The morning of Feb. 24 dawned cloudy across central Ohio, which is fairly common this time of year.
Upper Arlington High School girls swimming and diving coach Dan Peterkoski's fervent hope was his athletes bounced out of their beds with some spring in their step despite what happened the night before 130 miles away at Branin Natatorium in Canton.
For the first time since 2004, the Golden Bears returned home as something other than Division I state champions. Cincinnati Ursuline broke UA's eight-year reign, scoring 234 points to the Bears' 215, which was good for second. UA swimmers smiled as they stood on the podium and posed for pictures, but afterward, expressions changed.
"It's not easy. We live in a state that has a lot of good swimmers and good teams," Peterkoski said. "For these girls to do what they've done for eight years is very, very impressive. People need to remember that. I'm very proud of how they competed today and what they've done over eight years.
"The true test of a champion is what you do tomorrow when you wake up."
No finish lower than first at a state event, regardless of whether it ends one of the more impressive streaks in state history, is an indictment of failure. If anything, it proves how deeply ingrained winning cultures are, and how long they take to develop.
In separate interviews and in almost identical words, Peterkoski and UA boys coach Mike de Bear credited Upper Arlington Swim Club coach Todd Saltus for the work he does with prospective swimmers from a young age.
"You have kids who are ready to be elite athletes," said de Bear, whose team finished second (187) to Cincinnati St. Xavier, whose 270 points earned the Bombers their fifth consecutive state title and 34th overall, the most in OHSAA history in any sport. "They're ready to work hard. It's a challenge. We're a small team in the scheme of things around the state, but it's good. We're trying to get it so this is what we expect to do.
"You can't control getting second every year. You can control swimming hard, racing the right way, acting the right way as young men, etc."
On the other side of Columbus, second-year Reynoldsburg coach Stephanie Kiss is busy implementing the lessons she learned as a state champion in water polo and swimming at then-Worthington High School. Twenty-two years after graduating and 24 after winning both titles just months apart, Kiss remembers vividly the lessons she learned from, among others, longtime and current Cardinals and Kilbourne coach Jim Callahan.
"You can't turn into a Worthington or a Dublin or an Upper Arlington in five or six years. You can't do it," said Kiss, who helped coach sophomore and two-time state qualifier Morgan McCafferty to a 10th-place finish in the 100-yard backstroke (57.14 seconds). "It takes years and years to build up a program to that caliber.
"I've been blessed to have the kids I've had so far, plus some new freshmen this year being very good. I guess we're supposed to get a lot more eighth-graders coming up who now will be coming in. The thing that's essential with any program is once you can start to build the expectations and a name, the kids will come."
Pickerington North girls basketball coach Dave Butcher marveled at the same thing a few weeks ago after earning his state-record 684th win. He's 685-87 entering a Division I district semifinal against Olentangy on Thursday, Feb. 28, for an .887 winning percentage spanning 31 seasons.
"To achieve that is something that's pretty neat. I feel our program is solid right now," Butcher said. "Maybe our best basketball at North is still coming the next three or four years. We have a lot of talent at the junior high level. For these kids to sustain this over those years is something that's unbelievable."
UA senior Joey Long, an Ohio State signee who defended his 200 free state title (1:38.43) and was second in the 500 free (4:28.62), expects he'll fully appreciate his program's reputation in coming years.
"I don't think about it because I'm on the team, but at the end of the year we get all the top times and we just look at those," he said. "We see St. X and they're the (34)-time state champs. They have to know, too, that we're one of the premier programs in the state, too."