Hudson swimming looks to continue at elite level

Michael Leonard
Kent Weeklies
Hudson sophomore Vittorio Cappabianca competes in the breaststroke last season
Hudson junior Mackenzie DeWitt swam 23.66 in the 50 free at the OHSAA Division I state prelims at C.T. Branin Natatorium last February.

Hudson swimming and diving has become such a strong dynasty, not even COVID-19 can bring it down.

Well, kinda.

Explorers coach Matt Davis said he, his team and the Hudson Explorers Aquatic Team feeder program have been able to train without interruption the past few months.

The refurbished Ada Cooper Natatorium has been busy.

"We haven’t had a lot of competitions, but we’re blessed that we have our facility," Davis said. "We've been able to get our pool time. When everything was lifted June 1, we were able to hit the ground running."

Of course, that doesn't mean things have been normal.

As he enters his 15th year with Explorers, Davis said he's had to split up practices to accommodate his team's numbers. He's also aware COVID-19 restrictions could shut down his team this winter.

"We talked early on about that," Davis said. "We've got to take whatever opportunities you have. We’ve had a chance to race a couple times this fall and the kids have embraced it. We have to swim every practice well because this could be the last one.

"You don’t realize what you lost until it's gone," he added. "Mentally, it’s got to be tough for the kids."

If the season can be completed, Hudson's goals are as high as ever.

Last year, the Explorers swept the Suburban League National Conference titles and the girls won the Northeast district meet, and the boys were second.

Hudson's girls went on to finish fifth at the Division I state meet.

Davis plans on maintaining that level of excellence, despite some large graduation losses.

"Our plans are always a district title," Davis said. "I think especially on the girls side, our depth is so strong, we should be considered the favorites. We always have girls that can put up big numbers. Success breeds success."

Davis said the HEAT program has been "critical" to Hudson's success, in part because he's been able to interact with his swimmers since they were very young.

With regard to this year's National Conference race, Davis believes his girls program will be the prohibitive favorite again. On the boys side, the programs at Stow-Munroe Falls and Brecksville-Broadview Heights have closed the gap on Hudson in recent years.

Hudson's assistant coaches include Josh Forsythe, Mallory Martin, Holly Kiar and Paul Peterson. Dan Miller is the Explorers' diving coach, while Matt Riede is the strength and conditioning coach.

Davis looks to have 43 girls and 16 boys in the pool this winter.

The Explorer boys did lose some major talents to graduation. Distance swimmer Caleb Tuckerman is now swimming at the University of Kentucky, diver Hunter Trautmann  is competing at Illinois-Chicago and Mason Meyer is at Ohio Northern.

Davis expects state qualifier Seth Baylor to be his senior leader. A member of Hudson's state qualifying relay teams, Baylor's versatility is emblematic of the team.

"He can do it all," David said, noting Baylor will see most of his time in the 500-yard freestyle and 200 individual medley. "All of our boys are capable of doing great things in multiple events".

Davis said senior Dylan Albrecht has come a long way since his younger years and has aspirations of making the state meet. Senior Tate Trattner will swim a lot of freestyle events this winter.

Davis calls senior Ben Martinez "a great team leader" who will see time in the IM and breaststroke.

Junior Andrew Constable had a breakout season at the end of last year and could lead Hudson's efforts in the sprint freestyle events.

Sophomore Vittorio Cappabianca was another who reached state with the relays last year for Hudson.

"His distance freestyle has improved so much," David said. "He's thinking about making an impact at states. Guys are going to be ready for him. He just keeps growing."

Sophomore Andrew Ketler could also contribute in distance freestyle and butterfly, while sophomore Roman Sawicki will look to build on a huge freshman season.

Three incoming freshman with plenty of experience on the HEAT squad will be expected to contribute: Alex Gallagher, Nolan Tanner and Iason Cho.

"We’re going to expect a lot of them," Davis said. "We’re here to work hard and get better."

Davis said he had some huge losses on the girls team, none bigger than 2019 state champion Paige McCormick, who is now swimming at Louisville. Hudson also lost Giovanna Cappabiancca (University of Akron) and Gabrielle Loring (Ohio University) to graduation.

Despite these losses, Hudson still has boatloads of talent, anchored by senior All-Ohioan Mackenzie DeWitt, who recently signed to continue her academic and swimming career at Ohio State.

After finishing fifth in the state in the 50 freestyle and seventh in the 100 butterfly, Davis said DeWitt wants to make a run at the state titles.

"She's going to have the chance to do something special," Davis said. "She’s eager to get to it. We're super excited to see what she can do at Ohio State.

Two-time state qualifier Taylor Kochanowski is ready to make an impact in the breaststroke, and senior Caroline Coates has dreams of making state in the 200 IM.

The backbone of Hudson's girls team is an 18-member junior class loaded with returning state qualifiers.

Two-time state qualifier Lucy Reber just missed reaching the finals in the 200 IM last year, and Eliana Szabo will be back in the 200 freestyle. ‘

Another two-time state qualifier is breaststroker Mia Dronjak, and Kate Hensley qualified in the 100 backstroke, but will look to contributed this year in the butterfly.

Distance swimmer Olivia Passano has some big shoes to fill, and junior diver Isabella DiTullio hopes to make her first trip to state.

Leading Hudson's sophomore class is sprint freestyler Carrie Caniglia. The daughter of Hudson wrestling coach Joe Caniglia was part of all three of Hudson's state relay teams last year and will make a splash in the 50 and 100 freestyle.

Sophomore Marisa Schenkenberger won't lack for motivation this winter, as she was the last person left out of qualifying for state in the IM and breastroke last season. Sophomore Mia Dezlick will contribute in the backstroke.

Davis said freshman Natalie Brindley could be the next big thing for Hudson in the freestyle and backstroke, and Maya Metzler will contribute in the breaststroke.

Hudson is set to open its season by hosting Wadsworth at Cooper Natatorium Dec. 4 at 5:30 p.m