Lex state champ to compete for Mizzou

Lex state champ to compete for Mizzou

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Lex state champ to compete for Mizzou

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LEXINGTON

Ohio State fans will love the fact that Lexington senior Hannah Stevens rejected a scholarship offer from Michigan.

It won’t be much of a celebration, though. The Buckeyes came up losers as well.

The state champion swimmer, the reigning Division II state tournament MVP, signed a national letter of intent with burgeoning national power Missouri on Wednesday.

Missouri arrived late on the recruiting trail, but made up ground quickly after Stevens had already visited Ohio State, Michigan and Kentucky in the spring.

“(Missouri) called me in July and it sounded like a great team, so I decided to go check them out,” said Stevens, who chose the Tigers after a fall visit to Arizona and return trips to OSU and Kentucky. “Coach (Greg) Rhodenbaugh has completely turned the program around and I want to be part of that.”

Rhodenbaugh, a Cincinnati native, arrived in Columbia four years ago, inheriting a program that had sent only two Tigers, both divers, to the NCAA Championships the previous season. Last March, Mizzou finished a school-record 14th at the NCAAs, producing six first-team All-Americans and seven team records.

Stevens, who qualified for last summer’s World Trials in three events, should be a perfect fit on the team.

“The hardest thing is she’s going to be away from home; you don’t realize how much you miss family and friends,” said Melisa Stone-Watters, who stepped down as Lex’s coach after last season. “She’s trained with people faster than her before, so that will be nothing new. Now she’ll have people pushing her every day. It’s going to be a whole new world.”

It’s scary to think what Stevens might do with that kind of push at the collegiate level. She’s coming off a state high school meet in Canton where she not only won titles in the 100 back and 100 freestyle, but set the state record in the former (54.73) and knocked off the defending champions in both races.

A month later, she entered a meet at the Spire Sports Complex in northern Ohio and crushed the competition — including some college-age swimmers — in the 100 back and 200 back. In the process she came in under the World Trials standards by over one second in the 100 and over two seconds in the 200.

She blew away the qualifying standards that were in place for the 2012 Olympic Trials.

So what’s she going to do for an encore as her final high school season fast approaches?

“It’s going to be hard (to top her 2013 state meet performance), but I have big goals for this season,” Stevens said. “I want to get another record in the 100 back and win two more state championships. I want to go out and have fun with it.”

Stevens joins a recent line of area state champions who have gone on to compete in the Southeastern Conference: Ashland’s Beth Mallory (Alabama) and Colonel Crawford’s Isiah Kent and Carson Britton.

All of them were state champions in track and field, but former St. Peter’s diver Elle Schmidt recently concluded a successful tenure at LSU.

Stevens will stick this winter with her long-established routine of practicing most of the week with the Greater Columbus Swim Team of Ohio. The club season started in August and ends in March. She can’t compete with Greater Columbus once high school meets begin.

“I’ve already got my (club) bests in all my events this season,” she said, “so I’m pretty excited.”

Stone-Watters, a six-time state champion for Madison, went on to swim at Michigan, so she knows about the transition ahead for Stevens. They conferred often during the recruiting process.

Stone-Watters didn’t seem to mind that Stevens preferred a different “M” school.

“That’s OK,” she said, laughing. “It’s pretty impressive. Missouri has a fairly new facility (the Mizzou Aquatic Center) and they’ve done a nice of job of recruiting and turning the program around.

“Hannah still has a lot of potential and college always brings out the best in you. She hasn’t been in a full-blown (training) routine that she’ll get in college. So I expect her to improve greatly.”

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