One look at the field at the Division I Akron sectional swimming meet will show it is a meat grinder.
The presence of state powers Hudson, Brecksville-Broadview Heights and Akron Firestone makes the prospect of advancing to districts a daunting one.
"It’s a fast meet," said Stow-Munroe Falls swimming coach Ryan Miller. "It’s definitely one of fastest sectional meets in the state. I think it’s a benefit, not a bad thing."
The fact Stow swimming was able to advance 16 swimmers to the Division I district meet shows the mettle of the Bulldogs.
The Stow boys finished fourth at the sectional meet with 205 points Saturday at Ocasek Natatorium in Akron. Brecksville won the boys title with 418 points.
In the girls team race, Stow finished seventh with 124 points. Hudson dominated the field with 558 points.
Miller said the Bulldogs performance was big, in large part because he chose not to taper the workouts of his top swimmers heading into sectionals. Despite not being tapered and shaved for sectionals, Stow still saw freshman Alex Cimera and sophomores Dylan Cossin, Luke Novak and Evie Lewis advance to districts in two individual events.
"We knew going in what they were capable of," Miller said. "We didn’t want to have the them swim their best at sections. We truly believe that anything is possible. We have some good workouts coming up.
Miller cited the fact that those swimmers who did taper and shave excelled at districts as proof the strategy was working. Miller noted, among those Bulldogs who did taper, out of 52 swims at sectionals, 48 times were lifetimes best.
Cimera earned Stow’s best individual finish in the 100-yard backstroke, despite not having his best time. He finished third in 53.33 seconds, as Walsh Jesuit’s Kaden Smesko set a new sectional record in the backstroke in 49.88 seconds.
"We have him where we want him," Miller said. "What we wanted was a low 53 [seconds] time. I’d be more worried if he did swim his best time. In the butterfly, he’s right there within a second of his best."
Cimera took fifth in the 100 butterfly in 53.03 seconds.
Despite not being tapered, Cossin put up a season-best time in the 500 freestyle, as he finished fourth in 4:53.72.
"It’s really exciting to see," Miller said. "When you look at him. you don’t realize he’s as fast as he is. He’s ahead of where I hoped it would be. There’s no pressure for him. He has high goals for himself."
Cossin also qualified for districts in the 200 freestyle, finishing in 12th place in the 1:51.67.
Novak also qualified for districts in both of his events, despite being a bit off his best time. Novak took sixth in the 100 backstroke in 55.28 seconds and ninth in the 200 individual medley in 2:04.32.
Senior Alex Schoenberg reached districts in the 50 freestyle, taking ninth place in 22.66 seconds, and the 100 butterfly, taking 11th place in 56.11 seconds.
Freshman Keith Turnbull qualified for districts in the 200 freestyle (eighth, 1:50.43) and 100 backstroke (13th, 57.42). Stow also had junior Luke Baker advance in the 500 freestyle (11th, 5:09.09) and junior Will Boggs in the 50 freestyle (13th, 23.27 seconds).
The Stow boys also advanced all three of their relays to districts.
Miller admitted he wanted to see a bit more from his 200 medley relay team, but the quartet of Cimera, junior Caleb Myers, Schoenberg and Novak still qualified by taking fourth in 1:41.93.
Miller said he was blown away from Schoeberg’s performance in the anchor leg of the 200 freestyle relay. Following Boggs, freshman Will Dorenkott and Turnbull in the relay, Schoenberg busted out a split time of 21.78 seconds in his leg, leading the Bulldogs to a fifth-place finish in 1:32.59.
In the 400 freestyle relay, the quartet of Cimera, Boggs, Turnbull and Novak finished sixth in 3:23.91.
On the girls side, Lewis had most grueling day for the Bulldogs. The sophomore qualified for districts in the 500 freestyle by finishing seventh in 5:28.48 after she qualified in the 200 IM, taking 11th place in 2:19.43.
"Her endurance puts her apart from the other IMers," Miller said. "She really has that kick in the last 50 yards. Her goal is to come back strong in the 500. She wants to go under 5:15. We want her to be under 5:10."
Miller said the coaches made the decision to give to give senior Kayla Engle a little more rest heading into sectional. Engle responded with the best meet of her life.
Engle shattered her lifetime best in the 100 breaststroke by more than a second, taking sixth place in 1:08.83. She also qualified in the 100 butterfly with a lifetime best of 1:03.26.
Also advancing for Stow were sophomore Grace Pontius in the 50 freestyle (11th, 25.8) and sophomore Molly O’Brien in the 500 freestyle, who took 19th place and shattered her personal record with a time of 5:45.27.
Stow also had two of its divers advance to districts. Junior Emily Lillich finished fifth, putting up a lifetime-best score for 11 dives with 312.3 points. Junior Emily Schmidt qualified by taking ninth place with a score of 258.85.
The Division I district tournament will take place at this weekend at Busby Natatorium at Cleveland State University. Lillich and Schmidt will compete Thursday at 11:30 with the top seven divers advancing to states.
Swimming semifinals begin Saturday at noon. The top two finishers in each event earn automatic state berths, followed by 16 at large berths.
The state meet will take place at C.T. Branin Natatorium in Canton. Division I swimming preliminaries begin Feb. 22 at 9 a.m. with finals set for Feb. 23 at 4 p.m.
Reporter Michael Leonard can be reached at 330-541-9442, firstname.lastname@example.org or @MLeonard_RPC