Lakota East swimmer Josh McDonald takes in the moment as he?s doused with confetti in celebration of his state championship. Driving him is Lakota East Athletic Director Richard Bryant.
LIBERTY TWP. – Josh McDonald has thought a lot about his second-place finish last season at state in the 500 freestyle event. It wasn’t that the Lakota East sophomore was dwelling on a disappointment, because that’s not what it was. He just wasn’t going to let it happen again.
“Last year when I barely got out-touched, after that day I knew the next year I was going to do what it takes to become the state champion,” McDonald said. “Every day, I kept that in my head.”
That focus paid off Feb. 28 when McDonald bested an all-local final heat field at the Division I state meet at C.T. Branin Natatorium in Canton in 4:25.35, just ahead of Middletown senior Mark Andrew’s second-place time of 4:25.44.
It was the first state swimming title for Lakota East since Jared Miller won the 200 individual medley in 2006.
Last season’s state champion in the 500, Anderson junior Hassler Carroll, was third in 4:30.84. Carroll had shocked the local swimming community at the Division I state meet last year when he won the gold medal in 4:30.23, just faster than McDonald’s 4:30.46.
That was McDonald’s motivation.
“I would say Josh wanted to ensure that he didn’t get out-touched again, yes,” Lakota East coach Dennis Beck said.
St. Xavier junior Matt Slabe was fourth this season in 4:32.12, Mason junior Joel Thatcher was fifth in 4:33.06, and Moeller senior Kevin George was sixth in 4:33.23 after finishing third last year. Turpin junior Jonathan Ericksen was seventh in 4:33.29 and St. Xavier sophomore Patrick Butkovich was eighth in 4:36.65.
“I thought it was pretty neat that all eight of those kids were southwest Ohio in that final heat,” Beck said. “I think it’s great to see our district and southwest Ohio swim that fast and, of course, we’re very happy that we came out on top of that this weekend. Josh swam a great race.”
McDonald added the state title to sectional and district titles this season in the 500. The district race might have been the most exciting of the high school season in any event. McDonald had the fastest time among three record-breakers in a lightning-fast 500 freestyle Feb. 22 at Miami University. His time of 4:25.57 shattered former Sycamore swimmer Dan Ketchum’s 17-year-old meet record of 4:29.82 set in 1998.
“That was the goal,” McDonald said. “I told my coach the day before that I was going to shoot for a 4:25.”
But he was not the only swimmer in that race faster than the previous record. Mason senior Justin Hove, who finished ninth at state, was second at districts in 4:26.86 and George was third in 4:29.07. Carroll was fourth in 4:29.87 — nearly matching Ketchum’s mark as well.
“It shows that in southwest Ohio we know how to train distance events,” McDonald said. “There’s not going to be one kid who is way faster than everybody else. It’s always going to be a really good race.”
With the sectional and district titles in hand, McDonald knew he had to stay focused and “mentally prepare” for the state race.
“He goes out and swims,” Beck said. “I don’t think he gets distracted by a whole lot of things. He goes out, and especially this year as a sophomore, he swam his race and he went out and did what he needed to do. He didn’t get caught up in what was around him and what was going on. He swam his race and he managed to out-touch the other person this year instead of the other way around like last year.”
McDonald’s next goal is another state title and taking a shot at former St. Xavier swimmer David Mosko’s state and state meet record of 4:20.56 in the 500.
“I hope to win it next year and I want to go for the state record next year, for sure,” McDonald said. “It’s 4:20. I dropped five seconds from last year to this year, so if I drop five more it will be a state record. I just need to train and pretty much do what coach says. Get in the pool and keep doing what I’m doing and I’ll get there.”