Hiltner finished fifth in the 200 free (1:54.48) and is seeded 21st for state.
Thatcher vying for boys diving title
The Liberty boys team scored 126.5 points and finished seventh at district behind champion Upper Arlington (380) as 24 teams scored.
Olentangy placed 17th (48) and Orange failed to score.
Liberty freshman diver Cameron Thatcher scored 528.45 points to finish second at district behind New Albany's David Dinsmore (538.45) and is seeded second at state behind Dinsmore.
Patriots freshman Jack Saczawa finished sixth in the 100 backstroke (53.45) and is seeded 22nd for state, and junior Tom Dawson finished fifth in the 100 breaststroke (59.66) and is seeded 21st for state.
Olentangy girls send small group to state
The Olentangy girls team placed fifth (146) at district ahead of 24th-place Orange (2).
The Braves, who failed to qualify anyone for state last year, will be represented by the 13th-seeded 400 free relay, which finished third (3:35.91) at district with Ellie Nebraska, Erika Poling, Mara Nebraska and Abbey Newman.
"We dropped eight seconds from (sectional) to break our school record in this relay," Mara Nebraska said. "Erika was incredible during her split. We'd like to get top eight to reach the podium, but a more realistic goal would be to reach the finals so we can finish top 16."
Ellie Nebraska finished fifth in the 100 free (53.02) and is seeded 16th for state, and Newman finished second in the 50 free (24.43) and is seeded 18th for state.
"This was my best time in the 100 free and I'm really excited to make it to state as a freshman," Ellie Nebraska said. "Ohio State has a faster pool, but my goal is to beat my best time again. Another goal is to make it back for the finals."