BOWLING GREEN — New coach, new competition, same old results.
St. Francis de Sales romped to the Division I district boys swimming and diving team championship Saturday night at a packed Bowling Green State University Student Recreation Center.
If you’ve heard that before, this one was no formality. An influx of Cleveland-area schools beefed up the Northwest District from 21 teams last year to 45 while the powerhouse Knights were breaking in first-year coach Tony Kurth.
Yet the night ended with — surprise — St. Francis in celebration on the top step of the awards podium. The Knights won their 47th district title with a score of 411 points.
Strongsville was second with 333 points. Findlay, Cleveland St. Ignatius, and Lakewood St. Edward rounded out the top five.
"To make a new statement with a new coach and the new teams here was huge," Knights junior Jack Barone said. "A lot of people doubted us, thought we were going to be second [behind Strongsville]. This sets the tone for the next 47 years."
St. Francis opened the meet with its 200-meter relay team team of Christian Sobczak, Barone, Ben Gordon, and Nick Brodie dusting runner-up St. Ignatius by more than two seconds in a district-record time of 1 minute, 33.17 seconds, and the Knights continued to romp with victories in three individual events.
On the relay rout, Kurth said, "That was the plan all along. We wanted to make a statement to those Cleveland schools that the OSHSA wanted to send over to us."
Strongsville won the girls title with 322.5 points to hold off runner-up Fremont Ross (280). St. Ursula placed third with 215 points while Notre Dame took fifth.
But the story of the meet was St. Francis, which, in a season of transition, added the latest chapter to its flush tradition.
Kurth, a 1999 St. Francis graduate, was charged to keep the Knights machine churning. His predecessor, Keith Kennedy, who resigned after last season to become chief executive officer of San Clemente Aquatics in Southern California, led St. Francis to 11 district titles in his 12 years and finished his run with three straight top-three finishes at the state meet — including runner-up teams in 2010 and 2011.
Now, after spending nine years at Cranbrook-Kingswood High in Michigan, Kurth hopes to ultimately return St. Francis to where he left it — atop the state.
"I wanted to bring the rich tradition I experienced and instill it in the boys," said Kurth, who helped lead the Knights to their last state title in 1998. "They did some remarkable things this season that over my 10 years coaching I haven’t encountered."
The Knights swept the top two spots in the 50 free, with Brodie sprinting away with a time of 20.72 seconds and senior Matt Gustafson touching second in 21.17; Barone took the 100 breast in 56.60; and Gordon won the 100 fly in 51.36. Barone also placed second in the 200 IM at 1:54.37.
The top two finishers in each race automatically qualified for spots at next week’s state meet in Canton, but St. Francis figures to have plenty of other at-large qualifiers.
Elsewhere, Findlay freshman Justin Hopkins won the 500 free in 4:43.11 and Findlay senior Dietrich Hinesman took the 100 free in 46.37. Fremont Ross won the 200 medley relay.
Those with qualifying runner-up finishes were Southview’s Jake Vlasnik in the 500 free, Ross’ Graham Moor in the 200 free, and Findlay’s Kyle Hopkins in the 100 back.
Bowling Green sophomore Emma Sehmann took top billing on the girls side with first-place finishes in the 200 free (1:49.76) and the 500 free (4:56.81).
Other highlights included wins by St. Ursula sophomore Mikayla Murphy in the 200 IM (2:06.70), St. Ursula sophomore Zhada Fields in the 100 back (57.80), and Fremont Ross freshman Morgan Waggoner in the 100 fly (56.95). Ross also won the 200 free relay.
Placing second were Fields in the 200 free and Murphy in the 500 free. Finishing second for Fremont Ross was Meghan Moses in the 50 and 100 free, Laura Duncan in the 100 fly, and Waggoner in the 100 back.
Earlier in the week, St. John’s Jesuit senior Mitchell Layman took the boys 1-meter diving competition with a score of 452.25. Findlay’s Bethany Glick finished second in the girls event (420.40).
Contact David Briggs at: firstname.lastname@example.org, 419-724-6084 or on Twitter @ DBriggsBlade