The preparation is complete. The work is done. It's time to see how the Saint Ignatius swimming & diving team stacks up to the best in the state.
With an undefeated dual meet record and the District Championship trophy, the Wildcats have established themselves as one of the best teams in Northeast Ohio and Northwest Ohio. The Aqua Cats possess one of the most talented and deepest teams in recent program history.
But the State Meet is a different animal. Southwest Ohio boasts some of the best swimmers in the Midwest, and Central Ohio also hosts plenty of talented swimmers. Cincinnati St. Xavier holds a vice grip on the state title. The Bombers have won 11 straight OHSAA Division I State Championships and 40 state crowns all-time, an unmatched dominance that stems in part from St. Xavier having its own pool.
Even with the championship likely out of reach, the Wildcats have plenty to strive for. In 2017, the Wildcats won the Division I runner-up honors, a huge achievement that reverberated around the state. This year, the Wildcats will be looking to repeat the feat and turn some heads.
The State Meet will be held this year at CT Branin Natatorium on the campus of Canton McKinley High School, as per usual. Division I swimming prelims will begin on Friday morning at 9 am, the diving will take place on Saturday at 9 am, and the swimming finals will start on Saturday at 4 pm.
Here's a look at what to expect this weekend.
We'll start with diving. Will Claus will represent the Wildcats in the diving portion on Saturday morning. This year marks the third year in a row Claus has forged a place in the State Meet. In each of the past two seasons, Claus has earned a spot on the podium, last year finishing sixth with a score of 571.20. This season, the junior enters with the sixth-best District score, at 497.65. However, Claus sits just 13 points out of third place.
The swimming portion will kick off with the 200 medley relay. Tyler Hong, Zach Toothman, Brian Johnson, and John Soeder will rep the Wildcats to kick things off on Friday. The quartet won the District Meet race at Bowling Green State University last Saturday with a time of 1:32.85. That seed time sets the Wildcats in fourth entering the event, but just over a second separates them from second-place Mason. St. Xavier leads the pack with a seed time of 1:28.95.
Joe Richmond squeaked into the 200 free as an at-large bid for the Cats after finishing third at Districts. The junior stands at 23 out of 24 swimmers in the event with a time of 1:43.15, so he'll need a big effort in the prelims to qualify for the finals. But it's not impossible. Richmond shaved 3.65 seconds off his time from the Sectional Meet to the District Meet, and only a second separates him from 16th place and a spot in the B finals.
The 200 IM may be a race to remember. Tyler Hong shattered his previous District record in the event last week with a mark of 1:49.63. His seed time sets him at second in the event, only 0.41 seconds behind the top seed, the Bombers' Scott Sobolewski. In 2019, Hong snagged fourth, as Jake Foster of Cincinnati Sycamore set pool, state, and national records in the event.
The 50 free is the lone individual event with two Saint Ignatius representatives. John Soeder punched his ticket to Canton with a District-winning time of 20.98, while Will Van de Walle snuck in as an at-large bid with a time of 21.51. Entering the prelims, Soeder sits in ninth, only .02 seconds behind eighth place and a bid to the A finals. Van de Walle will have a more challenging race, sitting as the 24th swimmer out of 24. He'll need to erase some milliseconds in order to get to the finals on Saturday.
Soeder will again compete in the 100 free. The senior clocked in at 46.49 in the District race, good enough for second place an automatic ticket to this weekend's festivities. But a host of Central and Southwest District qualifiers stand above him, as Soeder's seed time ranks 13th. He looks like a solid lock for the B finals, with a potential to steal a spot in the A finals.
Richmond takes the pool again in the 500 free after a school-record setting performance last weekend. The star junior clocked in at 4:35.99 to win the District Meet, but he'll have more competition in Canton. Richmond occupies 10th place currently, though he's only .51 seconds out of eighth. Jacob McDonald of Lakota East is the overwhelming favorite with a seed time of 4:25.95.
Micah Murtha, Kian Carmichael, Will Van de Walle, and Soeder will rep the Wildcats in the 200 free relay. The quartet enters as the No. 6 squad after dropping several seconds to take second at the District Meet with a time of 1:25.30. The Wildcats need to maintain this time or improve upon it to secure a place in the A finals, as the ninth-place team is less than a second behind the Cats.
Hong will have another chance at a state title in the 100 backstroke. The junior won the event at BGSU, tallying a time of 48.12, breaking his own previous record in the race. Hong is not far behind the top seed in the event, Aaron Sequiera of Walnut Hills, who owns a seed time of 47.56.
Zach Toothman earned a spot in the 100 breastroke this weekend with a second-place time of 59.14. The competition will be fierce this weekend, as the other Districts snagged the at-large bids. Toothman's time sits 24th out of 24 qualifiers. The veteran will need a big effort to force himself into the finals.
The Wildcats will be represented in the final event, the 400 free relay. Hong, Richmond, Murtha, and Carmichael will look to end things off well in the exciting event. The Wildcats' contingent took second at the District with a time of 3:07.20. The quartet enters Canton as the 5th seed, looking in very solid position to advance to the A final. The Wildcats might even crack the top three, as they sit behind the No. 3 seed, Beavercreek, by less than a second.
All in all, it should be a fun weekend to be a Wildcat.
Full list of State Meet qualifiers:
1-meter diving: Will Claus (seed place: 6th, District score: 497.65)
200 medley relay: Tyler Hong, Zach Toothman, Brian Johnson, John Soeder (seed place: 4th, seed time: 1:32.85)
200 free: Joe Richmond (23rd, 1:43.15)
200 IM: Tyler Hong (2nd, 1:49.63)
50 free: John Soeder (9th, 20.98), Will Van de Walle (24th, 21.51)
100 free: John Soeder (13th, 46.49)
500 free: Joe Richmond (10th, 4:35.99)
200 free relay: Micah Murtha, Kian Carmichael, Will Van de Walle, John Soeder (6th, 1:25.30)
100 back: Tyler Hong (2nd, 48.12)
100 breaststroke: Zach Toothman (24th, 59.14)
400 free relay: Tyler Hong, Joe Richmond, Micah Murtha, Kian Carmichael (5th, 3:07.20)