Even though longtime Thomas Worthington and Worthington Kilbourne swimming and diving coach Jim Callahan stepped down after last season, a familiar face is still leading the two programs.

Keeler Callahan, a former Kilbourne and Ohio State swimmer and Jim's son, took over for his father July 12 after spending three years as an assistant coach at St. Charles.

While he originally wanted to spend at least four years with St. Charles to see at least one class progress from freshmen to seniors, when the Worthington position became available, he couldn't pass it up.

"The opportunity came up and the last time it was open was 36 years ago," said Callahan, a 2012 Kilbourne graduate. "These positions don't come around often."

His father led Thomas for 36 years and Kilbourne for 26. Now he gets to lead the teams he grew up around.

"This program has been a part of my life for my whole life," Callahan said. "Finally going in, being in the program in high school was always really cool and finally coming back and leading the program, in one sense it's kind of surreal thinking I'm finally in this position, but at the same time, it's a position I've always seen myself in. It's been a goal of mine to be here. So even though I've seen myself here, it's weird that I'm finally here and that I'm finally at the helm of the ship."

As a first-time head coach, Callahan not only has the challenge of leading a combined program that features more than 50 athletes, but he's in charge of two teams that normally would be rivals. He sees it as an advantage, though, believing it creates spirited competition that drives athletes to improve.

He saw the arrangement work for his father, and he intends to utilize that dynamic to help the Cardinals and Wolves grow.

"While I was swimming here, if it was just Killbourne training by ourselves, I wouldn't have as many people to race," he said. "But Thomas had a bunch of guys that were right around our level, and we pushed each other to the top. And I see the same stuff with these kids -- I see top Kilbourne kids racing top Thomas kids -- and you don't get that anywhere else in the state.

"It really does feel like one team. Especially in practice when we're working together, each of the kids are pushing each other; it doesn't matter what school. When we're practicing, it feels like one program."

Callahan earned his first wins Dec. 3 when the Kilbourne boys defeated Marys-ville 69-63 and the Kilbourne girls beat the Monarchs 86-51.

The ultimate goal is to get the boys and girls teams from Thomas and Kilbourne into the top 10 of the Division I district meet.

"The team does a great job of pushing each other. I think they work well together from top to bottom," Callahan said. "You can see it from seniors to freshmen, captains to followers, they work really well together."

While the Cardinals and Wolves both had their opening meets last week and still are adjusting to Callahan, swimmers such as Thomas senior Derek Taylor said the athletes are responding well.

"We're kind of still getting used to it. It's just different," Taylor said. "But Jim did a great job, obviously, and Keeler has been doing a great job."

Kilbourne girls relay seeks return to state

Callahan said he posed two challenges to all of his athletes when they began the season: "mindful swimming and consistency."

He believes these two factors will not only help his athletes continue to improve, but help Kilbourne's girls 200-yard freestyle relay get back to the state meet.

Junior Lauren Richner, sophomores Evie DeCarlo and Nanami Campbell and 2019 graduate Haley Banner competed on the relay, which finished eighth at state in a school-record 1 minute, 37.83 seconds.

Richner and Banner also competed in the 50 free, with Richner placing 12th (school-record 24.09) and Banner placing 19th (24.23).

The key for the relay is replacing Banner.

"That's a big replacement for the relay team," Callahan said. "She was a big part of that relay."

Callahan said he hasn't selected the replacement yet, but candidates include seniors Ellie Ishida and Melanie Fisher and freshman Paige Delma.

"That fourth spot is really open right now," Callahan said. "There's a handful of girls it could be."

On the boys side, Callahan said he expects to see big things from senior Mitchell Fisher.

Kilbourne features 23 swimmers and five divers, including eight freshmen and six sophomores. Callahan expects contributions from freshmen Nathan Ambler, Christopher Richner and Phoebe Saunders.

Thomas teams brimming with youth

Of Thomas' 35 swimmers and two divers, 15 swimmers and both divers are freshmen.

That presents an interesting dynamic as a few freshmen, specifically Sloane Antonetz and Matt Fralic, are helping to lead the way.

"It's not often you have freshmen in any program come in and lead their lanes, and we've got two of them, which is cool," Callahan said.

He said he expects freshmen Blake Ament, Zach Barnes, Katie Browning and Charlotte Helm also to be key contributors.

Other top competitors should be Taylor, seniors Audrey Taylor and Sam Steele and juniors Katie Bozoti, Maia Lin, Grant Simeone and Eli Short.

"We feel good," said Derek Taylor, who competes in the 200 free and 500 free and on relays. "We have a lot of new fast freshmen and our senior class, though it might not be big, is pretty quick. Hopefully we can take a couple of relays to the state meet and hopefully place pretty well there."