Ross Palazzo was a once-in-a-generation athlete who comes around as often as Halley’s Comet.
The current swimmer at the University of Florida captured five state titles during his storybook career at Hudson High School.
It’s safe to say the Explorers probably weren’t going to see the likes of another Palazzo for years, possibly decades.
Well, not so fast.
Hudson recently saw another swimmer have a gold medal placed around his neck at the 2018 Division I state meet.
Ladies and gentlemen, meet junior sprinting specialist Jay Johnson, who captured gold in the 100-yard freestyle and silver in the 200 freestyle.
Johnson, a two-time state qualifier, led a talented boys team to a sixth-place finish at the state meet last month.
It’s safe to say the Explorers are back among the elite for the first time since Mr. Palazzo graduated in 2015.
And since Johnson has one more year of eligibility, plus plenty of his other state-qualifying teammates are expected to return, a top-five finish at the 2019 state meet isn’t out of the question.
The Hudson girls swimming and diving team is still waiting to see its first member reach the top of the medal stand.
Nonetheless, the Lady Explorers, who have been a juggernaut in the pool for more than a decade, are inching closer and closer to being the best team in the state.
Hudson captured third at the 2018 state meet. That place is the Lady Explorers’ highest finish ever on the ultimate stage.
Led by sophomore sensation Paige McCormick, who captured her second consecutive bronze medal in the 500 freestyle and was a member of the silver medalist 200 medley relay team, the Hudson girls most likely won’t be going away any time soon.
Like the boys team, the Lady Explorers had several underclassmen shine in Canton.
Despite their high finish, the Hudson girls did not win the Cleveland district championship for the first time in six years.
The new champ is North Canton Hoover, which was the state runner-up. I have a really strong hunch those two powerful programs will, once again, fight tooth and nail for both the Cleveland district and state titles next year.
As has been the case for several years, the ladies in leos shined once again.
However, since the bar has been raised to an astronomically high level, the Lady Explorers gymnasts’ season ended in disappointment.
Hudson missed qualifying for the state meet by a measly 10th of a point.
Fortunately, all was not lost for the Lady Explorers.
Sophomore Julia Petty made her first trip to the state meet and just missed All-Ohio honors in two events.
She captured seventh place on both the balance beam and the uneven parallel bars and finished 13th in the all-around competition.
Petty did all of this despite serious thoughts of quitting the sport due to a nagging ankle injury and the physically demanding workload.
Let’s hope such thoughts have been washed away forever and Petty, along with her teammates, can participate at the 2019 state meet.
The Hudson wrestling team did not have a single representative at the Division I state meet.
But the 2017-18 season was far from a disappointment for the Explorer grapplers.
Hudson had five athletes compete at the North Canton district meet last month and all five of those athletes won at least 25 matches.
Considering that two of the Explorers’ conference rivals, Brecksville-Broadview Heights and Wadsworth, are perennial state powerhouses, those win totals are even more impressive.
I strongly believed it would be a massive struggle for the Hudson ice hockey team this winter.
The Explorers lost a number of key players, including their two star offensive players, who did the bulk of the scoring last season.
However, Hudson proved me wrong after finishing with a winning record, which included a postseason victory despite playing in the always vaunted Kent district.
Since I started covering the Explorers and Lady Explorers in 2000, I’ve learned this simple fact: It’s a given that someone wearing blue and white will be one of the last ones standing in a plethora of sports. And that fact applies to every season of the school year.
The 2017-18 winter season certainly proved this 100 percent true as Hudson’s gifted athletes showed no moment was too big for them.
Congratulations to all of the winter athletes on another fine season.
As always, the quest for greatness was wildly successful in the 44236 ZIP code.
Reporter Frank Aceto can be reached at 330-541-9444, email@example.com or @FrankAceto_RPC.