As senior diver Hunter Atha of the Worthington Kilbourne High School boys swimming and diving team trained in preparation for the 2011-12 season, the number 3.55 never was far from his mind.

As senior diver Hunter Atha of the Worthington Kilbourne High School boys swimming and diving team trained in preparation for the 2011-12 season, the number 3.55 never was far from his mind.

That's the number of points that kept him from standing on the awards podium in the Division I state meet last season at Branin Natatorium in Canton. Atha finished ninth with 413.6 points, 3.55 points behind the eighth and final diver who reached the podium, Mason's Sean Sargent (417.15).

"Being so close last year has been pushing me to learn harder dives," said Atha, who signed his letter of intent to dive for the University of Wisconsin on Nov. 10. "Some of my friends (who compete only in club diving) say that the state meet is not that big of a deal, but I know I have one last year to shine."

Atha and senior Keeler Callahan, who placed 14th in the 200-yard freestyle in 1 minute, 43.13 seconds, are the only returning state qualifiers for the Wolves, who finished 33rd (12 points) at state, behind champion Cincinnati St. Xavier (312).

Coach Jim Callahan, who is in his 21st season leading the Wolves, said having that state meet experience not only will help Atha and his son, Keeler, but it will help the rest of the team this season.

"There's nothing better than having that experience," said coach Callahan, whose team opens in the Worthington/Dublin Invitational on Thursday, Dec. 1, and Friday, Dec. 2, at Thomas Worthington. "You can't put a value on that. For other kids on the team, it shows that if you work hard, you can accomplish big things."

In addition to Atha and Keeler Callahan, coach Callahan expects seniors Conor Lemmon and Lou Pfeifer, junior Mitchell Guist and sophomores Riku Kaida and Tanner Atha, all of whom are returnees, to be key contributors.

Last season, Kilbourne placed fourth in the OCC-Central Division meet with 133 points, behind Upper Arlington (388.5), Thomas (252) and Dublin Coffman (162.5) and ahead of Hilliard Darby (123), Hilliard Davidson (98) and Central Crossing (55).

The Wolves finished seventh (96) in the Worthington sectional meet behind champion New Albany (238) and ninth (97) at the district meet at Ohio State behind champion UA (432.5).

At district, the 400 free relay of Guist, sophomore Matt Lacey, Callahan and 2011 graduate Jake Wood placed ninth (3:22.7) and the 200 free relay of Lacey, senior Ryan Wiet, Callahan and Wood finished ninth (1:31.75). However, Lacey and Wiet did not return this season.

"We have to fill in those relay spots," coach Callahan said. "If we can have people step up there, it is going to be a real solid year for the boys team."

•The girls team is expected to be led by senior Lindsay Hoskins (diver), juniors Hannah Goldenberg, Maggie Wachtel, Emily Wallin and Katherine Watkins and sophomore Lindsey Fisher, all of whom are returnees.

"Our girls relays are going to be as strong or stronger than they have been in the past," coach Callahan said. "In the past, we had to pick or choose a little bit between making the 200 medley, the 200 free and the 400 free relays strong. This year, we should have three very solid relays."

The Wolves finished sixth (61) in the OCC-Central meet last season, behind UA (433), Thomas (252), Coffman (171), Davidson (159) and Central Crossing (72) and ahead of Darby (50). Kilbourne did not score in the Worthington sectional as Thomas (194) won but placed 20th (4) at district behind champion UA (505).

"They might not have had the biggest team last year, but I really liked the way they kept trying to focus on swimming faster the whole year long," coach Callahan said. "I think that paid off at the end of the year, having a real nice sectional and district meet for our team there."