Nov. 29—SWIMMERS AND DIVERS TO WATCH
(in alphabetical order)
Nathan Bender, Chardon: Last winter, this senior took on arguably the toughest individual double in the pool, going 200-yard freestyle/200 individual medley back-to-back and cracking the top 11 at the Division II Cleveland State District in both. He also got some state experience on the Hilltoppers' 400 free relay. Improvement in all could be in the cards.
Cameron Bizjak, University: The best returning boys diver among The News-Herald coverage area ranks, this senior was a solid fourth at the D-II state meet last year and has every reason to believe he can push his 11-dive scores into the 400s and, possibly, compete for a state title after five of the top eight from 2022 graduated.
Joris Boeman, South: Every winter, this junior seems to be getting closer and closer to competing for a Division I state berth in 100 back and/or 100 fly, in which he was third and sixth, respectively, at the D-I Cleveland State District a year ago. In a talented young Northeast District in both events, it would probably have to be as an at-large, but it's seemingly coming sooner rather than later.
Ben Davis, University: Coming off a sophomore campaign in which he was fourth in 200 IM and 500 free at the D-II state meet, with sub-1:54 ability in IM and low-4:40 potential in 500, this returning first-team News-Herald all-star is likely the preseason favorite for 2023 News-Herald boys swimmer of the year.
Jack Faulkner, University: The News-Herald coverage area's top returning boys sprint freestyler, it wouldn't be a surprise to see this US senior in the low-21s in 50 free and contending for a D-II state title by February, along with being a trusted component on the Preppers' vaunted 200 free relay once again.
Miguel Figueroa, University: A second-team News-Herald all-star in 2022, this junior provided the D-II state team champion Preppers value as a "one-and-three," with strong legs on all three US relays. On the day, he is capable of being one of our area's best butterfliers as well.
Krys Gorski, Andrews Osborne: The way this junior came on in 100 back last winter, claiming the D-II Cleveland District crown and grabbing a podium spot in Canton in sixth while dropping massive time along the way, was one of the most encouraging developments of last season. If he can find more closing speed into the 26s by state, a top-three is doable.
Andrew Lewis, Gilmour: Showing considerable growth throughout his career in his signature 100 back, this Lancers' senior was 12th at the D-II state meet a year ago. Getting into the sub-25 range to the turn by February would put him in good stead for competing for the podium.
Aiden Owens, University: As a junior, he had maybe the biggest breakthrough swim at the D-II state meet among the area ranks, vaulting into the 200 IM 'A' final after being seeded 13th out of district, and some back refinement into the 24s could get him even higher on the podium in his high school swansong.
Jonathan Ratka, NDCL: Motivation will not be lacking for this senior and Lions' program staple, who will want to crack 52 with low-27 or better back-half speed and compete for a D-II 'A' final berth at Branin Natatorium in his bread-and-butter 100 back.
Ian Sullivan, University: Similar to Figueroa, this senior was a valuable relay leg for US last season, including a 21.29 anchor as the Preppers took fourth at state in 200 free relay, and of course that low-21 speed makes him a viable sprinter individually as well.
Preston Wooley, Hawken: This Hawks' junior distance freestyler provided some promising glimpses as a sophomore, winning the 500 free 'B' final at the D-II state meet and garnering second-team News-Herald honors. He'll need some more middle-split work, but cutting more into the 4:40s and contending for an 'A' final this February is a reasonable aspiration.
MEETS TO WATCH
Swim for a Solution (Dec. 3 at University), Hilltopper Invitational (Dec. 3 at SPIRE), Jim Stacy Invitational (Dec. 17 at SPIRE), Viking Invitational (Dec. 17 at Cleveland State), Hawken at Gilmour (Dec. 23), University at St. Ignatius (Jan. 3), WRC meet (Jan. 7 at SPIRE), Chardon, Mentor, Riverside at Perry (Jan. 9), Hawken, Hathaway Brown at University (Jan. 10), Perry Invitational (Jan. 14), Northeast Classic (Jan. 14), CVC meet (Jan. 21 at Beachwood), Crown meet (Jan. 21 at Lakewood), Beachwood Sprint Invitational (Feb. 4)
—With six swimmers and divers appearing on the watch list, obviously it's no shock University should be a prohibitive favorite to repeat as Division II state team champion in 2023. After the Preppers' rebuilding year in 2020-21 with a young roster, US is brimming with experience and talent now. As if that returning talent wasn't enough, Coach Brian Perry is also bullish on his freshman class with zone qualifiers Paul Moody, Brendan Sulak and Andrew Malbasa. We will be hearing plenty from Hunting Valley throughout the winter, and deservedly so.
—That said, this does feel like a transition season otherwise in The News-Herald coverage area on the boys side. Of the 21 first- and second-team News-Herald all-stars from a year ago, including swimmer of the year Will Dietz of Hawken, 11 graduated, including eight first-teamers.
—In the new enrollment cycle, there was one divisional address change, with Madison dropping to D-II.
—Diving will look much different this season without Kenston constants Clay Foster and Alex Bayus, who both graduated. So it will be interesting to see who inherits the proverbial mantle there beyond Bizjak and a deep US diving crew.
—If you want a candidate for a breakout season beyond the usual suspects as far as programs go, keep an eye on Geneva sophomore Nathan Reigle. He impressed as a freshman with a ninth in 50 free and 14th in 100 free at the D-II CSU District. Perhaps in Reigle — and although Geneva is the lone News-Herald coverage area school out there — we're starting to see the positive long-term effects SPIRE has had on swimming in the Ashtabula County ranks.
—Mayfield should be in line for a good year, with promising distance freestyler Peter Regas and sprinter Kyle Gleba returning to the fold. The Western Reserve Conference race will be intriguing to watch transpire with the Wildcats, Bender and Chardon and more.