Pickerington High School Central swimming and diving coach Nicole Richmond has enjoyed plenty of lofty moments with her girls team, including three consecutive Division I state championships in the 100-yard butterfly for senior Maddie Martin.
This year, Richmond also is giddy about her boys team, which after a few shorthanded seasons is deep enough to compete in all three relays and placed fourth in Central's Tiger Invitational on Jan. 12 at Thomas Worthington.
"I think it's the amount of dedication my veteran swimmers have put in," Richmond said. "In the past, I've mostly had swimmers that swam during the season. This year, I have five gentlemen who swam all year, so they've been going for a while. They just haven't had a break. Then the upcoming boys, the two freshmen I do have (George Melikian and Ben Rapley), have been on club teams. The amount of ability we have is better than what we've had in the past."
Seniors Zak Duncan and Atticus Murphy teamed with Rapley and junior Matthias Speidel to finish fourth in both the 200-yard medley relay (1 minute, 54.28 seconds) and 400 freestyle relay (3:37.74) and Duncan won the 200 individual medley (2:12.58) and placed seventh in the 100 free (52.0), as the Tigers scored 216 points in the 16-team meet to finish behind Westerville Central (376), Grove City (234) and Hartley (230).
The Tigers also got top-five finishes from Melikian in the 200 IM (fourth, 2:20.99), Murphy in the 500 free (fourth, 5:42.74), Rapley in the 100 butterfly (fifth, 1:01.9) and Speidel in the 500 free (fifth, 5:45.2).
Also on the team are senior Sam Ingram and sophomore Tony Nolen.
"I started sophomore year and I've been through almost everything with these guys," said Duncan, an Ashland University signee. "This means a lot, especially since it's my senior year. I want to go out with a bang."
Richmond said that motivation and a feeling that the Tigers have narrowed the gap between themselves and the area's top teams have been key.
"Now they have the tools to succeed and they're just taking advantage," she said.
Martin paced the girls team in the Tiger Invitational, winning the 100 fly (1:00.54) and 100 free (53.39), as Central scored 232 points and placed third behind Westerville Central (361) and Hartley (257.5).
An Auburn University signee, Martin also teamed with junior Ashley Stewart, sophomore Sidney Martin and freshman Valerie Orr to place second in the 200 free relay (1:49.84) and third in the 200 medley relay (2:01.09).
Stewart was third in both the 200 IM (2:29.35) and 100 backstroke (1:07.14) and Orr placed sixth in the 50 free (28.51).
"Valerie Orr is another one who is swimming on the 'A' relay and is coming off an injury," Richmond said. "You can tell the girls are healed and are moving so much faster in the water. (Freshman) Rachael (Sentivany) dropped seven seconds in the 100 fly (in the Tiger Invitational, placing eighth in 1:10.25)."
Central's next competition is the OCC-Ohio Division meet Jan. 26 at New Albany.
Panthers fare well in two meets
While most of North's top swimmers competed in the Northeast Classic on Jan. 12 at Branin Natatorium in Canton, the Panthers who stayed behind guided their teams to fifth-place finishes in the Tiger Invitational.
The boys team scored 199 points in the Tiger Invitational and the girls team scored 157. Coach Justin Dortch and his wife and assistant coach, Crystal, jumbled their lineup for the meet with mostly positive results.
Junior Byron Janke placed second in the 100 breast (1:09.22) -- his first time swimming that stroke in a meet -- and was ninth in the 50 free (24.82), and freshman Nicholas Rushlow placed fourth in the 100 back (1:04.61) and fifth in the 200 IM (2:22.48).
Freshman Jessie Sherry placed fourth in the 100 back (1:09.36) to lead the girls team.
"It worked out really well," said Crystal Dortch, who accompanied the Panthers to the Tiger Invitational while her husband went to the Northeast Classic.
"For these guys, it was very important for them to come in, fill those shoes and hold up their end of the bargain for the rest of the team. It was absolutely huge for them."
In the Northeast Classic, junior Clay White placed fifth in 1-meter diving (414.6 points), junior Andrew Martin was fifth in the 100 back (54.59) and seventh in the 50 free (22.47), junior Jacob Griffith was 13th in the 100 fly (55.21) and 16th in the 100 free (50.19) and the 200 medley relay was 14th (1:45.08).
Team scores were not kept in the Northeast Classic.