Considering the strength of her competition in the Division I state swimming and diving meet, Olivia Ball knew she was going to need to do something special to win her third consecutive state diving title.
The Olentangy Liberty High School senior responded by scoring a state-, state meet- and pool-record 553.85 points to finish ahead of runner-up Estee Pryor (521) of New Albany on Feb. 22 at Branin Natatorium in Canton.
Liberty finished 29th (20 points) at state behind champion Cincinnati Ursuline (281) as 52 teams scored.
"I'm really excited and happy that I was able to end my high school career this way," Ball said. "I had no idea of how close the scores were during the meet because looking at scores usually freaks me out. I knew I had great competition from Estee and all of the other girls competing at state, so I just dove like I needed every point I could get to win state."
Ball felt pressure to defend her two titles, but the University of Georgia recruit said it only motivated her to do her best.
"I definitely felt pressure because everyone at school kept coming up to me and asking me if I was going to win again, and of course, I had no idea," Ball said. "But I was actually a lot calmer at state this year because I had already won two titles and I knew I would be content with whatever happened as long as I dove well."
Liberty placed 23rd in all three relays. Freshman Ally Braun, sophomore Reilly Haas, junior Sam Dawson and junior Caroline Racke finished the 400-yard freestyle relay in 3 minutes, 40.93 seconds; sophomore Justine Kenny, junior Bailee Braun, Racke and Haas clocked 1:51.74 in the 200 medley relay; and Racke, Ally Braun, Dawson and Haas finished the 200 free relay in 1:41.13.
Sophomore Cameron Thatcher led the boys team by placing second in diving (558.55) on Feb. 20 behind champion Stephen Romanik (565.1) of Macedonia Nordonia.
Thatcher was seeded first for state after finishing sixth a year ago.
"I was so much more relaxed and calm this year," he said. "Last year, there were hundreds of swimmers in the pool while we dove and it freaked me out a little bit. This year, I was a lot more focused and I was right behind Stephen the entire meet. I really hit my last two dives, an inward 2 1/2 and a front 2 1/2, to clinch second place.
"I'm happy with how I did this year and my goal is to keep getting better so I can win state next year."
Liberty tied for 29th (22) behind champion Cincinnati St. Xavier (255) as 61 teams scored.
Sophomore Jack Saczawa placed 12th in the 100 backstroke (52.79), and senior Tom Dawson finished 18th in the 100 breaststroke (1:00.25) and 24th in the 200 individual medley (1:58.85).
Saczawa, Dawson, sophomore Turner Schade and junior Nicholas Tracewell placed 23rd in the 200 medley relay (1:40.13).
McHugh reaches podium for Braves
Senior Colleen McHugh led the Olentangy girls team at state by placing seventh in diving (452.65).
The Princeton recruit finished strong, moving up from 13th to seventh over her final three dives.
The Braves finished 19th (29) at state.
Sophomore Ellie Nebraska tied for 11th in the 100 free (52.5) and finished 20th in the 200 free (1:55.13). She also combined with senior Erika Poling, senior Mara Nebraska and sophomore Abbey Newman to finish 11th in the 200 free relay (1:39.25) and teamed with Poling, freshman Kaylyn Cochran and Mara Nebraska to place 17th in the 400 free relay (3:37.58).
Ellie Nebraska was thrilled with her performance in the 100 free after placing 20th (53.84) a year ago.
"I just wanted to move up places, so I was very excited about that," she said. "I think, for me, I mainly engage in my own race. I see my competition beside me, but I try to approach my race and think about only that so I can improve on what I need to improve on. This year was a move up."
Sophomore Winston Kuriger, junior Andrew Davis, junior Keanan Fomich and junior Tyler Norris placed 16th in the 400 free relay (3:14.62) as the boys team tied for 57th (2).
Fomich finished 17th in the 100 back (52.57) and 19th in the 200 free (1:44.67).
Norris placed 21st in the 500 free (4:45.04), and Kuriger, senior Colby Brothers, Fomich and Norris finished 22nd in the 200 free relay (1:29.22).
"This was the first time any of us had made it to state and we were just happy to be there," Fomich said. "There was tons of good competition and the atmosphere was electrifying. It was nerve-racking swimming in front of so many people for the first time, but it also was a lot of fun."
Pioneers' Haidet makes 1st state appearance
As the lone representative at state for the Orange girls team, freshman Alyssa Haidet finished 22nd in the 100 breast (1:08.46).
The Pioneers didn't score.