The Columbus Academy swimming and diving program has established itself as a state power over the years.
Coming off a season in which the boys were fifth in the Division II state meet and the girls were ninth, both teams -- but especially the boys -- feature a new look this winter because of graduation losses.
"(The boys team is) going to be rebuilding a little bit," 15th-year coach Craig Yakscoe said. "We don't have those top-level state swimmers like we've had in the past."
A key returnee for the boys is senior James Cao (distance freestyle, backstroke). He was a member of the sixth-place 400-yard freestyle relay (3 minutes, 17.07 seconds) last season at state.
Other key returnees are seniors Ezra Johnson (50 free, 100 free) and Umar Rehan (breaststroke, 50 free), junior Rowan Hennessey (back, 100 free) and sophomores Andrew Barren (200 free), Charlie Belford (200 free), Cyrus Hannallah (200 individual medley, breast), Peter Heermann (free), Max Popp (free) and Cyrus Richardson (distance, IM).
Yakscoe also expects freshmen Luke Boltz (free) and Gavin Lewis (sprints, 200, 500) to contribute.
"The boys are going to be young," Yakscoe said. "I have one experienced senior, James Cao. Ezra has experience and is pretty solid, but he's a high school only swimmer. He will contribute and they will be solid leaders for us. We don't have a lot of beyond-sectional experience in this group. James will be a district qualifier and we're hoping to get him to the state meet individually. He can do it."
Cao is embracing his leadership responsibilities.
"It's going to be difficult this year, but I'm looking forward to it," he said. "We've built up a reputation of a school that can possibly make it to state and this year that may or may not happen. We're not sure."
A key loss to graduation was Jacob Eismann, who finished third in the 100 back (49.96) and swam on the second-place 200 free relay (1:26.28) at state last season. He is now swimming at the University of Kentucky.
The girls team returns five swimmers who competed at state last season.
Sophomores Alexandra Butnariu (distance free, butterfly) and Lauren Klinefelter (IM, fly, back) were members of the seventh-place 400 free relay (3:17.17), Klinefelter and senior Annalise Grammel (IM, breast) were on the 11th-place 200 free relay (1:40.03), seniors Whitney Hannallah (IM, breast) and Abby Yakam (breast, IM) were on 15th-place 200 medley relay (1:51.68) and Klinefelter was 18th in the 100 fly (58.21).
"I'm really excited," Grammel said. "I'm looking forward to the season. We have a lot of great people coming in and we're ready to work hard and get things done."
Other key returnees are seniors Riley Hennessey (back, 50 free), Rachel Raque (breast, IM) and Taylor Warren (back, 100 free) and sophomores Mckenna Chow (free, back), Julia DeVore (distance free, IM), Ella Morris (free), Mary Kate Prall (free, back) and Emma Yakam (IM, free, breast).
"The girls look pretty strong," Yakscoe said. "We lost some solid ones from last year, but the young ones that are coming up are going to be a strong group."
Academy also has enjoyed success in diving at state, with Jordan Skilken finishing third (472.4) last season, but there are no divers in the program this season. A four-time state-qualifier, Skillen is diving at Texas.
Both teams are looking to repeat as MSL champions.
Wrestling team lacks depth
Wrestling coach Paul Bukky said his team lacks depth but has athletes who can excel in the postseason.
"We're lacking numbers," said Bukky, who is in his 14th season. "I want kids who will commit to more than one sport. I want kids to do other things and not give their life to just one sport."
The Vikings should be led by sophomore Gyvnn Mendenhall, who went 2-2 at 195 pounds in the Division III district tournament last season to finish 23-6.
"Gyvnn should have a great year," Bukky said. "He's tough."
Mendenhall is looking to build on his strong freshman season.
"I think I can make it a little bit further," he said. "My goal is to make it to state, so I'm going to work hard to try to make it there."
Junior Chris Sugar (152) was 1-2 at 132 at district to finish 30-8. Junior Ethan Stall went 0-2 at 182 to finish 21-11, and junior Keir Gorospe (138) went 0-2 at 126 to finish 24-14.
"This team has a lot of potential," Gorospe said. "We have a lot of new guys, but they're picking up things really quickly. I'm liking what we're seeing this year. ... We always have low numbers here, but if you work harder than everybody, you can still win some good matches. We're disappointed to have low numbers, but you can't avoid injuries, so you just have to work and see what you can do."
Also back are sophomores Chase Chavarria (220) and Zara Syed (113). Other wrestlers are juniors Will Duncan (152) and Max Nanda (126) and freshmen Tiko Bdoyan (132) and Zech Kim (152).
Senior Sam Lichten (220) is expected to miss the season with a back injury.
Ratliff earns national title
Following her first state singles title in October, junior Sydni Ratliff has added a national championship to her resume.
Ratliff won the United States Tennis Association national girls 18-and-under indoor singles championship, which was held Nov. 29-Dec. 2 in Indianapolis.
Ratliff, who was unseeded, won all six of her matches. She defeated seventh-seeded Julia Fliegner of Clarkston, Michigan, 7-5, 4-6, 7-5 in the final.
"I am very excited for Sydni's accomplishment of winning the indoor championship," Academy assistant girls coach Marc Wurtzman said. "Sydni has been working extremely hard on the practice court. The hard work and focus are really showing in her most recent tournament play. Sydni has been playing with a lot of variety in her matches and competing like a champion."
After losing in the Division II state final the previous two seasons, Ratliff defeated Gates Mills Gilmour Academy's Carly Cohen 6-4, 7-5 on Oct. 19 at Lindner Family Tennis Center in Mason to win the Vikings' first state title in singles.
Below are the coming schedules for the Columbus Academy boys basketball, girls basketball, hockey, swimming & diving and wrestling teams:
*Dec. 13 -- At Bexley
*Dec. 14 -- At Whitehall
*Dec. 14 -- Springboro at Chiller Easton
SWIMMING & DIVING
Dec. 13-14 -- Ned Reeb Memorial Invitational at Ohio State
Dec. 13 -- Home vs. Big Walnut and Cristo Rey