Saint Ignatius faithful witnessed history in a packed Robert Busbey Natatorium at the Lakewood Sectional Meet.
On a triumphant Saturday for the Saint Ignatius swimming & diving program, the Wildcats qualified all 22 swimmers & divers for the District Meet next Saturday at Bowling Green State University.
That's a program first for the Aqua Cats.
"Even when we had the runner-up teams, we were never this deep going into the District Meet," Head Coach Mike Lehto said. "Looking at it going in, we knew we had a chance at doing it."
The Wildcats began the feat by qualifying both divers at the diving portion of the Sectional Meet on Tuesday. Will Claus finished second with a score of 468.40, while Noah Keim tallied sixth with a score of 340.65.
Then the Wildcats took care of business on Saturday.
"We talked to them as a team and said, 'Hey, we're strong enough that we don't have to worry about this," Lehto said. "Our meet is not this weekend, it's in two weeks at Districts. That's all we focused on. We love swimming fast here because we consider it our home pool. Now, we tapered it back a little bit. Expectations are just to get through it, and we got through."
The Wildcats did more than get through Sectionals – they thrived.
In Saturday's first event, the Wildcats' 200 medley relay raced to second place. John Libertin, Nicky Hong, Joe Richmond, and John Soeder combined for a mark of 1:39.41 for silver.
The first individual event of the afternoon, the 200 free, represented another great start. Richmond sailed to first in the event with a time of 1:47.82. Thomas Metz trailed him in sixth at 1:52.96. Michael Bednar nipped at his heels with an eighth-place time of 1:53.17, and Cameron Marcie came in at 12th at 1:55.15.
Four Wildcats broke the top six in the 200 IM. Tyler Hong championed the event with a top time of 1:53.45. His brother, Nicky, snagged second at 2:02.67. Zach Toothman completed the 1-2-3 sweep with a mark of 2:03.34 for third. Christian Wolke rounded out the quartet, clocking in at 2:06.52 for a nice sixth place effort.
In the quick 50 free, four Wildcats raced to qualify for Districts. Micah Murtha led the pack with a time of 22.25. John Soeder (22.33) and William Van de Walle (22.63) also broke 22 seconds, earning fifth and eighth, respectively. Kian Carmichael did great work in taking 13th place, clocking in at 23.17.
In the 100 fly, the Wildcats a personal record was set. Brian Johnson lassoed a sixth-place time of 54.98, setting a new personal record. John Libertin also shaved time off, clocking in at 55.81 for seventh. Cormac Nolan flowed to 57.71 for 11th and Cameron Marcie marched to a time of 58.06 for 14th.
After the race, Johnson was presented with a gold "I" chain. The captains envisioned the idea this past week, similar to Miami's 'turnover U' chain. A Wildcat is presented with the chain after setting a PR, and Johnson did just that on Saturday. The junior was all smiles upon accepting the chain.
The Wildcats kept tacking up good times in the 100 free. Murtha captured third in the race at 49.39. Daemyen Haywood followed him closely at 49.51 for fourth. Carmichael did great work again with a time of 50.36 for eighth, while Metz penned himself in at 10th at 50.58.
In the last heat of the lengthy 500 free races, four Wildcats clipped spots in the top six. Richmond won the race with an excellent time of 4:54.13. Wolke flew to silver, with a nice mark of 5:00.28. Bednar cupped a time of 5:05.00 for fourth and Tommy McIntyre rolled to 5:07.27 for sixth.
A quartet of Wildcats bottled up spots in the top 10 in the 100 back. Tyler Hong scarfed first in 50.51, leading the way for the Cats. Haywood scored fourth place with a time of 55.65. Libertin touched the wall at 57.10 for sixth and Sam Hessler roped a time of 58.78 for tenth.
The 100 breaststroke saw an outpouring of support by Saint Ignatius swimmers who had completed their day already. Nicky Hong won the event with a time of 59.90 and Toothman trailed him closely with a second-place tally of 1:01.97. Robert Gavigan earned fourth at 1:02.50. Finally, Kartar Vig qualified for finals with a 15-place time of 1:07.73.
The Wildcats finished the day with the 400 free relay. The Sectional Meet ended in success for the Wildcats, as Haywood, Richmond, Murtha, and Soeder combined for a time of 3:13.64.
All of the success has Coach Lehto pumped for next week's District Meet.
"Next week, you look at our District, it's going to be a dual meet between us and Toledo St. Francis. They have not been challenged in that District in a long time," Lehto said "We're going to be a lot closer to competing with them than we ever have. Going in with the times we have now doesn't look like anything, but if we swim our capabilities, it will be a very close meet next week. I'm more excited about next week's meet than I have been in a long time."