Olivia Ball knew she needed to score well on her last dive Feb. 21 in the Division I state swimming and diving meet to defend her title.
On her previous attempt, the Olentangy Liberty High School junior over-rotated and landed on her stomach to fall more than 13 points behind New Albany's Estee Pryor.
Ball executed a reverse one-and-a-half summersault with a one-and-a-half twist, then stood by herself at Branin Natatorium in Canton as she awaited Pryor's last dive.
After Pryor executed a reverse pike, Ball was certain she was going to finish second.
Moments later, Ball looked at the scoreboard and saw she had won with 461.75 points as Pryor scored 461.5.
"This was a very nerve-racking meet, and even though I only had to wait about five minutes between my last dive and Estee's last dive, it seemed like it took forever," Ball said. "Estee's an amazing diver and when I looked up and saw her rip her last dive, my heart dropped because I thought she definitely had beaten me. When I looked at the scoreboard and saw my name was still on top, I was so shocked I didn't even know how to react.
"This state championship means even more to me than the one I won last year because the competition was so good. It's a big honor to win against this kind of competition."
Ball was grateful to be healthy after she was diagnosed with a fractured left wrist on Jan. 13 and was in a cast until Feb. 12 -- just four days before the district meet at Ohio State.
Ball placed third at district behind Pryor (539.6) and Liberty junior Brittany Menninger (team-record 501.55 points).
"It's been a crazy couple of weeks," Ball said.
Menninger placed 11th (417.8) in the state meet, which was held Feb. 21-23.
The Liberty girls scored 26 points to place 23rd behind champion Cincinnati Ursuline (234) as 55 squads scored.
Senior Cameron Hiltner finished 18th in the 200-yard freestyle (1 minute, 55.82 seconds) and freshman Justine Kenny, senior Olivia Bently, sophomore Caroline Racke and freshman Reilly Haas finished 19th in the 200 medley relay (1:50.77).
Menninger finished 10th (432.95) at state last year behind Ball (493.2).
"I messed up two of my first five dives pretty bad and I barely made the first cut," Menninger said. "I was in 17th place after the first cut, but I was pretty consistent after that and I was lucky to be able to move up as far as I did."
Liberty finished third (185) in the OCC-Central Division meet that concluded Jan. 26 at Thomas Worthington, behind champion Upper Arlington (452).
The Patriots then scored 248 points to win a 10-team sectional Feb. 9 at the Union County YMCA, ahead of runner-up Dublin Jerome (218). They placed third (167) at district behind champion UA (491) as 24 teams scored.
Hiltner set team records in two events at district, as she finished fifth in the 200 free (1:54.48) and 11th in the 100 butterfly (59.23).
"Getting third at district after getting third in our league championship meet was a highlight," coach Laurie Karr said. "Getting seven girls to state was a big deal, too."
The boys team finished 38th (13) at state behind champion Cincinnati St. Xavier (270) as 57 squads scored.
Freshman Cameron Thatcher placed sixth in diving (468.2), freshman Jack Saczawa finished 20th in the 100 backstroke (53.99) and junior Tom Dawson finished 24th in the 100 breaststroke (1:00.88).
"I started off really rough, but throughout the meet I just kept gaining confidence and getting better and better," Thatcher said. "By the end, I was diving like I thought I should."
The Patriots finished second (229) in the OCC-Central meet behind UA (428), placed fourth (160) at sectional behind champion Dublin Coffman (230) and finished seventh (126.5) at district behind champion UA (380) as 24 teams scored.
At district, Saczawa, Dawson, senior Matt Lennon and sophomore Nicholas Tracewell placed sixth in the 200 medley relay (team-record 1:39.82).
Braves girls fall short of state podium
The Olentangy girls team failed to score at state as freshman Abbey Newman was 15th in the 50 free (24.73), junior Erika Poling, freshman Ellie Nebraska, junior Mara Nebraska and Newman were 13th in the 400 free relay (3:37.76) and Ellie Nebraska was 20th in the 100 free (53.84).
The Braves placed fifth (146) at district, as the Nebraska sisters, Poling and Newman finished third in the 400 free relay (3:35.91), Ellie Nebraska finished fifth in the 100 free (53.02) and Newman finished second in the 50 free (24.43).
Olentangy was third (212) in the Union County YMCA sectional. In the OCC-Capital meet that concluded Jan. 26 at New Albany, the Braves were second (274) behind New Albany (312).
The boys team placed second (274) in the league meet behind New Albany (335), sixth (141) in the Union County YMCA sectional and 17th (48) at district as sophomore Tyler Norris placed eighth in both the 200 free (1:45.19) and 500 free (4:50.19).
Sophomore Keanan Fomich, freshman Winston Kuriger, senior Mitchell Newman and Norris also finished 12th in the 200 medley relay (1:46.16).
"We are really looking forward to next season," coach Steve Gipe said. "We have a very strong nucleus of guys coming back."
Orange boys, girls teams set records
After wrapping up the regular season by placing fourth (167) in the OCC-Capital meet, the Orange girls finished eighth (75) in the Union County YMCA sectional.
At sectional, sophomore Kara Miller set team records while placing 18th in the 200 free (2:04.32) and 12th in the 500 free (5:27.91). She also set team records in the 100 free (58.25) and 100 fly (1:04.21) during the regular season.
Orange then finished 24th (2) at district, as senior Brooke Pulkrabek, junior Haley Johnson, freshman Elly Cogan and Miller placed 19th in the 200 free relay (team-record 1:48.62).
Johnson also set team records while placing 23rd in the 100 breast (1:13.95) and 26th in the 200 individual medley (2:20.72).
"On the girls side we continued to show growth and versatility with Haley Johnson in the stroke events, and Kara Miller in the middle distance and distance events," coach Dan Harris said. "The addition of (junior) Jasmine Wright brought in some speed to the group, and the continued development of (junior) Julia Pinciotti helped to add much-needed depth. (Junior) Hannah Brown and (sophomore) Kaylin Muren both showed improvement in diving."
The boys team finished fourth (166) in the OCC-Capital meet and seventh (72) in the Union County YMCA sectional.
At sectional, sophomore Carson Miller set team records while placing 26th in the 200 free (1:54.52) and 28th in the 100 free (51.56), and senior Alex Chugh placed ninth in the 100 breast in a team-record 1:12.38.
Orange failed to score at district, but sophomore Ric Reynolds, Chugh, sophomore Andrew Haidet and Miller placed 20th in the 200 free relay in a team-record 1:38.78 and 18th in the 400 free relay in a team-record 3:33.6.
Reynolds also set team records while finishing 19th in the 50 free (23.13) and 23rd in the 100 back (1:01.56).
"Carson Miller led the way in the sprints along with Ric Reynolds," Harris said. "(Sophomore) Cameron Fisher, (sophomore) Tommy Zabonik and (junior) Skyler Siles worked hard to develop as significant options for the team, while the addition of Andrew Haidet proved to be invaluable to our success.
"There were only four events on each side that retained their record this season, and most records were set at the end of the season, which is the kind of improvement I like to see."