Libby Brown and Lily Rosenthal found a different scene this season with the Bexley High School girls swimming and diving team.
The seniors are in their fourth season with the program, but have seen the roster balloon from 28 boys and girls competitors last season to 72 this winter. Aside from the pool being a bit cramped during practice time, they also have found themselves being mentors or even surrogate coaches since the Lions have so many newcomers to the sport.
The lessons must be paying off, as the girls team finished second (220 points) in the MSL meet Jan. 27 behind host Columbus Academy (342). Last year, the Lions tied for third and scored only 151 points.
"I think the season is going really well," Rosenthal said. "One of our best achievements has been the MSL meet when we placed second out of 14 teams behind Academy. We weren't expecting to do that well, but we have a lot of swimmers, which works to our advantage, and I think we're going to continue that success."
At the beginning of the season, Brown wasn't sure where the Lions would be heading because she was helping to teach some of her teammates the basic strokes and other entry level fundamentals.
"I think that in the beginning of the year our biggest role was helping the coaches because we have so many swimmers and just two coaches," Brown said. "We were helping the new swimmers learn things like when to go behind the blocks, when to take your mark, what the whistles mean ... just the basic things like that. We were helping them learn the little things they need to know about competition."
Fourth-year coach Sandy Sliwowski said the two are not only standouts in the pool but ambassadors for the program.
"Libby and Lily bring a positive enthusiasm, and they have done a great job of recruiting for the team," Sliwowski said. "They know the culture we have started to build. They were freshmen
when I started so they know what we want, and they really have helped to get the younger kids started."
Brown competes in the 100-yard freestyle and finished fourth in the MSL meet in a personal-best 1 minute, 0.45 of a second. She also competes in the 50 free with a top time of 27.3 and in the 100 backstroke with a best of 1:09.0.
Rosenthal had her personal bests in the league meet in the 100 breaststroke (1:18.62) and 100 butterfly (1:16.2). She started swimming at age 4 and has never tired of the sport.
"I started with the Bexley Marlins in the summers," said Rosenthal, who also plays lacrosse. "(Swimming is) both a team and an individual sport. There are a lot of opportunities to get different experiences from it. Whether you want to be part of the team or just try to beat yourself or if you want to go far in the (postseason). After doing it so long, there are a lot of good memories attached to it and good times at the pool."
Brown moved to central Ohio from Nashville, Tennessee, when she was in the fourth grade and started swimming with the Greater Columbus Swim Team Ohio before high school.
"I love the competitive nature of (swimming) and how you can be competing against the other people in the pool or against your own time," said Brown, who also competes in the 400 meters and hurdles in track and field.
"I like being around my teammates and bringing the whole team together. It doesn't matter whether you have been swimming for 10-plus years or just started learning the four strokes. Being able to unite and be like a team has been one of our biggest roles."
The Lions compete in a Division II sectional meet Saturday, Feb. 10, at Academy. The winner of each event advances to district Feb. 16 at Ohio University, along with 27 at-large qualifiers in each event based on sectional times.
"I think in terms of our roles as leaders, we have had to bring the team together because we have such a wide variety of skill levels," Rosenthal said.
"I think that making a team dynamic is really important. Instead of labeling them as these are the good swimmers and these are the new swimmers, we have worked to keep everyone together. I think everyone is close and we have the team dynamic lifting us up."
Wrestling team defends MSL-Ohio title
The wrestling team got healthy at the right time and rallied to win the MSL-Ohio Division tournament Feb. 3 at Whitehall for its second consecutive league title.
The Bobcats trailed London by 12 points with four weight classes remaining, but Eliot Clark won at 182 pounds and Grant Robinson was champion at heavyweight. Brent Banks (220) was runner-up and Harry Keller (195) was fourth.
"This is the first time that we have had all 12 kids in our lineup and it just shows what we are capable of doing," coach Chris Bragg said. "I'm not sure many people thought we could do this, but we had an outstanding day."
The Lions finished with 195 points, followed by London (192.5), Whitehall (161), Grandview (133) and Academy (71).
Bexley has captured back-to-back MSL-Ohio titles after not winning a league championship since 1998. It lost to Williamsport Westfall 63-15 on Jan. 24 at Logan Elm in its opener of the Division II team dual tournament when it forfeited six weight classes because of injuries and illness.
"Since we don't have the numbers, a lot of people didn't have high hopes (for repeating as league champion)," Clark said. "This shows that we can still wrestle for each other and work together to get the job done."
Reece Wilson (170) also won a league title. Carter Brenner (113), Jake Brigdon (126) and Eammon Sears (138) also finished second, Anthony Sampson (145), Andres Perez (160) and Ryan Woyak (152) placed third and Chance Sidoti (120) was fourth.
"I don't think anyone really expected us to come back and do the same thing we did last year," Wilson said. "Getting everyone healthy really helped. We had like five kids come back today and they worked hard to get ready for this."
Girls team earns at least share of title
The girls basketball team clinched at least a share of its first league title since 2008 with a 49-40 win at London on Feb. 2.
The Lions improved to 8-1 in the MSL-Ohio before playing Worthington Christian on Saturday, Feb. 10, and would clinch the outright title with a victory. They defeated the Warriors 57-38 in the first meeting Jan. 5.
Second-place London is 6-2 in the league with games remaining against Grandview on Saturday, Feb. 10, and Academy on Feb. 15.
"We've had a (title) drought but we played well, especially defensively," said coach Joshua Price, whose team was 14-5 overall before playing Columbus South on Feb. 5. "Every girl stepped up for us and our bench probably played its best game of the year."
The Lions trailed 11-2 early but outscored London 20-12 in the second quarter to trail only 28-27 at halftime. Bexley increased its defensive pressure and limited the Red Raiders to 12 second-half points.
Maddy Vincent led the Lions with 23 points and Maddy Young added eight.
"We knew the game wasn't going to be won in the first quarter and it would come down to the fourth," Price said. "London is one heck of a basketball team and it will make a lot of noise in the (Division II district) tournament."
The district seeds were due Feb. 2 before the Lions beat London, so they're seeded fifth behind the top-seeded Red Raiders. After a first-round bye, Bexley opens at home Feb. 23 against 11th-seeded Lakewood.
Boys team delivers first loss to Academy
The boys basketball team handed Academy its first loss of the season, 50-35 on Feb. 2.
The Lions improved to 13-5 overall and 4-4 in the MSL-Ohio. The Vikings, who were ranked ninth in last week's Division III state poll, dropped to 15-1 overall and 6-1 in the league.
Shannon Stanley led Bexley with 19 points and Damian Davis added 15.
Munsell leads bowlers in MSL-Ohio tourney
Douglas Munsell led the boys bowling team in the MSL-Ohio tournament Feb. 3 at Wayne Webb's Columbus Bowl.
Munsell was fourth of 39 bowlers with a 618 series to earn first-team all-league honors, and the Lions were fourth (3,114) behind champion Whitehall (4,117).
John D'Alessandro (13th, 478) and Tyler Roberts (14th, 476) were honorable mention all-league.
Below are the coming schedules for the Bexley boys basketball, girls basketball, boys bowling and wrestling teams:
*Feb. 9 -- Home vs. London. The Lions defeated the Red Raiders 58-36 on Jan. 6.
Feb. 13 -- Home vs. Horizon Science
*Feb. 10 -- Home vs. Worthington Christian. The Lions defeated the Warriors 57-38 on Jan. 5.
Feb. 13 -- At Ready
Feb. 10 -- COHSBC tournament at Game of Western Columbus
Feb. 12 -- Columbus International at Sequoia Lanes
Feb. 9 -- Marion Pleasant and Sparta Highland at Mount Gilead