Big Walnut swimming and diving coach Becky Brigham sees strength in numbers.
The Golden Eagles have 43 swimmers and 10 divers this season, representing the highest total of participants in program history.
"We have more experience on the team than previous years and our athletes are embracing the more challenging events," said Brigham, who is in her fifth season guiding the program. "We are gearing up for our best season yet."
Big Walnut got out to a strong start Dec. 7 in the Northridge Viking Splash Invitational at Kenyon College, as the boys team finished second (282.5 points) of 12 teams behind champion Watkins Memorial (339) and the girls were fourth (231) of 14 teams behind the first-place Warriors (379).
The boys and girls teams combined for a third-place finish (495.5) behind champion Watkins Memorial (718).
With a larger roster, Brig-ham is eager to see what that means for the postseason in February.
"Our girls team went from 11 girls last (season) to 21 this (season), and our boys team stayed roughly the same with more competitive swimmers in the water," Brigham said.
The boys team returns three Division I district qualifiers in juniors Braden Buckler and Charlie Jaeger and sophomore Nathan Wion. The trio teamed with Gabe Charles to finish 27th in the 400-yard freestyle relay (3 minutes, 44.29 seconds) at district a year ago. Charles, who also competed at district in the 500 free and 100 butterfly last year as a freshman, did not return this season.
The girls team returns both of its district competitors last season in junior Mackenna Ames and sophomore Eva Lane, who finished 21st (137.75) and 23rd (133.55), respectively, in diving.
Leading the girls squad at the Viking Splash Invitational with second-place finishes were sophomore Samantha Blackburn in the 100 fly (1:14.42), junior Jordan May in the 100 breaststroke (1:20.2) and the 200 medley relay of May, Blackburn, sophomore Taylor Wilson and freshman Karlina Murnieks (2:14.56).
The 400 free relay of Blackburn, Murnieks, May and Lane finished third (4:30.78).
Placing third for the boys team in the Viking Splash Invitational were Buckler in the 100 fly (1:05.92), Wion in the 200 free (2:05.24) and 500 free (5:48.49) and the 200 medley relay of senior Camden Andrian, Jaeger, Buckler and sophomore Roy Roberto (1:57.11).
"There is much more competition for the top relay spots, the team is aware and you can see the focus in during practice," Brigham said. "If you ask me who the relays will be at the end of the season at (the OCC-Capital Division meet), I'd have to say I don't know."
Other returnees include senior John Grumney (50 free) and sophomores Bryan Vance (diving), Jameson Welker (diving) and Shane White (diving) for the boys team and senior Grady Hemingway (50 free, 100 breast) and junior Eliana Smith (diving) for the girls squad.
Gymnastics team has five athletes
The gymnastics team consists of five athletes, all of whom are returnees for third-year coach Kaiden Wilson.
"They're a tight-knit team and all familiar with each other," Wilson said of seniors Ekaterina Brammer and Kelsey Ewing, junior Sydney Cornwell and sophomores Kayla Farley and Angelina McConnell.
Big Walnut is seeking to improve on last season, when it finished last in the five-team OCC-Buckeye and 19th of 24 teams in the district meet.
"I think we're going to get stronger as their skills improve," Wilson said.
In its opening meet Dec. 6 against Olentangy, Big Walnut earned its highest marks on vault and balance beam.
Brammer had the team's top score in the all-around score (27.7), beam (7.45) and floor exercise (7.35), Farley had the team's top score on vault (7.5) and its second-best score in the all-around (27.05) and McConnell had the team's top score on uneven bars (6.2).
Big Walnut competed against Olentangy Berlin and DeSales on Dec. 14.
Below are the coming schedules for the Big Walnut boys basketball, girls basketball, bowling, gymnastics, swimming & diving and wrestling teams:
*Dec. 20 -- At Newark
Dec. 21 -- Home vs. Marion Harding
*Dec. 20 -- Home vs. Newark
Dec. 21 -- Home vs. Marion Harding
Dec. 17 -- Grandview at Capri Lanes
*Dec. 18 -- New Albany at Gahanna Lanes
*Dec. 19 -- Olentangy Liberty at Capri Lanes
Dec. 20 -- Olentangy Liberty, Olentangy Orange, Olentangy and Westerville Central at Worthington Youth Boosters
SWIMMING & DIVING
Dec. 20 -- Columbus School for Girls Invitational (diving only)
Dec. 21 -- Olentangy Berlin duals