Sophomore Joey Long of the Upper Arlington High School boys swimming and diving team had his name dotted throughout the district honor roll released Jan. 17. He was ranked first in the 200-yard freestyle in 1 minute, 45.27 seconds, second in the 500 free (4:44.63) and ninth in the 200 individual medley (2:03.73).

Sophomore Joey Long of the Upper Arlington High School boys swimming and diving team had his name dotted throughout the district honor roll released Jan. 17. He was ranked first in the 200-yard freestyle in 1 minute, 45.27 seconds, second in the 500 free (4:44.63) and ninth in the 200 individual medley (2:03.73).

But Long expects to be challenged when the Golden Bears compete in the OCC-Central Division championships. The diving competition will be held Friday, Jan. 28, at New Albany and the swimming competition will be held Saturday, Jan. 29, at Thomas Worthington.

"The OCC meet is an important gauge to see how well we're doing and what things we still need to do in order to win the district," Long said. "We should have a lot of improvement over the next few weeks. I'm excited to see how everything turns out."

Long, one of five underclassmen who competed in the championship heat of the 500 free at the Division I state meet last season, got a final tune-up before the OCC meet in a dual meet with Centerville on Jan. 22.

He placed second in the 500 free (4:53) behind Centerville's Josh Brooks (4:44.63) as the Bears lost to the Elks 101-84. Brooks (seventh) and Long (12th) were ranked in the top 20 in the event in the state honor roll released Jan. 19.

Long is one of seven swimmers from the OCC-Central ranked in the top 10 in the district in the 500 free. He will be pushed by teammates Ryan Cutler (third, 4:49.15), Sean Neri (fourth, 4:50.99), Alex Chin (eighth, 5:01.76) and Ian Reardon (ninth, 5:03.42) as well as Hilliard Darby's Hunter Cook (sixth, 4:56.93) and Worthington Kilbourne's Keeler Callahan (10th, 5:04.15) at the league meet.

The 500 free might be the league's strongest event, but it is by no means the only event that features several OCC-Central swimmers in the district honor roll. Thanks in part to UA's depth, the OCC-Central has at least three swimmers ranked in the top 10 in the district in every individual event.

"It's a very good conference," first-year coach Mike de Bear said. "You've got teams like (Dublin) Coffman and Thomas in there and (Hilliard) Davidson has a very solid team this year.

"Every swimmer is starting to realize they're two weeks out from when they really have to start racing, and any competition we get is going to be good for them."

The OCC-Central meet is a stepping stone to the sectional, district and state meets. The Bears haven't won a district title since 2005 and a state championship since 1987.

Last season, UA finished third (187) at state behind Cincinnati St. Xavier (228) and Toledo St. Francis (218) and placed second (399) at district behind St. Charles (399.5).

De Bear is counting on a large group of sophomores, led by Long, to help return the Bears to the forefront. Other sophomores expected to play big roles in the postseason are Geoff Dickhaut (sprint free), Max Jelen (butterfly), John Leanza (sprint free), Andrew Mollman (breaststroke), Ian Reardon (individual medley, backstroke and breast), Danny Sullivan (distance free) and Ben Walter (free).

"We're a pretty young team with just four seniors, but we have a lot of young swimmers who are ready to step into those spots that are open," de Bear said. "There are a lot of great kids on this team and they're fighting tooth and nail to get into the lineup."

Long became a distance freestyler almost by default but over time has developed in the 500 free.

"When I was 10, I was pretty small and the 500 free was all I could do," Long said. "I wasn't good at it and I hurt really badly when I was finished.

"The 500 free takes a combination of being able to block out pain and keeping focused. You have to set your own pace and then give it everything you've got in that last 100."

Long is one of three returnees for UA who advanced to the finals at state last season. He placed fifth in the 500 free (4:38.62) and joined 2010 graduates Zach Kelch, John Lowery and John Spangler on the 400 free relay that finished third (3:08.53).

Senior Adam Rabe placed seventh in the 200 IM (1:57.76) and joined junior Sean Neri and Lowery and Spangler on the 200 medley relay that placed fourth (1:35.27).

Long said he had no idea what he was getting himself into at state last year.

"That atmosphere was insane," he said. "It gets really, really loud (inside the C.T. Branin Natatorium) and I had to block it out. Hopefully this year I will have a better shot because I won't be as awestruck."

AT A GLANCE

Below are the recent results and coming schedules for Upper Arlington boys and girls swimming and diving teams:

Dec. 17 - Boys: Finished fourth (287) in Big 8 Invitational behind champion Hunting Valley University School (460); Girls: Finished first (435), ahead of runner-up Cincinnati Ursuline (392)

Dec. 18 - Competed at Christmas Invitational. Team scores were not kept.

Jan. 7 - Boys: Defeated St. Charles 118-58; Girls: Def. Watterson 124-62

Jan. 15 - Boys: Def. Westerville South 123-57; Girls: Def. South 117-66

Jan. 21 - Boys: Def. Hartley 108-59; Girls: Def. Hartley 118-66

Jan. 22 - Boys: Lost to Centerville 101-84; Girls: Def. Centerville 126-60

Jan. 28 - OCC-Central diving championships at New Albany

Jan. 29 - OCC-Central swimming championships at Thomas Worthington