MANSFIELD – It’s Kyle’s turn. And Sammi’s, Ashley’s and Kelsi’s. And look out for Abby and “little Sam.”
Area swim programs were hit hard by graduations and other departures, but schools with solid foundations like Lexington, Ontario, Colonel Crawford, Ashland and Galion keep their heads above water by turning things over to a new wave of leaders.
At Ontario, the Warriors will lean on junior state medalist Kyle Cordrey after losing eight standout boys from consecutive district championship teams. The Lex boys lost four All-Ohioans in Derek Sautter, Evan Heth, Nick Stricklen and Noah Eckstein, but return state participants on the girls side in Ashley Basham, Sammi Basinger, Kelsi Brown and Alaina Merkel.
Galion grad Sam DeNero, third at state the last two seasons in the 50-yard freestyle, has passed the proverbial torch to “little Sam” Rigdon, who last year as a freshman swam on the state-qualifying 200 free relay team with DeNero.
And then there’s Mansfield Christian’s Abby Reynolds. Denied a state berth by .13 seconds two years ago as a freshman, Reynolds broke through last season to compete in Canton in both the 50 and 100 free.
Here’s a closer look at area programs:
The numbers on the girls side, as far as returnees, are very impressive: nine district qualifiers, four state qualifiers, three All-Ohioans. Basham, Merkel and Brown made up three-quarters of the 200 medley relay team that finished 14th at state.
Brown, last year as a freshman, also was a state qualifier for coach Brock Spurling in the 100 backstroke and 400 free relay. Basinger, part of a strong senior class with Basham and Merkel, was a 2014 state medalist and 2015 state qualifier in relays.
District qualifiers back include seniors Alex Perkins and Taylor Stoyko and sophomores Alivia Merkel, Allie Stoyko and Megan Stricklen.
On the boys side, senior Jack Bennett and junior Jared Galat are returning state participants in relays, joined by these district qualifiers: seniors Alex Dover and Patrick Gilbert and sophomores Andrew Coffman, Tanner Donley and Matt Malaska.
Coach Deb Henry hopes to be able to describe her boys squad, hit hard by graduation, as “small but mighty.”
Cordrey gives the Warriors a state meet veteran, complemented by sophomore Kristian Kowalski, an eighth-place medalist last season in diving. The numbers on the girls side are bigger, led by district qualifiers Alley Rehfeldt, Casie Sheppard, Sami Sheppard and Amy Williams.
Ellen Morris has taken over as head coach after one year as an assistant. She inherits a program with only 14 members, two of them divers. The only seniors are Coleman Proffitt and Grace Haring, with freshmen filling seven of the spots.
Drew Weeks gives the Tygers an accomplished performer, and junior diver Ethan Luedy provides some veteran leadership as a two-year letterman.
“We are rebuilding the program,” Morris said, “and we have a great opportunity to do so with the freshmen on the team.”
Coach Matt Wade is excited about being able to fill out a lineup this season with improved depth on the boys roster and good numbers on the girls side.
The girls move up to Division I this season, which will be a major challenge for the 11 returning letterwinners. Leading the way are three-year veteran Katie Loughman and fellow seniors Sarah Phelps and Star Lodwick, both of whom swam on the Rams’ district-qualifying 400 free relay team with sophomore Kaily Cyrus.
The boys are deeper than at any other time in Wade’s six years as coach, but he points out that 70 percent of that lineup had never competed in a high school meet until this season.
Three-year lettermen and district qualifiers Jarod Lykins and Cody Piddock lead the way. The only other lettermen are sophomores Colton Blevins and Chase Ward. Blevins was a district qualifier last season in three relays and the 200 free.
Senior state hopeful Thomas Schlitt, a sprinter and mid-distance specialist, leads the way after just missing out on a trip to Canton last season.
Coach Tom Finnerty has a total of 12 swimmers, with Schlitt joined on the boys side by senior Jacob Randall and Baily Dauterman and freshman Dominic Gasper. Randall is back after not competing the last two years.
Senior district qualifier Kayli Ralph leads the girls, complemented by junior cousins Sophie and Georgie Naumoff, with Sophie’s freshman sister Ava also in the mix. Senior Hannah Novak and Cloe Young, a first-time swimmer, round out the squad along with freshmen Alexandra Wasylenki and Aliya Mitchell.
Ted Temple begins his 23rd season at the helm. Just don’t ask him his won-loss record.
“I feel that is incidental,” he said. “I consider my swimmers’ accomplishments ahead of wins and losses.”
This much is certain: The Tigers are defending boys champs in the Mid-Ohio Athletic Conference and came within one point in the girls standings of sweeping the meet.
They return 10 letterwinners, five on each side. Sam Rigdon and Luke Eisnaugle were freshmen members last season of Galion’s state-qualifying 200 free relay.
Also bringing back varsity experience are Lucas Conner, Landon Rose, Gideon Johnson, Briana Wallis, Allison DeNero, Alexis Link, Sara Garverick and Kaylee Sinclair.
Several new, experienced swimmers have joined the fold, with junior Eli Skaggs and freshman Clay Karnes already making an impact.
It looks like another promising season for coach Mike Holtzapfel and his Eagles.
Seven of the eight boys who qualified for districts last season are back, led by seniors Grant Pfeifer and Jacob Roesch, both of whom made it in four events and competed on the school record-setting 200 free relay team.
Also back from that relay are senior Ryan Johnson and junior Jakeb Johnson. Others with district experience are junior Alex Hershey and sophomores Nic Motter and Ken Fernandez.
For the girls, three members of the state-qualifying 200 and 400 free relays are back in seniors Chloe Grove and Callie Ruffener and junior Madison Sharp. Also returning with district experience is senior Megan Sharp.
It could be the McDaniel Show this winter.
Sophomore Hudson McDaniel and freshman Addison McDaniel accounted for seven firsts in the Arrows’ season-opening tri-meet against Cloverleaf and Willard. The girls, behind Addison’s four firsts, won all 11 events and the boys took eight of 12.
Hudson McDaniel is a returning state medalist and has qualified for the YMCA Short Course National Championships in both the 100 and 200 breaststroke races.
Coach Krissy Geren is also banking heavily on senior Macki Leon to help lead the girls. A freshman to watch for the boys is Ross Garrison.
Six of the nine swimmers are letterwinners, but coach Denise Jeffrey hopes to recruit one more boy so she can put a relay team together.
Leadership for the girls will come from senior Abbi Stair, junior Courtney Swanger and sophomores Michaela Jeffrey and Kinsey Kenison. Making up the boys squad are junior Timmy Tompkins, who lettered two years ago; senior Ricky Holland, who did not swim last year; and junior newcomer Aaron Blubaugh.