Members of the Pickerington High School North girls swimming and diving team still wince at the memory of finishing 2.5 points behind Gahanna in last year's OCC-Ohio Division meet, so much so that they made shirts that read "2.5 Points: We Remember."
Fortunately for the Panthers, they might remember this year's 8.5-point spread better.
Down 52 points to Gahanna entering the swimming portion of the meet because they had no divers to the Lions' four, the Panthers stormed back to win four events and finish second in four more. North scored 306 points to capture the league championship Jan. 26 at New Albany after Gahanna snapped the Panthers' three-year title streak a year ago with a 241-238.5 victory.
Gahanna was second (297.5), followed by Reynoldsburg (205), Pickerington Central (175), Lancaster (129), Grove City (107.5) and Newark (30). Groveport does not have a swimming and diving program.
"To win this is a huge deal. Last year left a real bad taste in their mouth and it's gone now," coach Justin Dortch said. "They did exactly what we expected. They stepped up, they raced, they did exactly what we needed them to do."
Senior Sara Sams won the 100-yard breaststroke (1 minute, 10.81 seconds), was second in the 200 individual medley (2:16.13) and helped the 200 medley (1:56.39) and 200 freestyle (1:46.67) relays to victories. Junior Kelly Mason was second in the 100 butterfly (1:04.35) and 100 freestyle (58.79), and sophomore Anna Bower won the 200 free (2:09.8).
The 400 free relay (4:09.46) was second.
"I expect a lot from this program, and they do nothing but deliver," Dortch said. "It's terrific."
The North boys team had four victories, six second-place finishes and three third-place efforts to win the league title with 349 points, well ahead of Lancaster (197), Grove City (187), Gahanna (186), Central (169), Reynoldsburg (75) and Newark (48).
Junior Andrew Martin won the 100 fly (53.21) and 100 backstroke (54.97), junior Clay White won diving (463.85 points) and the 200 medley relay (1:36.93) also won. Runners-up for the Panthers were junior Jacob Griffith in the 50 free (22.03) and 100 free (50.23), senior Josh Harris in the 100 fly (59.65), junior Justin Mathews in the 200 IM (2:10.48) and 100 breast (1:04.37), and freshman Nicholas Rushlow in the 100 back (1:02.5). Rushlow also was third in the 200 IM (2:16.62), as was freshman Joel Mathews in the 100 back (1:03.64) and the 200 free relay (1:36.78).
Not including the relays, 29 Panthers finished in the top 10 in at least one event.
"We have good depth and we work well together. We push each other in practice," Griffith said. "That depth increased as people started getting better and training harder. We're very happy. We're enjoying it."
Martins, Stewart lead Central girls
Senior Maddie Martin's first-place finishes in the 100 fly (1:01.52) and 100 free (55.65) led the Central girls, who were boosted by runner-up finishes from the 200 medley relay (2:03.07), sophomore Sidney Martin in the 500 free (5:46.89) and junior Ashley Stewart in the 50 free (26.59). Stewart was third in the 100 back (1:06.09), and Sidney Martin was fourth in the 200 IM (2:27.31).
The Central boys 200 medley relay was second (1:51.82), junior Matthias Speidel was third in the 100 breast (1:07.78) and fourth in the 200 IM (2:16.9), and senior Zak Duncan was fourth in both the 50 free (23.46) and 100 free (51.39). Freshman George Melikian was fourth in the 100 back (1:06.57) and fifth in the 200 IM (2:23.09), and classmate Ben Rapley was fourth in the 100 fly (1:03.42) and fifth in the 200 free (2:02.39).
"George was ecstatic to finally break 1:08," said Tigers coach Nicole Richmond, who added she tried several swimmers in new events to get an early read on possible sectional meet lineups.
"It ultimately comes down to little things we'll be focusing on the next couple weeks. Getting off the wall quicker, keeping in a tight streamline, making sure we're not breathing. We're moving fast, but it's the little things we need to do to drop a little more time."
North and Central both will compete in the 12-team Division I sectional Feb. 9 at Upper Arlington.
The winner of each sectional event qualifies for the district meet Feb. 16 at Ohio State.
In addition, 27 at-large district berths will be awarded in each event based on times from the Central, East and Southeast sectional sites. Divers do not compete until the district meet.