After two years in charge of Stow-Munroe Falls swimming, coach Ryan Miller knows he has a team that can compete with anyone who is not at the state’s elite level.
The problem, of course, is that the Suburban League National Conference is loaded with teams at Ohio’s elite level.
Not that Miller sees that as a negative.
"It’s a good thing to have that competition," Miller said. "It’s a great opportunity to see that level of swimming throughout the whole year. It’s made us better. I truly believe that our program has improved the last few years."
Miller believes in having a team full of versatile swimmers instead of specialists. He believes he has such a team with greater depth this winter.
"We have a great group of well-rounded kids," Miller said. "We have a lot of kids in the CFYN [Cuyahoga Falls Youth Natatorium] program and some kids that swim with HEAT [Hudson Explorers Aquatics Team]. They typically get a week off after high school season before they long-course spring season.
"Our depth has improved. We lost only four seniors in the offseason," he added.
Last year, both Stow teams finished 7-2 overall in dual meets, including 5-2 in the National Conference, with their lone losses coming to state powers Hudson and Brecksville-Broadview Heights.
Miller acknowledges his squad should able to handle the rest of the National Conference again, while looking to close the gap on the Explorers and Bees.
"We’re well above all the other schools," Miller said. "We try to keep our goals on things that we can control. Brecksville did graduate a lot of guys."
Stow lost only four seniors in district qualifiers Kayla Engle and Alex Schoenberg, along with Lorna Vizmeg and Ethan Sage. The Bulldogs have 50 swimmers in the pool this winter, including 13 returning district qualifiers.
Miller said his boys team has numerous athletes looking to break though to the state meet. After setting a school record in the 200-medley relay last year, Miller said the boys team is anxious to qualify a relay to states.
"We have high expectations," Miller said. "We hope to really learn a lot from last year. We look to see how the kids responded tapering. We want to do what works best for the athlete."
Alex Cimera may have had the best freshman year in Stow swimming history, setting school records in the 100 backstroke and 100 butterfly last winter. Cimera was Stow’s lone state qualifier, taking 19th place in backstroke.
Now a sophomore, Cimera looks even stronger, as Miller notes he would like to reach the state finals in the backstroke.
"This past summer, he’s kind of widened his scope," Miller said. "He qualified for USA Swimming Futures, which is big for him. He’s been working in the 200 freestyle. That’s one of the areas that he’s improved."
Miller notes junior Luke Novak is motivated, having just missed the state meet in the 100 backstroke and 200 individual medley last season.
"We are really excited to see what he can do," Miller said. "He has his goals set. His backstroke was so firm."
Junior distance swimmer Dylan Cossin also has his eyes on the state meet.
"He done a tone of work on his stroke," Miller said. "He has some really high goals."
Sophomore Keith Turnbull is another returning district qualifier, who Miller said "is really hoping to get that butterfly down," along with his backstroke work.
With Schoenberg graduated, senior district qualifier Will Boggs will serve as the Stow boys’ primary sprinter. Miller calls senior Luke Baker "our unsung hero" as he will contribute in the sprints and relays.
Among the freshman class. Miller has high expectations for Jacob Hickin in the butterfly and Caleb Sun in the breaststroke.
Miller also hopes sophomore Loren Culp can help the boys in 1-meter diving, which has been a hole in the Bulldogs’ lineup the last two years.
On the girls team, Miller is hoping "substantial numbers" can aid Stow’s cause.
"It’s just a matter of getting that breakthrough season," Miller said.
Stow’s top female swimmer again figures to be junior distance swimmer Evie Lewis, who reached districts in the 200 IM and 500 freestyle last winter.
"She overcame some shoulder injuries," Miller said. "We still want her in the 200 and 500. It can be difficult. She always tries to fight thought it."
Miller looks for big things from junior district qualifier Grace Pontius.
"I’ve never seen her this focused," Miller said. "She has that experience now of knowing what it takes. She will be our primary sprinter. She’s very motivated."
Senior Elysia Gabbas will take the load in the butterfly this winter for Stow.
Miller notes his freshman girls have already made huge strides this season. He taps Annalia Dye as his most promising female rookie, though she is dealing with a knee injury.
Unlike the boys, one-meter diving could be a strength this winter for the Stow girls. Not only our district qualifiers junior Emily Lillich and senior Emily Schmidt back, but Miller is very high on freshman Paige Galberin, who joins the team after diving with the Akron Rippers youth program.
Stow will open its season over Thanksgiving weekend. The annual alumni meet will take place Akron General North Nov. 29 at 5:30 p.m. The Bulldogs will then compete at the Solon Relays Nov. 30 at 3:30 p.m.
Reporter Michael Leonard can be reached at 330-541-9442, firstname.lastname@example.org or @MLeonard_GHO