Miranda Donley loves the limelight.
The senior for the Columbus School for Girls swimming and diving team makes the most of her chances when she's competing in a big meet.
Whether it's the CCL meet, the Division II district meet or the state meet, the Pickerington resident has made her mark. Now she's ready for one final stretch in her high-school career before heading to compete at North Carolina State University.
"I work very well in high-pressure situations," Donley said. "Smaller meets are harder to get up for, but big meets are different. I love the competition. I love to be pushed."
Donley has pushed herself to become a standout not only for the Unicorns, but also in the state.
She holds the program records in the 50-yard freestyle (22.62 seconds), 100 free (49.82) and 100 butterfly (54.64), and her time in the 100 fly is in the process of being certified for an all-division state record.
Donley has made three trips to the state meet at Branin Natatorium in Canton and is the two-time defending state champion in the 50 free. She also helped the 200 free relay win state titles the past two seasons and was on the state champion 400 free relay as a sophomore.
On July 2, Donley competed in the U.S. Olympic Trials in Omaha, Nebraska, in the 50-meter free (26.54) but did not qualify for the Summer Games held last August in Rio de Janeiro.
"That was an amazing experience and that was the best pool I have ever swam in," she said. "A good pool is really cold ... the colder the better. There is such a rush of energy you get when you hit the pool. It's so much fun."
Donley isn't the first person in her family to thrive in the sport. Her mother, Stephanie, who coaches the Unicorns, knows what it takes to be a high-level swimmer. A 1987 Pickerington graduate, she placed sixth in the 100 breaststroke in the 1984 U.S. Olympic Trials before becoming an All-American during her career at the University of Florida from 1988-91. She was inducted into the Gators' Athletic Hall of Fame in 2015.
"We have the same drive and the desire to win, and also the wanting to do well for our team," said coach Donley, whose maiden name is Zunich. "Miranda is very strong and athletic. I'm taller, but not quite as strong.
"I don't like to compare us because Miranda is her own person. ... I didn't tell her much because I didn't want her to have to live up to anything other than herself. I think she has settled into her own identity."
Donley chose to attend North Carolina State because of its national prominence in her expected major: animal science.
"I just love animals," she said. "We have some chickens and I have a bunny named Bingo, who lives in my room. I love that bunny. My dad (Mike) said that if I won at state, I could have one. After my sophomore year at state, we got Bingo."
For as much success as Donley has had in swimming, the sport has taken a toll on her. Over the years, she has had biceps and hamstring injuries and even underwent knee surgery as an eighth-grader.
"I woke up and couldn't bend my (right) leg," she said. "It came out of nowhere and was so painful. I still have to ice (my knee) after every practice. I have had a lot of nagging injuries, but I take them one at a time. You get used to things."
The injuries have resulted from the countless hours of practice that Donley has dedicated to the sport.
"Miranda has had a lot of obstacles," coach Donley said.
"She has had shoulder problems, knee surgery and pulled hamstrings. She has been doing physical therapy to get better for the postseason."
Donley and her teammates competed in the CCL meet on Jan. 28. The host Unicorns won their fourth consecutive league title, scoring 404 points to finish ahead of Watterson (310), DeSales (144), Hartley (135) and Ready (16).
Donley won the 50-yard free (24.05) and 100 free (53.55) and was on two winning relays.
She teamed with Anna Ray Ziegler, Alicia Donley and Jordan Aurnou-Rhees on the first-place 200 medley relay (1:51.43) and joined Alicia Donley, Emily Dewolf and Natalie Merryman on the champion 200 free relay (1:43.83).
Alicia Donley, a sophomore, is Miranda's sister.
Aurnou-Rhees also won the 200 individual medley (2:11.53) and 100 fly (meet-record 57.99), and Margeaux Rocco was the champion in diving (362.05 points).
"I've been in club swimming forever, but high school is where my family is," Miranda Donley said. "They're all like sisters to me."
However, her time with the Unicorns is limited, as the postseason begins Feb. 11 with the home Division II sectional meet. The postseason journey ends two weeks later with the state meet Feb. 22-24.
"It's going to be sad because I love high school so much," Donley said. "When you stand up there on the podium (at state), it's so rewarding, especially because of all the work you put in to get there. That's why Olympians cry (on the podium).
"I might cry this time because of it being the last time and because of all the hard work. It's just fun. It's why I love swimming so much."
Basketball team looks
to get back on track
The basketball team has lost three of its last four contests and is 8-8 overall heading into a game Thursday, Feb. 2, at Shekinah Christian.
The Unicorns finished 0-4 in the CCL after losing to Hartley 83-31 on Jan. 21. Brinley Zieg had 10 points and Imani Babatunde scored nine.
Babatunde led CSG with 19 points and Zieg scored 11 in a 46-38 win over New Hope Christian on Jan. 23.