It was no surprise to see the St. Xavier High School swim team capture another Region Two title on Saturday.
What was surprising was the disqualification of one of the Tigers’ three relay teams and the admission of coach Todd Larkin that a 26th consecutive state title in two weeks is not a sure thing.
“Our backs are to the wall,” Larkin said.
St. X won five of 12 events and scored 507 points to win the regional at the University of Louisville’s Ralph Wright Natatorium.
Trinity finished second with 275 points despite the absence of senior Thomas Cooper, who was out with an injury and illness. He still could return to swim three relay events during the State Championships set for Feb. 27-March 1 at U of L.
The biggest news was the disqualification of St. X’s 200-yard freestyle relay team, meaning the Tigers won’t be able to score in that event at the state meet. Larkin said the first swimmer of the team flinched before the start, resulting in the disqualification.
Winner of 25 straight state titles, a young St. X squad already was expected to get a big test from Covington Catholic at the state meet. Now the Tigers will be down a relay team.
“We’re used to having the luxury of depth, and this makes us a little shorter on depth,” Larkin said. “We have to come out to fight. … I think I have a bunch of guys who take pride in their work, and we have to show that pride in the next two weeks.”
Heyward Harrison, a junior, was the star for the Tigers, winning the 200 individual medley and the 100 backstroke and swimming a leg on the victorious 200 medley relay team. Senior Jacob Smith won the 100 butterfly.
Collegiate senior Tyler Sullivan was named Most Outstanding Swimmer after winning the 200 and 500 frees and helping the Titans win the 400 free relay in a regional-record time of 3:11.02. Sullivan also was a member of Collegiate’s victorious team in the 200 free relay after St. X was disqualified.
Ballard junior Branson Smith won the 50 and 100 frees but may have been trumped by teammate Todd Owen, a senior who won the 100 breaststroke with a regional-record time of 56.53 seconds. The previous record of 57.09 seconds was set in 2006 by St. X’s Clark Burckle, who competed in the 2012 Olympics.
Owen gave up football after his sophomore year, dedicated himself to swimming in the last year and earned a scholarship to U of L.
“Since I started swimming I’ve always looked at my peers and who’s at the top,” Owen said. “(Burckle’s) name was at the top. … I’ve just focused on sprinting and hand speed. It’s God-given talent.”