In hindsight, the Upper Arlington High School girls swimming and diving team's win in the 200-yard medley relay to start the finals in the Division I state meet Feb. 25 may have been a microcosm of what the Golden Bears pulled off later in the day.
The relay trailed by .07 of a second after the second leg, but Dakota Elliott put UA in the lead on the butterfly leg and freestyler Anna Linzell finished off the win in a state and state-meet record 1 minute, 41.88 seconds, sending the Bears on their way to a sweep of the relays and their third consecutive state championship.
With just seven swimmers and one diver at Branin Natatorium in Canton, UA got a win from Dakota Elliott in the 200 individual medley (2:00.57) and won the 200 free (1:34.51) and 400 free (3:24.93) relays to amass 246 points and edge runner-up Mason (230) as 53 teams scored.
Six days earlier, swimmeet.com had projected UA to finish second in the meet (212) behind Mason (272).
"We knew we could make up some of that (deficit)," coach Dan Peterkoski said. "I think I heard an old saying once that luck is just the product of preparation. You cannot get lucky if you don't have the work behind you to be in the mix in the first place. To do this year-in and year-out, it takes a little bit of luck, but it also takes a heck of a lot of hard work, time commitment and dedication and the willingness to get up there and go after it when the time comes."
Katie Trace placed second in both the 200 free (1:47.86) and 500 free (4:54.7) to Mason's Allison Bloebaum and was on the 200 free and 400 free relays.
Kendra Sheehan swam the backstroke to begin the medley relay, followed by Hannah Caldwell on breaststroke, Elliott and Linzell.
"We have a really strong butterfly leg with Dakota and I knew I'd be able to finish well with the 50 free," Linzell said. "If we were able to get close or tie it after (the second leg), we knew we'd be fine. After that, it was all-out sprints from Dakota and me."
Linzell placed eighth in the 50 free (23.81) and Sheehan was eighth in both the 100 back (57.33) and 100 free (51.72) to round out UA's championship-final performances.
By the time of the 400 free relay, the Bears had done well enough that they needed only finish in the top three to secure their 12th team title.
"That took a lot of pressure off of us and let us just swim our own races," Trace said. "It's definitely a challenge. Every single swimmer had a job to do. Every single swimmer had a final swim today, which isn't usually the case, but that helped us out considerably. I think it's harder to do this with a smaller team, but those standout swims helped our team out."
Also for UA, Caldwell finished ninth in the 100 breast (1:02.33) and Brooke Brown was 13th in the 50 free (24.2).
Ellie Winslow placed sixth (418.95 points) in diving Feb. 23. Five of the top-seven placers were from central Ohio, led by champion Maycey Vieta of Gahanna (455.45), and only 8.9 points separated third place from eighth.
"I wanted to have 11 consistent dives, and I am happy with how I did," said Winslow, a senior and Duke University recruit who was state runner-up as a junior. "The judges were not forgiving. I don't think I saw a single score over 8.0. My score was 140 points lower than what I did at district. It was tight. I feared it might come down to degree-of-difficulty, and it did. Mine wasn't as high as some of the other girls."
Neri leads boys to
fourth place at state
Parker Neri of the boys team fought back tears as he looked back on his final Division I state meet, in which he was runner-up in both the 200 free (1:35.23) and 500 free (4:25.1) and helped two relays to top-seven finishes. Both of those times are school records.
"There's always room to improve. My 500 wasn't great, but it's hard to say 4:25 is a bad swim," Neri said. "My last race (the 400 free relay) was the most enjoyable because it was a team thing. Everyone gets so hyped for me. I had emotions running. I was crying on the awards podium.
"My entire four years have been leading up to this. (It was a) great career."
Neri placed second in both individual races to Cincinnati St. Xavier's Grant House, who set state and state-meet records in both the 200 free (1:34.59) and 500 free (4:19.15). House, a 13-time state champion, is an Arizona State University recruit.
UA scored 114 points and finished fourth at state behind champion St. Xavier (434) as 53 teams scored. The Bombers won their eighth consecutive state title and 38th overall and became the first boys team to score more than 400 points in a state meet.
Bears coach Mike de Bear took some solace in the fact that UA was the top-scoring public school in the meet. Cleveland St. Ignatius finished second (173) and St. Charles was third (171).
"Our goal coming in was to be the top public school and finish in the top five," de Bear said. "We had a limited number of swims and not a ton of room to mess around with. Even one of our relays (the 200 medley relay) didn't score, so for us to do this, it's pretty remarkable for the seven guys up here and the 13 or 14 back home as well."
The 400 free relay of Alec Caswell, Andrew Kibbe, Neri and Tommy Weimer placed fifth (3:08.56) and the 200 free relay of Jack McHugh, Neri, Gavin Voss and Weimer was seventh (1:26.27).
In the 500 free, Caswell placed seventh (4:37.67) and Kibbe was ninth (4:35.17).
Also at state, Kibbe finished 10th in the 200 IM (1:54.01), Caswell was 19th in the 200 free (1:42.52) and the 200 medley relay of Caswell, Ted Dimitrov, Kibbe and Voss was 22nd (1:38.65).