Once Riley Huddleston of the Upper Arlington High School girls swimming and diving team qualified for the Division I state meet, she admitted her team's expectations were high.
"We expect (a) top five (finish) for our team," the freshman said after the district meet Feb. 15 at Ohio State. "We can do that."
Huddleston did her part, placing fourth in the 100-yard freestyle (50.76 seconds) and sixth in the 50 free (23.44) on Feb. 23 at Branin Natatorium in Canton as well as helping two relays place fifth as UA amassed 155.5 points and finished fifth behind champion Mason (204) as 55 teams scored.
The 200 free relay was fifth (1:35.65) with Caroline Colombo, Huddleston, Erin Reardon and Emma Schueler, as was the 200 medley relay (1:43.75) with Avery Catalano, Huddleston, Caroline Porterfield and Schueler.
None of UA's state qualifiers are seniors. Reardon is a junior, Colombo and Schueler are sophomores and Catalano, Huddleston and Porterfield are freshmen.
"Like any big meet, it was slightly a roller coaster," coach Dan Peterkoski said. "I underestimated our youth, I think. We came in here with three freshmen, two sophomores and a junior and maybe inexperience showed its face, but we had some huge swims. We spent the weekend getting girls to learn and ready to compete against older girls. It's a testament to how our girls performed. For the most part, they overcame those nerves."
UA moved up three spots from a year ago, when it finished eighth.
Peterkoski was particularly impressed with Huddleston, who was one of two freshmen in both of her finals and was coming off a district championship in the 50 free and district runner-up finish in the 100 free.
"She is going to be a force to be reckoned with," Peterkoski said. "Like everybody, she has a lot to learn. Riley was next to some big guns in her events, girls who have been here over and over again. It wasn't their first time standing there (on the podium). Just because you are capable of winning it doesn't always mean you will."
Divers Julia Fidanza and Holly Darling got the Bears off to a strong start when they finished third (445.3 points) and fourth (445.2), respectively, in their competition Feb. 21 behind champion Morgan Southall of Cincinnati West Clermont (479.55). Gahanna's Maycey Vieta was second (474.4).
"I personally don't like to watch the scoreboard during the meet because it takes me out of my focus a little bit, but it is funny that we finished so close to each other. We're definitely competitive with each other, but Julia is a great teammate," said Darling, a West Virginia recruit who said her front 2 1/2 in the third round was her best dive. "After that front 2 1/2, my coach (Ryan Wilson) said she'd never seen me jump so high. That one felt good."
Fidanza, who like Darling was in the top five for virtually the entire competition, called her inward 1 1/2 pike in the 10th round that earned her 46.8 points the highlight of the meet. She finished with a 42.9-point effort in a forward, 1 1/2-somersault, two-twist free.
"I did well on my back and my double twister, too, but the inward 1 1/2 got me a lot of seven (-point) scores that really helped me move up," Fidanza said.
The 400 free relay finished eighth (3:30.77) with Catalano, Colombo, Porterfield and Reardon.
Reardon placed 10th in the 500 free (5:04.61) and 13th in the 200 free (1:53.78), Porterfield tied for 13th in the 50 free (24.11) and was 16th in the 100 butterfly (57.76) and Catalano was 14th in the 100 breaststroke (1:05.53).
Voss leads boys team to 12th place
As the only sophomore in either of his championship finals, Avery Voss of the boys team finished seventh in the 50 free (20.88) and eighth in the 100 free (46.33) to lead UA to 61 points and 12th place at state behind 10-time defending champion Cincinnati St. Xavier (310) as 49 teams scored.
That was an improvement of 22 places from a year ago for the Bears, who had finalists in six events.
"My swims (in the preliminaries Feb. 22) set me up for this," Voss said. "(Feb. 23) was not my best day, but I couldn't be any happier than I am right now. I just held my time and if you do that, you have a great chance of moving up places. This means everything to me. It's made all the tough training pay off, all the time sacrifices, all the past work. It's all paid off and it shows in these kinds of races, the biggest stage I can think of."
Voss also was on the eighth-place 400 free relay (3:10.47) with Alec Caswell, Hayden Jay and Antonio Ventresca.
"Avery had his big swims (Feb. 22) and he faded a little bit (in the finals) and that's something we have to learn from," coach Mike de Bear said. "To be on the podium three times as a sophomore ... we have a lot to be excited about."
Jay placed 12th in the 200 free (1:42.75) and Caswell finished 16th in the 500 free (4:40.7). The two joined Jake Meyer and Antonio Ventresca on the 12th-place 200 free relay (1:26.1).
Also for the Bears, the 200 medley relay of Jackson Gooding, Luke Landis, Jake Meyer and Reed Ray was 20th (1:37.96). Landis, who replaced Voss on the relay, finished 17th in the 500 free (4:39.72) and Caswell tied for 21st in the 200 free (1:43.35).
"We hoped to sneak into the top 10, but this is a young team," de Bear said. "This is a grown man and a grown woman's event. There aren't a lot of freshmen or sophomores who come in here and perform at their absolute peak. There were many lessons learned. We got better."