The St. Xavier High School swimming dynasty marches on.
The Tigers, who fought off a stout challenge from Covington Catholic, claimed their 26th straight title at the boys’ KHSAA Swimming and Diving Championships at the University of Louisville’s Ralph Wright Natatorium on Saturday.
St. Xavier finished with 361 points. Covington Catholic (328½) was second, Collegiate (171) a distant third and Ballard (161) fourth.
The Tigers have won a national-record 50 state championships in swimming and diving.
St. Xavier won just three events in the finals, but used superior depth to hold off Covington Catholic.
“We always try to get the boys to concentrate on the present,” said St. X coach Todd Larkin. “Teams that won 10 years ago, five years ago and last year can’t help them today. This is special because of what these guys accomplished. They stepped up when they needed to step up. They truly deserve to be called (champions) themselves.”
One of the surprises for the Tigers could’ve been Noah Johnston, a senior who was seeded third in 500-yard freestyle after the preliminaries. In the finals, he easily won in 4:30.65.
“Noah’s got great skills,” Larkin said. “He was in a zone when I saw him at school this morning. We knew he was in for a big swim.”
Johnston, who will attend the Peddie School next year and then hopes to go to the Naval Academy, said Larkin told him he was proud of him. “That really means a lot to me,” Johnston said.
St. X also got wins from Jacob Smith, who took the 100-yard butterfly in 50.17, and Heyward Harrison, won won the 200-yard individual medley in 1:51.49.
Larkin said nothing really surprised him about the Tigers’ performance.
“I thought we were capable of stepping up and we did step up,” he said. “We knew we had that potential. Sometimes teams need to be tested, and we were tested. We had our backs against the walls.”
Larkin said the Tigers and Colonels share mutual repect. “It was a great meet,” he said.
Individually, Ballard won four races: , Brandon Smith in the 50-yard freestyle and 100 free, Jake Precious in the 100-yard backstroke and Todd Owen in the 100-yard breastroke.
Owen set the state record in the preliminaries with a time of 55.24, beating the mark held by St. Xavier’s Clark Burcle since 2006 by 0.59 of a second.
“It relieved (the pressure),” Owen said of breaking the record Friday. “Today was just about having fun. I didn’t play around, but the pressure was gone.”
In diving, Dixie Heights’ Bailey Harrison won his second straight state title, holding off Covington Catholic’s Louie Hunt and Evan Brungs.
“I really went out with a bang,” Harrison said. “It feels good. It is kind of bittersweet but I’m excited about what’s to come.”
Harrison said it was so important to win because it’s likely his last diving competition. He said he won’t dive in college so he can focus on Young Life, a Christian organization.
An uncommon story
Alexander Phipps, the only swimmer to ever come to the meet from tiny Barbourville, placed fifth in the 100-yard freestyle and received the meet’s uncommon excellence award.
He’s the starting guard for the Barbourville basketball team and averages 19.7 points, but he doesn’t compete in postseason play. Friday night, the Tigers lost to county rival Knox Central 54-53 on a last-second shot in the 51st District Tournament championship game.
His father, Dinky Phipps, is longtime boys’ basketball coach at Barbourville.
“I know he would’ve made a difference last night,” Phipps said. “It makes it hard. But the kids on our team know what this means to him.”