All season long, there have been signs something special was brewing for Stow-Munroe Falls swimming and diving teams.
On Saturday at the Division I sectional meet at the University of Akron’s Ocasek Natatorium, everything seemed to come together. The result was the best postseason start in program history.
Stow’s boys finished second in the 14-team race at sectionals with 315 points. Hudson won the boys title with 420 points, but Stow beat rival Brecksville-Broadview Heights (third, 265 points).
The Stow girls also had a solid meet, taking fourth in the 16-team field with 171 points. Hudson dominated the girls field with 535.
More importantly, Stow advanced a school record 21 swimmers and divers to districts. The group included four automatic qualifiers and three sectional championships.
Needless to say, Stow coach Ryan Miller was pumped about his team’s performance.
"I couldn't be more proud of how the kids stepped up," Miller said. "Each year, we raise the bar and set our goals higher, but having 21 athletes move on is a huge step in the right direction. We had all but five athletes tapered for this meet and the results show just how hard they've been working.
"I’m a very optimistic person, but I couldn’t even think about getting 21 kids to districts," he added. "It’s huge."
Miller noted the Bulldogs’ performance was even more impressive considering Stow lost its practice space heading into the district meet. Electrical issues at Akron General-North rendered the pool unusable, so Stow had to find a different practice pool for three days heading into sectionals.
The Stow diving crew got the ball rolling for the Bulldogs.
On Feb. 5, Stow freshman Paige Galperin and senior Emily Schmidt each qualified for districts, as the top 13 divers qualified. Galperin finished sixth with 320.45 points in the 11-dive competition, while Schmidt was 12th with 288.3 points.
The next night in the boys competition, sophomore Loren Culp finished 11th with 200.4 points to qualify.
"Our divers started things with a bang having all three qualify," Miller said. "It's really nice to see our lone freshman diver, Paige Galperin, have success her first year. She came in to high school diving with experience, but she has gotten so much more comfortable over the season, I can't even imagine how great she is going to be in years to come"
As expected in Saturday’s swim competition, sophomore Alex Cimera led the charge, despite being one of five Stow swimmers who did not taper for sections — and despite not swimming the 100-yard backstroke, where he qualified for state last year.
Miller chose to have Cimera swim the 100 butterfly and 200 freestyle at sectionals. The move worked to perfection, as Cimera earned automatic qualifying spots in both events. The top two finishers in each event earned automatic district berths with the next best 24 times also advancing.
Cimera won the sectional title in 51.47 seconds. Not only was that time good for the sectional title, but it was the fastest qualifying time for the Cleveland district meet.
"Forty-nine [seconds] high is his goal," Miller said. "Even hitting 50 for the fist time in his career would be good. He’s capable of anything."
Meanwhile, Miller chose to put Cimera in the 200 freestyle based on some performances in the preseason. Cimera finished second in the 200 at sectionals with a time of 1 minute, 44.56 seconds, finishing just behind champion Brandon Stoia of Normandy (1:43.37).
"He’s in a really good spot right now," Miller said. "I think he can go as far as he likes.
Meanwhile, junior Dylan Cossin’s breakout season continues as he won the sectional title in the 500 freestyle. Despite not tapering, Cossin nearly matched his personal best time, winning the race in 4:43.77
"He’s been working hard and we didn’t want to let up on him," Miller said. "I’m amazed he went as fast as he did. He really wanted Cory Cremer’s school record [4:42.7] to get the weight off his shoulders. Being the top seed will help at districts. I think Dylan can do anything he wants to."
Cossin joined Cimera in qualifying for districts in the 200 freestyle as he finished fourth in 1:47.29. His time was the sixth fastest heading into districts.
Cossin and Cimera also joined forces with junior Luke Novak and sophomore Keith Turnbull joined forces to earn Stow’s first relay sectional title in year. The quartet won the 400 freestyle relay in 3:17.88.
"At the end of the meet, it’s a big race. You always want to win that one," Milelr said. "It’s a really good combination for us."
Stow also qualified for districts with its other two relays.
Cimera, sophomore William Dorenkott, Turnbull and Novak joined forces to take fourth in the 200 freestyle relay in 1:30.26. Meanwhile in the 200 medley relay, Dorenkott, senior Caleb Myers, freshman Jacob Hickin and senior Will Boggs finished sixth in 1:45.46.
Novak just missed automatic berths in both of his events. He took second place in the 200 individual medley in 2:01.04, finishing just behind champion Seth Baylor of Hudson (1:59.99).
With Cimera not swimming the 100 backstroke, Novak had hoped to get an automatic berth. He just missed, taking third in 55.22, but easily qualified with the sixth fastest district time.
"He has his hopes set really really hight on that race," Miller said. "He’s overcome a lot of issues this year with illness and injuries. There’s nobody that works harder."
Other district qualifiers for the Stow boys included:
• Hickin in the 100 butterfly (54.42) and 100 breastroke (1:05.1);
• Myers in the 100 breastroke (1:05.38) and 200 IM (2:08.39);
• Boggs in the 100 freestyle (50.42) and 50 freestyle (23.33);
• Turnbull in the 200 freestyle (1:50.11) and 100 backstroke (56.83);
• Senior Luke Baker in the 500 freestyle (5:04.72) and 200 freestyle (1:52.19).
For the Stow girls swimmers, junior Evie Lewis was back to her regular distance schedule.
Despite not tapering, Lewis was able to take fifth place in 500 freestyle in 5:29.02 and 12th in the 200 freestyle in 2:04.43, qualifying for districts in both events.
"She’s been a much more reliable sprinter this year. I have a little bit more confidence in her in the 200," Miller said. "We want to get her in the best shape we can."
Lewis also helped Stow qualify for districts in the 200 medley and and 400 freestyle relays.
Lewis, junior Grace Pontius, senior Elysia Gabas and sophomore Olivia Casalinova finished seventh in the 200 medley relay in 1:57.85, while freshman Annalia Dye, Lewis, senior Isabel Samles and senior Bernice Sun finished sixth in the 400 free relay.
Sun, Dye, Pontius and Casalinova joined forces to finish sixth in the 200 free relay for Stow and also reach districts.
Other district qualifiers for the Stow girls included:
• Pontius in the 100 freestyle (57.71) and 100 breaststroke (1:16.28);
• Sun in the 100 backstroke (1:07.57) and 100 freestyle (58.06);
• Dye in 100 freestyle (57.72) and 50 freestyle (26.42);
• Gabbas in the 100 butterfly (1:06.35) and 200 IM (2:28.96);
• Casalinova in the 50 freestyle (26.34) and 100 butterfly (1:07.5);
• Samels in the 100 butterfly (1:05.7);
• Junior Molly O’Brien in the 500 freestyle (5:46.39).
The district diving events were scheduled for Thursday with the boys at 10:30 a.m. and the girls at 6 p.m.
The district swimming events were set to be held Saturday at noon. The top two finishers in each event and 16 next fastest times advance to states.
Reporter Michael Leonard can be reached at 330-541-9442, email@example.com or @MLeonard_GHO