Offseason does not exist for Upper Arlington
Zach Newcome of the Upper Arlington High School boys swimming and diving team crossed one item off his bucket list in summer 2012 when he and his father spent a few weeks bicycling from Eureka, Calif., to Columbus.
Water polo cut short Newcome's journey, which he plans to complete next summer when he bikes to Wilmington, Del.
The downside? Newcome missed several days of the Golden Bears' offseason workouts at Northwest Swim Club. Despite finishing third in both the 200-meter freestyle (1 minute, 43.65 seconds) and 500 free (4:40.25) in the Division I district meet and helping the 400 free relay to a 15th-place finish (3:14.13), Newcome thinks he could have had a better 2012-13 season.
"We lay the foundation here," Newcome said July 11 during an early morning team workout at NSC, 1064 Bethel Road. "I didn't do any swimming in the offseason last year, so I didn't have a great season. I dropped two seconds in the 500 and two seconds in the 200, so it wasn't the huge drop I am accustomed to because I didn't have the opportunity to lay the basis."
UA boys coach Mike de Bear and girls coach Dan Peterkoski can't overstate the importance of their teams' year-round regimen. After the high school season ends in late February, Bears swimmers get less than a month off before the Upper Arlington Swim Club's summer season begins. That runs through early August, by which time water polo is beginning.
That sport -- in which UA's girls have won three consecutive state titles and the boys are coming off their first since 2009 -- leads directly into swimming, where the Bears have few equals.
"Don't call this 'the offseason,' " Peterkoski said. "If you want to be an elite swimmer, this is the important season. You can't be an elite swimmer unless you are fast in July and August. If you want to be a high school-only swimmer, then February is where it's at, but the best swimmers in the country are swimming fast in July and August. That's what we preach."
The girls team's streak of eight consecutive Division I state championships was snapped Feb. 23 at Branin Natatorium in Canton when UA finished second (215) to Cincinnati Ursuline (234). The boys were second to Cincinnati St. Xavier for the second consecutive year, scoring 187.5 points to the Bombers' 270.
Most UA swimmers have been members of the Upper Arlington Swim Club, coached for the past 15 years by Todd Saltus, since elementary school.
In a typical week, Bears swimmers work out from 5:45 to 7:30 a.m. Monday through Saturday in NSC's 50-meter pool, which is twice as large as those used in high school competition. They lift in UA's weight room under the guidance of UA strength and conditioning coach Brian Coleman for an hour Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, and on Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays swim for an extra hour at the high school and play water polo for 45 minutes.
The proof of their efforts is in the pudding -- or, in this case, on the brick walls outside UA's natatorium, which are filled with All-American certificates dating to the 1960s. The program recently earned 16 more All-American honors, given to the top 100 competitors in each event nationally for the 2012-13 season.
Honorees included recent graduate Joey Long, an Ohio State signee who won his second consecutive state title in the boys 200 free (1:38.43), and the winning girls 200 free relay of Gracie Long, Erin Sheehan, Grace Van Fossen and Jenny Smith (1:34.19).
That relay set a state-meet record and tied for eighth-fastest in the country behind San Juan Capistrano (Calif.) JSerra Catholic (1:32.35).
Gracie Long's runner-up performance in the 100 free (49.85) was tied for 12th nationally, .89 behind leader Lindsey Engel of Crean Lutheran in Irvine, Calif. Long also was second at state in the 200 free (1:48.63).
Smith, who was seventh at state in the 200 individual medley (2:03.53), recently swam 4:59.09 in the 400 IM to qualify for USA Swimming's Junior Nationals scheduled for Aug. 5-9 in Irvine, Calif.
Some graduates return to work out with the Bears, although on July 11 only 27 swimmers attended -- down from the usual 35 to 40.
"One day (recently) we had 41 kids in the water," de Bear said. "Every one of them is either at UA, going to be a freshman here or used to swim here. It's a special thing."
Even with the annual success, or maybe because of it, there's little time to step back and admire the masterpiece UA's swimmers have created.
"We try not to pat ourselves on the back," Saltus said. "After the state meet, we all sit down and take a deep breath. But then there's another meet the next week. It's always preparing for what's coming next."