Eric Huffman of the Upper Arlington High School boys swimming and diving team draws attention wherever he goes.

Eric Huffman of the Upper Arlington High School boys swimming and diving team draws attention wherever he goes.

In the state meet last year, he won the 50-yard freestyle (20.77 seconds) and 100 free (45.23), and now he has become a target in competition.

"We'll hear side conversations sometimes," teammate Zach Kelch said. "He left to get water and they saw him and they were like, 'Oh, crap.'"

Kelch is on the 400 free relay with Huffman, Tommy Dickhaut and John Lowery. In the Big Eight Invitational on Dec. 19 in Canton, that relay finished third (3:14.55) behind Cincinnati St. Xavier (3:11.39) and Hunting Valley University School (3:11.46).

It was important for the Bears to compete well during December. They spent the month testing themselves against in big meets in Canton and at Ohio State.

The 400 relay, which was ninth in the state meet last year in 3:10.66, appears to be in solid position to make a better postseason run with its third-place finish at the Big Eight. As individuals, Huffman and Kelch -- who was sixth in the 500 free (4:34.73) and 13th in the 200 free (1:43.87) at state last year -- appear to be on pace to push for state titles.

Huffman won the 50 free and 100 free in the Ned Reeb and Big Eight. After Huffman won those two events in the Big Eight, coach Jeff Stewart put him on the 400 free relay, something he didn't do for the Ned Reeb. He was on last year's 400 free relay at state.

In the Ned Reeb, Huffman won the 50 free in 21.07 and the 100 free in 46.06. In the Big Eight, he won the 50 free in 21.48 and the 100 free in 46.71.

The Bears scored 221 points to finish third in the Ned Reeb behind Hunting Valley University School (278) and St. Charles (241). They were fifth (280) in the Big Eight behind champion St. Xavier (416).

"So far (the season is) going great," Huffman said.

"It seems like we're more of a team, and I personally feel like I'm better. I've stepped up my training which has helped the last part of my race."

Huffman had to come from behind to defeat University School's Tyler Bailey by a little more than 0.1 seconds in the Big Eight.

But Huffman won't see Bailey at the state meet as University School is in Division II. For Kelch, who was fifth (4:45.4) to champion Alex Miller (4:37.21) of St. Xavier in the 500 free at the Big Eight, that means not having to face a pair of University School swimmers who finished ahead of him there also. One of those swimmers, Ian Stewart-Bates, who was third in the 500 free (4:38.69) at the Big Eight, is the lone returning swimmer who finished ahead of Kelch in the 500 free at last year's state meet.

"Some of our top competitors are in Division II now," Stewart said. "St. Charles will have to work hard to keep up there. They still have depth in numbers and St. Xavier looks to be strong."

In Division I, St. Xavier, Centerville and St. Charles have finished better than Upper Arlington this season. St. Xavier won the Big Eight ahead of third-place Centerville and fourth-place St. Charles (302). St. Charles also edged UA at the Ned Reeb on Dec. 13, scoring 241 points to finish third as UA was fourth (221).

At a glance

Below are the recent results and coming schedules for the Upper Arlington boys and girls swimming and diving teams:

Dec. 5 -- Boys: Defeated Solon 159.5-152.5, lost to Hunting Valley University School 191-114; Girls: Tied Gates Mills Hawken at 157, def. Solon 191-124.

Dec. 7 -- Boys: Finished fourth (96.5) behind champion Cuyahoga Falls Walsh Jesuit (120) in Solon Relays

Dec. 13 -- Boys: Finished third (221) behind champion University School (278) in Ned Reeb Invitational; Girls: Finished first (571) ahead of runner-up Solon (194)

Dec. 19 -- Boys: Finished fifth (280) behind champion Cincinnati St. Xavier (416) at Big Eight Invitational in Canton; Girls: Finished first (441) ahead of runner-up Centerville (337)

Dec. 20 -- Competed at Canton Christmas Invitational. Team scores not kept.

Jan. 9 -- At St. Charles vs. Watterson and St. Charles