Emily Annen of the Upper Arlington High School girls swimming and diving team is sorer than she was at this time last year, but she relishes her workload.
Her aches come from increased training. In each practice during the holiday break, the Golden Bears practiced for two and a half hours and recorded as many as 10,000 yards, up from the usual 1 hour, 45 minutes and 6,000 yards.
That's not her only extra workload, however.
As one of two seniors for the eight-time defending Division I state champions and the team's only senior captain, Annen finds herself balancing swimming with being a leader and go-between for her teammates and coach Dan Peterkoski.
"Being a senior is a lot tougher than I thought it would be," said Annen, who also was a captain for the Bears' state-champion water polo team this past fall. "The big thing is motivating people. It is a lot more difficult when there are more morning (practices) and it's a lot tougher on your body. Making sure everything is done right and making sure they do everything, it's tougher that way."
The boys team's six seniors -- Geoff Dickhaut, Max Jelen, Joey Long, Andrew Mollman, Ian Reardon and Danny Sullivan -- have the luxury of taking a different approach because of their numbers. Coach Mike de Bear is content to be more hands-on with his younger swimmers, leaving the seniors mostly to police themselves. But that comes about mostly because the seniors have proven responsible.
"The thing, especially with the older guys, is give and take," de Bear said.
"With the younger guys, I take a much bigger role in decision-making. Danny, over winter training, came up to me on his own and asked what I was thinking for the end of the year (regarding his events for the postseason). That's good because he's thinking ahead to the postseason. He has three events and only gets to do two individually ... but the thing with all those guys is, we have six guys who are going to play big roles in our success the next six or seven weeks."
Sullivan believes it's critical for younger swimmers to get input from multiple sources during their development. It is not uncommon for the seniors to break underclassmen into groups depending on their stroke and distance for more detailed instruction.
"My freshman year, we had five seniors," he said. "They all had varied opinions and some of them were laid-back and some of them really wanted to work hard and pushed us to do that. They had to regulate everything. Some people might not answer as well to one person as they might to somebody else. It's critical to have multiple people helping each other."
The girls team has had juniors step up out of necessity. Two of them, Jenny Smith and Elizabeth Weldon, share captain duties with Annen, but Peterkoski acknowledged Annen and classmate Sarah Mamo share a special bond.
"They rally each other," Peterkoski said. "To some extent, it's hard on them being a small senior class. But I see it every year. The seniors tend to do special things, whether it's from the leadership or performance standpoint."
Mamo said her approach this season would be the same if she was a captain.
"If you miss a day of school, you're still responsible for the homework you miss," Mamo said.
"Although I'm not a captain, I still have the responsibility to be a role model and be a good example for these girls."
Individual determination will play a big role over the next few weeks, as training intensifies before late-season tapering. The first phase of the postseason is Jan. 26, when the OCC-Central Division meet takes place at Thomas Worthington. The Division I sectional tournament is Feb. 9 at UA.
"These few weeks are so key because you have to maintain that intensity and focus before you rest," de Bear said. "It's not getting easier yet. You must finish the meat of the sandwich first. Finish the training before those rewards come."