The holiday break is a chance for most high school students to get away from the stress of classes and spend time with family and friends.
The respite has a different connotation for members of high school swimming and diving teams. That period is reserved for the hardest training sessions of the season and can make or break an athlete's chance for success in the postseason.
Jordan Aurnou-Rhees isn't concerned about all of the work she faces during the break. For the Columbus School for Girls sophomore, it's the most wonderful time of the year.
"A lot of swimmers don't look forward to it, but I do," Aurnou-Rhees said. "Everyone thinks that I'm weird for this, but I love the hardest part of the season.
"I love the hard work because by getting in and pushing yourself, you know that you are going to accomplish something great at the end of the season. So, putting in the hard work gets you ready for your goals and you get a feeling you can achieve them."
Aurnou-Rhees had a standout freshman season, placing third in the Division II state meet in the 100-yard butterfly (56.71 seconds) and fifth in the 200 individual medley (2:06.78). She also was on the winning 200 freestyle relay that set state, state-meet and program records with a time of 1:34.45 with 2017 graduates Miranda Donley and Maggie Wagenbrenner and junior Alicia Donley, who transferred to Pickerington North. The same four girls also were runners-up at state in the 400 free relay (3:28.99).
"Jordan has a year under her belt to get stronger as far as her weight training goes and she has been working on her (turns on the) walls," coach Stephanie Donley said. "She is an amazing kid who works unbelievably hard. She is talented, but work ethic has gotten her where she is at today."
Aurnou-Rhees competes pretty much year-round, but she looks forward to the camaraderie that comes from being part of a high school program.
"I take off two or three weeks after the high school state meet and then club picks up after that," she said. "One of great things about high school swimming is that everyone is so close-knit. You come to practice every day with your family. At club, we practice a lot and we're all friends, but (in high school,) it's a great environment and it's easier to push each other."
Aurnou-Rhees said she is a more confident competitor this season, which was evident in the Ned Reeb Invitational on Dec. 16 at Ohio State. She won the 100 fly in a meet-record 54.97 and was fourth in the 100 backstroke in a program-record 57.37. The meet serves as an early season central Ohio showcase.
"(Last season), I was going into my freshman year and was so excited for high school, but it was a whole new level of nerves that I had never (experienced) before," she said. "This year, I feel a lot more confident going into it, especially going into the bigger meets. I think it's going to be a lot of fun -- it was last year -- and the team is like one big family."
Aurnou-Rhees said coach Donley stresses not only hard work, but having fun at practice and meets.
"Coach has taught me a lot, and she is really influential and an inspiring person in general," said Aurnou-Rhees, whose team does not compete again until the Northeast Classic on Jan. 12 and 13 at Branin Natatorium in Canton. "One of the things that I have learned is to never waste a workout. Any workout can help you get to where you want to be and have fun with it. You can enjoy your success and reach your goals, but you have to have fun with it."
Aurnou-Rhees is looking to finish atop the state podium in an individual event and set more state and state-meet records.
"One of my main goals for this season is to get the state record in the 100 fly," Aurnou-Rhees said. "I have more of an upside coming and my training has gone to a whole new level."
The state-meet record for the 100 fly in Division II is 54.37 and the state record is 53.34.
"I also would like to possibly contend for state championship in (200) IM," Aurnou-Rhees said. "I want to stand on the top of the podium and see what it feels like."
Basketball team bulks up schedule
The basketball team is playing a beefed-up schedule that should pay dividends later in the season.
CSG is 2-5 overall after losing Fairbanks 35-16 on Dec. 14 and 0-2 in the CCL after losing to Watterson 67-24 on Dec. 9. The Unicorns' next game is Jan. 6 at home against Northridge.
"Overall, I love how the girls have embraced the tougher schedule," coach Isaac Klopfenstein said. "They understand that this is the next step in building CSG as a legitimate basketball program, and they are still trying to figure out exactly where this team fits into that process. They compete hard in practice and I'm hopeful that the progress we've made so far will show up in the second part of the season with some good wins."
Through six games, senior Brinley Zieg was averaging a team-high 11.5 points and 6.8 rebounds. Senior forward Imani Babatunde was averaging 7.9 points and a team-high 9.7 rebounds, and freshman point guard Eva Nicolosi led the team in assists per game (1.8) while averaging 5.7 points and 6.8 rebounds.