Swimming & Diving: St. Charles Cardinals anticipating record-breaking season

Scott Hennen
ThisWeek group
The St. Charles swimming and diving team has high expectations because of competitors such as junior Spencer Aurnou-Rhees, who finished fifth in the 200 individual medley and tied for 12th in the 500 freestyle during last season's Division I state meet.

The St. Charles swimming and diving team had its season delayed because of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, so 12th-year coach Geoff Gear tried to make things interesting.

Instead of just practicing, the Cardinals competed in a series of intrasquad meets to reduce the monotony of swimming lap after lap.

Senior Mitchell List said the friendly showdowns were successful and surprisingly competitive. They also gave the Cardinals an indication of what might lie ahead. 

St. Charles was scheduled to open in the Jim Stacy Invitational on Dec. 19 at SPIRE Institute in Geneva. 

“We had a lot of improvement over the offseason,” said List, who set a program and pool record of 56.23 seconds in the 100-yard breaststroke during an intrasquad meet Dec. 5. “We set a team goal to break as many records as we can, whether meet, pool or team records, and we got a start on that.

“If we have a state meet this season, we want to continue to improve and be at our best. This year, we believe we have the talent to finish in the top three at state.”

Last season, the Cardinals finished 10th (78) in the Division I state meet behind champion Cincinnati St. Xavier (310).

List reached the state podium with senior Chase Bateman (Iona recruit) and 2020 graduates Thomas Lennox and Alex Nash on the seventh-place 200 medley relay (1:33.99).

Junior Spencer Aurnou-Rhees finished fifth in the 200 individual medley (1:49.94) and tied for 12th in the 500 freestyle (4:39.25).

“It's definitely going to be a different season (because of the pandemic),” Aurnou-Rhees said. “We didn’t have water polo (which was moved from fall to spring), so we’ve been champing at the bit to get out there.”

Aurnou-Rhees also was on a pair of relays that reached the state consolation finals. He joined senior Lukas Rakowsky, Nash and Bateman on the ninth-place 200 free relay (1:26.18) and Bateman, junior Ben Stevenson and Nash on the 12th-place 400 free relay (3:09.85).

Senior Will Elsrod finished 13th in the 100 breast (57.75) and 17th in the 200 IM (1:55.03), Stevenson was 22nd in the 200 free (1:44.1) and Bateman was 24th in the 100 free (48.04).

“(Gear) has stressed that we need to take advantage of every opportunity that we have in the pool,” said List, a Johns Hopkins recruit. “We’ve had more of an emphasis on speed right now and we’ve been going at a higher intensity than we ever had before at this time of year.

“We have as much talent as we’ve ever had. So if we can get off the blocks and have clean turns, I think we can have at least 10 swimmers score at state.”

The Cardinals are working to finalize meets in early January.

“So far, we’ve been resilient in these uncertain times,” Aurnou-Rhees said. “We have pretty high expectations.”

Optimistic Unicorns

loaded with talent

Columbus School for Girls has numerous performers with Division II state experience led by senior Nyah Funderburke, who won the 100 backstroke (54.49) and 100 butterfly (54.68) last season.

The Ohio State signee also won a state title in the 50 free (23.46) as a sophomore and was on a pair of all-state relays a year ago as the Unicorns finished third (165) behind Gates Mills Hawken (399) and Shaker Heights Hathaway Brown (217).

Funderburke joined 2020 graduate Jordan Aurnou-Rhees — now swimming at Tennessee — senior Ava Fortney and sophomore Olivia Morse on the runner-up 200 medley relay (program-record 1:44.52) and Aurnou-Rhees, Morse and 2020 graduate Cosette Persall on the third-place 200 free relay (1:36.99).

Morse, Persall, junior Riley Murphy and Fortney placed sixth in the 400 free relay (3:39.63).

“We lost two great swimmers in Jordan and Cosette, but we might have the deepest team that we’ve ever had,” third-year coach Brian Botzman said. “We have a lot of talented girls back.

“We expect special things from Nyah. You have athletes who are always good and then they become laser-focused as seniors. I can’t wait to see what she can do in that environment. It should be a pretty amazing opportunity for her on that final stage.”

Senior Lauren Dittrick and junior Julianne Aslaner will compete in distance events, and junior Anja Fleege competes in middle distance.

Junior Emma Spangler (100 breast), junior Natasha Spivak (100 breast, 200 IM) and sophomore Gabrielle Yuan (100 back, 100 fly, sprints) also are back.

“The girls have looked rock solid,” said Botzman, whose program has won seven consecutive district and league championships. “We’ve had to get creative because we had to stop training for a while because of COVID. We were doing virtual workouts on Zoom with our dryland workouts. Some kids were able to swim with their club teams during that time.”

Botzman said freshman Allie Gunsorek is versatile enough to compete in any event, and he also expects freshmen Evelyn Schindler (sprints) and Bethany Spangler (long sprints) to contribute.

Divers include seniors Sydney Anderson, Kayla Badyna-Carpenter and Olivia Barry-Wilson, sophomore Kelsey Anderson and freshmen Elliana Cain and Mackenzie Gibson.

CSG is scheduled to compete Jan. 9 against visiting Pickerington North.

Senior Arianna Martin is among the top returnees for Bexley and seventh-year coach Sandy Sliwowski.

Lions driven by

love of the sport

Bexley has been forced to scramble for pool time because of pandemic-related closures.

When practices have been permitted by the school district, the Lions have been working out at 5:30 a.m. at Columbus Academy on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Tuesday and Thursday practices are at St. Charles.

Seventh-year coach Sandy Sliwowski said she has been surprised by the resilience of her athletes.

“(The 5:30 a.m. practices) weeded out the kids who really didn’t want to come out for the team,” she said. “The kids we have really want to be here and it shows. Last year we had 25 boys and 23 girls, but we have around 35 total this season.”

The girls team is led by Ally Grieshop, who just missed qualifying for state after finishing sixth in the 500 free (5:26.08) and eighth in the 200 free (2:00.91) at district.

The senior also joined senior Arianna Martin (50 free, 100 back), sophomore Bridget O’Reilly (100 back, 100 free) and senior Olivia Mitchell (100 back, 100 back, 200 free) on the eighth-place 400 free relay (3:52.84).

Seniors Sophia Jones (200 IM, 100 back), Eimear McCann (100 breast) and Isabella Minkin (100 breast), junior Moira Roche (200 free, 500 free) and sophomore Evelyn Holzhall (100 breast, 200 free, 500 free) also will be key performers. 

Freshmen Anja Hoy and Annabel Long should contribute as well.

“The girls team is really versatile,” Sliwowski said. “We have enough girls with a lot of experience that we could mix things up a little bit and try some new things. They can be successful in a lot of events.”

For the boys team, Nicholas Minkin was fifth in the 100 back (56.82) at district. The sophomore also competed on the eighth-place 200 medley relay (1:47.6) with senior Ryan Kemp and juniors Eli Dresbach and Quinn Hall and the eighth-place 400 free relay (3:36.39) with Hall, senior Atticus Keels and 2020 graduate Hunter Johnson.

Dresbach placed ninth in the 500 free (5:24.89), and Hall finished ninth in the 100 breast (1:04.9).

Senior Max Clous (50 free, 100 free) and freshman Nathan Schellhaas should be key scorers for the boys.

“I think the boys are strong,” Sliwowski said. “They lost a lot to graduation but they have a good rapport. They do a good job of hyping each other up, and they hype up the girls as well.”

shennen@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekHennen

BEXLEY

Coach: Sandy Sliwowski, seventh season

Top athletes: Boys —  Max Clous, Eli Dresbach, Quinn Hall, Atticus Keels, Ryan Kemp, Nicholas Minkin and Nathan Schellhaas; Girls — Ally Grieshop, Evelyn Holzhall, Anja Hoy, Sophia Jones, Annabel Long, Arianna Martin, Eimear McCann, Isabella Minkin, Olivia Mitchell, Bridget O’Reilly and Moira Roche

Key losses: Boys — Hunter Johnson; Girls — Leah Stamm

2019-20 MSL standings: Boys — Columbus Academy (238), Bexley (201), Wellington (175), Buckeye Valley (150), Grandview (111), Teays Valley (83), Bloom-Carroll (59), Logan Elm (50), Liberty Union (41), Fairfield Union (32), Worthington Christian (30), Zanesville Rosecrans (20), Hamilton Township (5); Girls — Columbus School for Girls (393), Academy (224), Grandview (158), Bexley (123), Liberty Union (102), Fairfield Christian (88), Wellington (66), Worthington Christian (59), Fairfield Union (50), Teays Valley (35), Buckeye Valley (33), Bloom-Carroll (24), Logan Elm (17), Circleville (4), Grove City Christian (4)

2020 postseason: Boys — Fourth at sectional, 10th at district; Girls — Fifth at sectional, 11th at district

CSG

Coach: Brian Botzman, third season

Top athletes: Julianne Aslaner, Lauren Dittrick, Anja Fleege, Ava Fortney, Nyah Funderburke, Olivia Morse, Riley Murphy and Mimi Purdum, Emma Spangler, Natasha Spivak and Gabrielle Yuan

Key losses: Jordan Aurnou-Rhees and Cosette Persall

2020 postseason: First at sectional, first at district, third at state

ST. CHARLES

Coach: Geoff Gear, 12th season

Top athletes: Spencer Aurnou-Rhees, Chase Bateman, Will Elsrod, Mitchell List, Lukas Rakowsky and Ben Stevenson

Key losses: Thomas Lennox, Seth Miller, Travis Miller, Alex Nash and Ryan Seidt

2019-20 CCL standings: St. Charles (473), DeSales (254), Hartley (187), Watterson (83)

2020 postseason: Second at sectional, second at district, 10th at state