The Thomas Worthington High School girls swimming and diving team won four events in the Division I district meet Feb. 16 at Ohio State, and Kaylee Witkiewicz had a hand in three.
The sophomore won the 50-yard freestyle in 23.56 seconds and won the 100 backstroke in 55.65, setting program records in both.
The top two placers in each swimming event at district automatically advanced to the state meet Thursday, Feb. 21, through Saturday, Feb. 23, at Branin Natatorium in Canton. In addition, 16 at-large state berths were awarded for each swimming event based on times statewide. The top three boys divers and the top four girls divers also advanced to state.
Last season at state, Witkiewicz finished eighth in the 100 back (56.53) and tied for 20th in the 50 free (24.64). She is seeded third in both events this year.
"My goal is to win them both and I believe I can," Witkiewicz said. "I've swum against the two girls seeded above me in the 100 back (Springboro's Hannah Whiteley and Marianne Kahmann) when I was with USA Swimming (in junior high)."
"Kaylee worked so hard in the offseason and it's really paying off," said Jim Callahan, who coaches the Thomas and Kilbourne boys and girls teams. "She has great turns. Her under-water kick coming off the wall is amazing. She goes seven-to-10 yards away from the wall and her legs are always kicking. When she comes up (to the surface), she usually has the lead and she doesn't give it up. She's just got a fantastic competitive spirit."
Witkiewicz teamed with Maren Reeder, Julia Valentine and Abby Jank to win the 200 medley relay in a program-record 1:45.06, swimming the first leg. The relay is seeded first at state.
"Our medley relay worked so hard all year and to be seeded first by over a second is incredible," Witkiewicz said. "We are so excited and we know we can win that if we all go out and swim our best."
Witkiewicz also was on the 400 freestyle relay that placed second (3:35.87), swimming anchor behind Rina Laios, Abby Wiet and Reeder.
"That was important for us to finish second there because the top two were automatic state qualifiers," Callahan said. "We were fourth when Kaylee began her 100 and she really brought it with a 50.5 split, which is pretty remarkable."
Also winning an event for the Cardinals was Valentine, who finished first in the 100 breaststroke (1:05.81), edging runner-up Reeder (1:05.87).
"I am so thrilled for all the Thomas girls because they put everything together," said Callahan, who was named girls district Coach of the Year. "Six of the seven girls going to state were there last season, so I'm hoping that experience will help them. I think they were so thrilled last year (that) they didn't realize the final step is the competition, not just being happy to get there."
The Cardinals scored 250 points at district to place finished behind Upper Arlington (491) as 24 teams scored.
The Kilbourne girls team will be represented at state by Rachel Rubadue, who placed fourth in diving with 489.60 points.
Jackie Wachtel just missed qualifying in the 100 breast, placing eighth (1:07.47), and finished 12th in the 100 butterfly (59.99).
"I was very pleased with Kilbourne, too, especially Jackie," Callahan said. "She swam personal-bests and needed a 1:07 to qualify for state. She also finally broke a minute in the 100 fly."
The Wolves scored 42 points to finish 17th.
Harper leads way for Thomas boys
The Thomas boys team will compete in four events at state and senior Trenton Harper will be involved in all of them.
Harper won the 100 breast (57.21) and placed third in the 200 individual medley (1:54.64) at district. He broke his own program record in the 100 breast.
Harper, who placed 21st in the 100 breast (1:00) at state last season, also swam the first leg of the 200 medley and 200 free relays. The medley relay, which included Matt Reed, Mason Zurovchak and Aaron Teufel, placed fourth in 1:38.07, and the 400 free relay, which included Cameron Harper, Teufel and Zurovchak, was sixth (1:29.5).
"Ideally, the goal is to win the 100 breast and 200 IM, but realistically, I'd just be very happy to get on the podium in each," Harper said. "We also want to make the finals in both relays. I'm so happy with how well we did. It was just a great day for us overall."
Harper is seeded fourth at state in the 100 breast and ninth in the 200 IM. The medley relay is seeded 20th and the 400 free relay is 23rd.
"Trenton emerged on the big-time stage last year by winning the breast (at district) and it surprised some people," Callahan said.
"For him to come back and repeat it was great. He wasn't the top seed at district, but he just went out there and took charge. It was a great performance."
The Cardinals finished sixth (130) at district behind champion Upper Arlington (380) as 24 teams scored.
The Kilbourne boys did not have any state qualifiers.
Tanner Atha placed sixth in diving (378.25) and the 200 medley relay of Riku Kaida, Justin Jiang, Nick Ramos and Mitchell Guist had the Wolves' top finish in the swimming events, placing ninth (1:41.07).
Kaida placed 13th in the 100 back in a program-record 55.41.
The Wolves scored 61 points to finish 15th.
"I was pleased with the times on the Kilbourne side, too," Callahan said.
"The two schools combined, both girls and boys, had 46 swims and 42 of those were career-bests. I can't tell you how proud I am of everyone in the Worthington programs right now."