The News Journal has featured local swim stars Chad Wright (Ontario), Hutch Blackstone (Mansfield Senior), Hannah Stevens (Lexington) and Kate Cropp (Lexington) this week along with their respective programs. Today's final season preview spotlights North Central Conference power Colonel Crawford and some of the area's other programs.
To their opponents in the pool, it must seem like Colonel Crawford's Fab Four -- plus one -- have been around forever.
Two years ago, Logan Pfeifer, Nic Roe, Clay Fogle and Ian Kochheiser earned All-Ohio honors in two relays and a state medal in the 200 free relay.
They were only sophomores then.
Last year they added Trey Crase to their band and strummed out two more All-Ohio finishes in the relays, moving up one spot on the medals podium in the 200 free. That was no small feat with 19 state or pool records being set in the Division II finals.
How fast was last season's state meet? The quartet of Roe, Kochheiser, Pfeifer and Fogle just missed advancing to Friday's consolation finals, even though its 17th-place finish was faster than the time those four clocked in 2011 for 16th place and All-Ohio acclaim.
Pfeifer, Crase, Kochheiser and Fogle turned around the next day and posted their medal-winning performance.
The best news is that all five Eagles are back.
"It will be our last (season)," Roe said before packing up at the state meet last February, "but our best one."
The Eagles will try to make it an even 10 straight boys titles in the North Central Conference after edging Ontario by six points. Crawford set a pair of relay records that day, with Pfeifer, Roe, Fogle and Crase winning the 200 medley relay (1:45.30), and Crase, Fogle, Kochheiser and Pfeifer collaborating on the first-place 200 free relay (1:33.59).
Crawford's girls are also defending NCC champs. They are led by district qualifiers Nicole Jones, Taylor Kelso, Alex Roberts and Megan Lyons.
Lyons, a sophomore, was a triple winner in last season's NCC meet, teaming with Kelso and Roberts to win the 200 free relay, to go along with her firsts in the 200 free and 100 fly.
"Success this year will depend on the skill and speed improvement of the entire team," coach Mike Holtzapfel said. "We need to create a balanced team, with several swimmers capable of swimming all four strokes competitively. I can't predict a win/loss record, but as defending NCC champions, I know we have to improve as all the teams in the league have very competitive swimmers."
Sophomore Colby Titus, the school record-holder in the 100 breast, and junior Audrey Shoup, last year's girls team MVP, lead the returnees for coach Matt Wade.
Putting experience in the pool won't be a problem. The girls return eight letterwinners and the boys have seven. There are no seniors on the boys squad, so juniors Nick Barcroft and Ryan Boyer will be counted on for leadership.
Joining Shoup to set the pace on the girls side is senior captain Sydney Minard, last year's winner of the Coaches Award.
Juniors Anthony Schlitt and Alana Ralph give coach Tom Finnerty a pair of returning district qualifiers. Also in the mix are three-year lettermen Nick Cox and Lauren Gleason.
Finnerty is excited about a new addition to his staff. Jeff Dropsey brings more than 20 years of age group coaching experience to the program, having achieved great success in the YMCA and USA Swimming ranks.
Although the boys roster has more depth, Finnerty likes the versatility his girls bring to the pool.
The Whippets will look a lot different on the girls side, having lost three four-year letterwinners. The only senior is Bailey Slone, and juniors Rachael Stroup and Kristen Wasilewski are the only other girls who have earned more than one letter.
Sophomore Rachel Baker and freshman Bailey White came up through the Y program and should be nice complements to Slone.
The boys squad is large but lacking in experience. The Whippets will try to overcome that shortcoming with versatility, giving coach Louise Sommer some flexibility in making out her lineup.
Three-year letterman Nic Williams leads the pack, with seniors Cameron Slone and Jeremy Williams and juniors Derek Ensman and Nick McPherson all two-year vets.
State qualifier Connor Kempf returns for his senior season to lead the Tigers. Kempf advanced in the 100 back last year and was part of a Galion team just missing out on a trip to state in the relays last season.
Galion's other top returners include junior Zane Ekin, sophomore Chad Karnes and sophomore Sam DeNero. With Kempf, coach Ted Temple believes that quartet should make it to state in two relays.
Ekin set a North Central Conference record last season in the 200 IM (2:09.37).
On the girls side, five swimmers return with district experience in senior Becca Rigdon, senior Kristen Benedict, junior Caroline Shifley, junior Samantha Alstadt.
Crestline's numbers are on the rise. For the first time in her 13 years at the helm, coach Denise Jeffrey has enough boys for a relay team.
At least some of that credit goes to senior Kaleb Johnson. He set the tone last season by setting North Central Conference records in the 100 butterfly (57.39) and 100 breaststroke (1:04.08). He qualified for districts in the breast and 200 IM
Also in the picture are senior returnee Michael Spade and senior newcomers Robby Green and Drew Matthews.
Senior Amber Schreck is back to lead the girls after dropping 10 seconds off of her 100 fly time. Joining her are junior Brea Quail, who shaved 30 seconds off of her 200 free time, along with seniors Macy Gibbons and Larissa Coleman and sophomore Hope Martin.
Numbers are up for both the boys and girls swim teams at Bucyrus this season. Last year the girls team had nine members and the boys team only two. This year the girls boast 15 swimmers while the boys team has five.
The girls return four letterwinners and three district qualifiers. Juniors Tayrn Gathright, Courtney Severns and Roni Agler all return with district experience. One letterwinner returns for the boys in sophomore Austin Stevens.
Gathright swept all four of her events in last season's North Central Conference meet. She won the 500 free (5:53.78) and the 100 breast (1:14.61), while opening and closing the meet with firsts in the 200 medley relay and 400 free relay.
Two meets into the season and a pair of fresh faces -- freshmen Kaylee Lohr and Callie Ruffener -- are already busy breaking school records for the Royals.
Ruffener broke the 50, 100 and 200 freestyle records while Kaylee, younger sister of senior teammate Jake Lohr, broke the 100 breaststroke, 100 butterfly, 200 IM and 500 freestyle marks.
With the talent the Royals girls team already had coming back, including district qualifiers Sara Hoffman and Madison Graham, coach Sarah Bruner is expecting big things out of her swimmers this season.
Two senior boys return in Jake Lohr and Zach Stuckey, both district qualifiers.