Melisa Stone-Watters predicted this week that the best was yet to come from her Lexington swim team. And, as usual, she was right.
The tone for Friday’s Division II district meet at Bowling Green was set Wednesday when Lex freshmen Evan Heth and Adam McCombs earned state berths in 1-meter diving by finishing fifth and 10th, respectively.
It got even better from there starting with the Lex quartet of senior Aaron Burkhart, sophomores Stephen Ward and Derek Sautter and junior Cory Strassel finishing second in Friday’s first race, the 200-yard medley relay (1:40.52).
With only the top two finishers in Friday’s races earning automatic state berths, Lex junior Hannah Stevens left nothing to chance.
She not only won the 100 freestyle and 100 back, she set district records in both. She won the free in 51.39 seconds, breaking the old mark of 51.77 held by Napoleon’s Samantha Zuch since 2008. Stevens’ first-place time of 56.73 in her specialty, the back, shattered the old mark of 58.13 by Notre Dame’s Susan Johnson that had stood since 2000.
Stevens also joined senior Kate Cropp, junior Hailee Sautter and freshman Sammi Bassinger to win the meet’s final event, the 400 free relay, in 3:29.28.
“I had only done 51 (in the free) one other time and that was at junior nationals,” said Stevens, who was All-Ohio in her four events last year. “I guess I don’t have as much confidence as I should have, but this is always the funnest part of the season. We always swim well.”
That goes back to Stone-Watters, a six-time state champ for Madison who always seems to have her team peaking at the right time.
For instance, the boys medley relay finished ahead of third-place Colonel Crawford (sectional runner-up) and fourth-place Galion (which set a meet and pool record at the Malabar sectional).
Derek Sautter also shaved three seconds off his 100 butterfly with a second-place finish of 52.25 and Cropp, a four-time All-Ohioan last year, finished third in the 200 free (1:59.81) after coming in as a ninth seed. Burkhart improved from eighth seed to fifth in the 200 IM and from seventh seed to third in the 100 back (55.06).
Sautter and Burkhart are also on the 400 free relay that was fifth and could advance to state.
“It’s really nice going to Lexington because the coaches usually know where we’re going to be (at this stage of the season),” Sautter said. “I had no doubt I could (be an automatic qualifier in two events) because we put our trust in the coaches. You’ve got to be confident and then everything falls into place.”
Stone-Watters predicted big time drops from her best swimmers, who waited until after sectionals to begin a serious taper.
“Our kids who tapered last week (before sectionals) dropped more time today,” she said. “So we should be able to hold on for one more week.”
Other automatic qualifiers Friday with runner-up finishes were Galion sophomore Sam DeNero in the 50 free (21.95), Colonel Crawford senior Logan Pfeifer in the 100 free (47.95) and Crestline senior Kaleb Johnson in the 100 breast (1:00.11).
“I didn’t want to have that doubt whether I made it (to state) or not,” said Pfeifer, referring to how most swimmers will need to wait until 4 p.m. Saturday to learn if they have earned at-large berths when they are posted at swimmeet.com.
“Last year I finished third and felt pretty confident I was going to get it,” Pfeifer said of his at-large berth in the free in 2012. “But what if some other district had 25 kids that were faster? I did homework to get my mind off it.”
Pfeifer, part of a five-man senior crew that has made repeat trips to state in two relays, helped load up the relays this year in an attempt to make it in all three.
In addition to their third-place effort in the 200 medley, the Eagles won the 200 free (1:28.21) and were an automatic qualifier in the 400 free as well, finishing second (3:16.79). Pfeifer and fellow seniors Clay Fogle and Ian Kochheiser swam on all three, with seniors Trey Crase and Nic Roe (fourth in the 50 free) also contributing in the relays.
“A few of us sacrificed individual events,” Pfeifer said, “so the whole group of seniors could get to state. We’ve done really well in our new event (the 400 free, breaking the school record).”
DeNero broke a Galion mark in the 50 free that had stood since the Eighties.
“I was always confident something like that could happen,” he said. “I knew I had to break 22 (to get an automatic berth) and I got a 21.”
DeNero also swam a 21.15 split in the medley, joining senior Connor Kempf, sophomore Chad Karnes and junior Zane Ekin for their fourth-place finish. That same quartet was third in the 400 free.
Galion coach Ted Temple’s goal was to get two individual boys and two boys relays to state, matching a feat by his girls early in this millennium. Kempf should make a repeat trip in the 100 back after finishing fourth.
“Coach probably said that, but I zone out setting my own goals,” DeNero said, smiling. “Coach definitely pushed me and helped me with my turns. I was two seconds faster than last year.”
Ontario’s Chad Wright had his school record in the 100 free broken by fellow sophomore Naz Tkachenko (49.64 for ninth), but Wright is looking at return trips to state in both of his individual races after his third-place finishes in the 200 free (1:45.96) and 500 free (4:46.54). His times were faster than what he swam at state last year when he was All-Ohio in both.
Wright and Tkachenko also joined sophomore Tyler Watson and senior Raymond Hufford to finish fifth in the 200 free relay and fourth in the 400 free.
“There’s another week of rest and I haven’t shaved yet, so I’m really encouraged,” Wright said. “I feel blessed to be healthy (after battling a mono-like illness last year). It’s amazing what you can do.”
Awaiting word on at-large state berths are breaststrokers Tayrn Gathright of Bucyrus and and Anthony Schlitt of St. Peter’s. They were fourth and fifth, respectively, in their 100-yard races.