Five swimmers from the Licking County Family YMCA Sharks soon head to Greensboro, N.C., and they will have a whole community cheering for them.
The Sharks’ teammates just will not be in the stands. More than 150 young Sharks will be watching the computer, hoping their aquatic heroes can bring home medals from the YMCA Short Course National Championship from April 3-6.
“Talk about something as a motivational tool,” Sharks coach Teresa Fightmaster said of the live stream, which will carry the entire event. “It is important for them to set a great example.”
Granville junior Sam Wagner is competing in the 50 and 100 freestyle, and he will be accompanied by four girls — Granville junior Sydney King, Northridge freshman Josie Bunstine, Watkins Memorial senior Miranda Gessner and Columbus Academy senior Abby Brown.
It is Wagner’s second trip to nationals, and he still is riding high from the high school season. He placed in the consolation finals in two individual events and a relay for the Blue Aces in the Division II state meet in February.
“We roll right into the Y season and right into our national meet, which we have to keep training for,” Wagner said. “Sometimes, that is tough, but it is fun. There is not a break.”
The national event literally is the best of the best. It is an open meet for ages 12 to 21 years old. King has qualified on a regular basis. It will be Brown’s second appearance, and Gessner and Bunstine will be making their national debut.
King is competing in the 100 and 200 free and 100 and 200 backstroke. Brown, who lives in Pataskala, is in the 100 and 200 butterfly and 100 breastroke. The foursome is competing in the 200 and 400 medley relays.
“This is a great experience,” Fightmaster said. “You usually start with the relays only, and the next step is the individual events.
“A lot of kids make it a year-round commitment. Is there some magic? It is called training. These kids have worked hard.”
Wagner is relishing the opportunity to compete in his specialty races. The 50 free will determine the nation’s fastest man in the water.
“I saw a lot of fast swimmers, and it helped me figure out what nationals was like and what to expect from it,” Wagner said. “There is definitely a difference with the atmosphere at a big pool. I feel like I have better swims because the nerves and adrenaline are running.”
Gessner was a part of two record-setting relays at Watkins Memorial, and she was the Warriors’ top swimmer, placing in the top 20 at the Division I district meet in two individual events. Gessner, however, always fell short of the state meet in a ultra-competitive district.
The national meet is far from just a consolation prize. She was surprised to get the call from Fightmaster, but she and Bunstine had fast enough times in recent meets to push the Sharks below the qualifying standards.
“Division I is so hard to excel at,” Gessner said. “It is nice to have something to fall back on and to know I am not done yet.”
It is a reunion of sorts for King and Brown.
At the state meet, King was a part of one championship relay and placed in the top 6 in three others, including two third-place individual finishes. Brown was a part of fourth- and fifth-place relays and placed in the consolation finals of two individual events.
During the high school season, the two are rivals on two of the best Division II teams in the state, competing against each other in the Mid-State League-Ohio Division meet and during the postseason.
The other nine months, King and Brown are teammates and close friends.
“I started swimming with the Y when I was 9 years old,” Brown said. “I am really excited for this meet as my last big Y experience. This is the culmination of 10 years of swimming with the Y. It is nice to be with the girls I have trained with all year and see our hard work pay off together.”