Ashley Volpenhein knows the competition will be fierce when the high school girls’ swimming season begins Monday.
The Mason junior is among three local Division I individual state champions returning from last season and is a three-time individual state champion and a double-winner last season at state.
Springboro senior Hannah Whitely and Kings junior Megan Sichterman also won gold medals at state, topping a deep and talented field of swimmers and divers in Division I and II.
“I think we have quite a really tough district and I think that looking at the teams this year we’ll be performing at the levels we did last year,” Volpenhein said. “The Southwest District is just hard to beat. We have great girls and great guys from down here. I think this is going to be a whole lot of fun because we have a lot of fast people. I’m excited to see how everybody does this season.”
Volpenhein won her second straight state championship in the 50 freestyle and her first state championship in the 100 freestyle in 2015. She also holds two girls’ Division I state records set last February at the Southwest Ohio District Championship – 22.35 in the 50 and 49.34 in the 100.
“There is that pressure to repeat, especially in the 50 just because it has been two years in a row,” Volpenhein said. “Those are the goals for the season and I’d love to be able to get those titles again.”
Sichterman out-touched Whiteley in the 100-meter butterfly to win the first individual state swimming title for Kings in 10 years and Whiteley swam to a state record 52.92 and a state title in the 100-meter backstroke.
Overall, the Southwest District has 32 swimmers returning who placed in the top 16 in Division I individual events and a host of teams vying for district and state titles.
“We compete in the deepest district in the state, with teams such as Mason, Sycamore and Ursuline always having strong teams,” St. Ursula coach Ann Gartner said.
St. Ursula is among the top teams to watch in the area in Division I. The Bulldogs are ranked No. 2 in the Enquirer preseason coaches’ poll behind No. 1 Mason with Kings No. 3, Ursuline No. 4 and Sycamore No. 5. St. Ursula was second as a team at state last season and Mason tied for third with Centerville.
Lakota East, Turpin, Walnut Hills, Lakota West, Anderson and Loveland will also have strong teams.
“We are hoping to be competitive in our district again this season,” Gartner said. “Our goal is to advance as many athletes as possible to the state meet, which will help lead us to the highest possible finish at state.”
Seven state qualifiers return for St. Ursula, including senior captains Alexandra Wall and Molly Zilch, junior Josie Grote and sophomores Hannah Foster, Ashley Voelkerding, Anna Delgado and Chloe Dunseath.
Foster was right behind Volpenhein at state last season, finishing in third place in both the 50 and the 100. Foster has been training with Volpenhein since the summer, so expect those two to battle in the sprint events.
“She is a really hard worker,” Volpenhein said of Foster. “We’re really close. Going into high school season and being able to compete with her is going to be a lot of fun because we really truly do love to race each other and it’s going to be a friendly competition. It’s going to be cool this season to have that person who is chasing me be one of your great friends. It will be fun.”
Mason also returns state qualifiers in sophomore Allison Bloebaum, junior Camille Nguyen and senior Gabby Marinelli.
Sophomore Caroline Blood and juniors Julia Moran and Rollie Grinder are state qualifiers returning for Ursuline.
“We are excited for a great season this year with the main core of the team returning from last year,” Ursuline coach Brad Isham said. “As a result we should show a lot of improvement. The team will have very strong depth, which will allow us to put together strong relay teams and have a great dual meet season. The goal will be to carry that momentum and be ready to be at our best at the end of the season for the district and state meet. We also have our best group of divers that we have had in several years, which will help the team.”
In Division II, 23 top-16 state placers will return.
Indian Hill topped the Enquirer Division II preseason area coaches’ poll with Cincinnati Country Day second and Cincinnati Christian, Mariemont and Wyoming tied for third.
Also watch Seven Hills, Clark Montessori, Badin, Summit Country Day and Taylor.
“It’s just exciting that it’s getting started,” Volpenhein said. “I love high school season.”
Elizabeth Cron, Oak Hills — The sophomore finished fifth at the Division I state diving competition last season as a freshman.
Lucy Callard, Seven Hills — The sophomore was fourth at state in the Division II 500 freestyle and seventh in the 100 butterfly.
Leah Dupre, Mariemont — The senior is the top local returner in the 100 breaststroke, finishing third at the Division II state meet last season. She also finished 10th in the 200 individual medley.
Hannah Foster, St. Ursula — The sophomore was third at state in both the 50 and 100 freestyle events.
Josie Grote, St. Ursula — The junior is the top returning local finisher in two events at the Division I state meet last season, placing second in the 200 individual medley and third in the 100 breaststroke.
Payton Keiner, Cincinnati Christian — The junior was fourth in both the 200 individual medley and the 100 backstroke last season at the Division II state meet.
Devin Landstra, Indian Hill — The senior placed third in the 50 freestyle and sixth in the 100 backstroke at the Division II state meet last season.
Lauren Olson, Fenwick — The sophomore was the top local placer in the 100 butterfly, finishing third at the Division II state meet last season. She also finished seventh in the 100 breaststroke.
Megan Sichterman, Kings — The junior won the first individual state swimming title for Kings in 10 years in the 100-meter butterfly and finished eighth in the 500 freestyle at state.
Ashley Volpenhein, Mason — The junior won her second straight state championship in the 50 freestyle and her first state championship in the 100 freestyle in 2015. She also holds two girls’ Division I state records set last February at the Southwest Ohio District Championship — 22.35 in the 50 and 49.34 in the 100.
Hannah Whitely, Springboro — The senior swam to a state record 52.92 and a state title in the 100-meter backstroke last season and added a state runner-up finish in the 100-meter butterfly. Then in March, she won the 50-meter backstroke at the National Club Swimming Association Junior National Championships in Orlando.
Molly Zilch, St. Ursula — The senior was second in the 200 freestyle and fourth in the 500 freestyle at the Division I state meet last season.