For the first time in program history, swimming and diving for Saint Ignatius have won back-to-back District Championships. The Wildcats hail from the Northwest District, with multiple student-athletes competing at the State meet this upcoming weekend.
"I'm very proud of the boys," says Head Swimming Coach Eric Dennis. "This season was an uphill battle every step of the way, and these boys responded well."
The District meet was an uphill battle for the Wildcats, primarily due to the pandemic's precautions. The Cats took a two-hour bus ride to Bowling Green State University and had little time to move around and prepare for the meet. "We had about three hours of rest time with little turnaround when we hit the pool," says Dennis. "That meet was a great testament for the swimmers and divers."
The Wildcats won the NW District championship by a decisive 101 points. Diver and University of Cincinnati commit Will Claus broke a program record in the 11-Dives event as he totaled 539.85 points. The previous record was held by his brother, Alex Claus, a record set back in 2017. Claus moves on to the states for the fourth time in his diving career at Saint Ignatius High School.
The Wildcats appear to have become a swimming and diving powerhouse in Ohio in the last couple of years. Junior swimmer Micha Murtha touched on the last few seasons on the swim team, "Coming in my freshman year and coming close, and seeing St. Francis take the banner and getting to celebrate, fueled me to come back and help win it my sophomore year," says Murtha. "We are creating a tradition of winning, and I think we can pass that on for years to come."
"I think it says something about the guys on this team," says senior swimmer Joseph Richmond. "We always had difficult yet achievable goals throughout the season. Development of seniors to build the program has been special; we didn't just walk into this; it took time to put this together." Richmond notes how special it is to witness the program grow over his four years on the team.
Coach Dennis is in his first year as Head Swimming Coach for Saint Ignatius as Dennis recently was the coach at St. Edward High School. He notes that he knew right from the start that this team was exceptional. "We started this season against a powerhouse of St. Xavier, there were no fans in attendance, the workers were all St. Xavier's parents, so this was an intimidating place to start for the year," says Dennis. "The first event was the 200-yard relay, and we won that race; that is when I knew we were going to be a great team."
The swimming and diving team this season seems to have created a special bond through the uphill battle. "There is a sense of community with the team, a tight-knit group of guys," explains Murtha. "We don't swim as individuals, and we look at accomplishing a team goal; us coming together is a big takeaway for me."
"We're just having fun with it," says Richmond. "The week before districts is the most stressful because you have to qualify for the state meet before you can perform."
The Wildcats left Bowling Green State University with a District trophy, and the team was exuberant. "Everything has been difficult but not impossible to overcome. When we got to hold the trophy, we got to celebrate something of normalcy," explains Richmond. "We not only fought for districts, but we also fought this whole season."
Murtha walked into Districts hungry to qualify for the State meet. "I remember last season I came in tenth, my teammate John Soeder '20 won it," Murtha noted. "I thought how cool that was and wanted to be on that stage-I worked hard all off-season. I knew I had to work harder to get points for the team." Murtha qualified for the 50 and 100-yard freestyle and the 200 and 400 yard freestyle relay for the state meet.
Richmond will also be a part of the 400-yard freestyle relay in the upcoming State meet and the 100-yard breaststroke. "This is a high point of the season," says Richmond. "Everything this year has essentially been a big obstacle-from our training, to meets, to not having a home pool and new coaching staff, it was all worth it."
The build-up for the state meet has been growing throughout the week. "We're very excited; there is nothing to lose," says Dennis. "Planning with our coaches, if we swim where we are projecting to, we will finish in 5th place-all the pressure is off, and we are going to swim and an all-time high.
"Canton is a great atmosphere," said Murtha. "Being this close to something this big is huge as a group, high stakes, high reward."
The State meets at the C..T. Branin Natatorium in Canton will begin on Wednesday, February 24, and finish on Saturday, February 27. Those student-athletes that will be competing at states are as follows: Tyler Hong, Micah Murtha, Joseph Richmond, Erik Seicean, Will Claus, Zachary Toothman, William Van De Walle, Sam Hessler, and Thomas Metz.
"We're having fun as a team and enjoy being with each other," says Richmond. "We just want to go out and have a fun time with our brothers."