CANTON — The Branin Natatorium announcer had just welcomed a sellout crowd to “the greatest high school meet in the U.S.A.”
The great race began moments later. St. Francis de Sales announced itself as contender for the Division I team title at the state swimming and diving championships by winning the opening 200-yard medley relay.
The heat was on when St. Francis also won the 200 freestyle relay in a state-record time, and trailed Cincinnati St. Xavier 174-172 with just three events left.
But St. Xavier rallied to take the team title with 255 team points to St. Francis’ 238. Cincinnati Moeller was a distant third with 179.
PHOTO GALLERY: Ohio High School Division I State Swimming Championship
Senior Nick Brodie’s sizzling anchor leg enabled St. Francis to beat St. Xavier’s medley team going away. No one thought Xavier was going away.
The Aquabombers had won 22 of the previous 24 state team titles. St. Francis won the two times Xavier didn’t, and the Knights had finished second twice since 2010.
“We’re always looking at them,” said St. Francis senior Jack Barone, who placed second in the final individual event, the 100 breaststroke. “They’re always looking at us. It’s a long way to get here, and a lot of work. Meets like this make it worth it.”
The relay tests a team’s depth and reflects its ability to win a state championship, incorporating 50-yard legs of the backstroke, breaststroke, butterfly, and freestyle. The St. Francis-Xavier matchups were:
• Leg 1, backstroke. St. Francis junior Evan Williams vs. Xavier junior James Wray. Wray won the leg, 23.73 seconds to 24.22.
• Leg 2, breaststroke. Barone took on senior Ollie Acomb and did some catching up, winning the leg 25.34-25.61.
• Leg 3, butterfly. Four of the eight teams in the race were almost even after St. Francis junior Ben Gordon beat Xavier senior Adam Kranbuhl 22.87-23.06.
• Leg 4, freestyle. Before the meet, St. Francis’ Brodie set goals that sounded almost crazy. He imagined a perfect race in the open 50 that would produce a state record, something in the 19.8s. It didn’t sound as crazy when he smoked a 20.24 on his leg against Xavier anchor man Grant Carr (21.10).
The Knights climbed atop the awards podium with a 1:32.67. Xavier was one step down at 1:33.50.
“We’ve been swimming together I don’t know how many years,” said Barone, who has been in the water since he was 3. “We’re used to each other on those relays. We push each other in practice. We have a lot of chemistry.”
The Knights were powered by depth.
“Look at the relays,” Gordon said. “We have top guys in each event, and top guys to plug into the relays.”
Brodie was stoked for his final meet.
“My mom got me into swimming lessons because she was afraid I would drown,” he said. “I started out at St. Francis as a breaststroker.”
Now he is headed to Ohio State after anchoring two state-title relays.
In the 200 freestyle relay win, senior Jack DiSalle, Barone, junior Christian Sobczak, and Brodie held off Xavier with a state tournament record 1:22.85.
In the meet-ending 400 freestyle relay, the foursome of DiSalle, Gordon, junior Aaron Borgman, and Sobczak finished second in 3:07.05 to St. Xavier.
Brodie placed third in the 50 freestyle, Sobczak and Barone placed fourth and seventh in the 200 individual medley, DiSalle was fourth in the 100 freestyle and eighth in the 200 free.
In Division I girls, St. Ursula junior Zhada Fields placed third in the 200 freestyle, a race in which Bowling Green junior Emmy Sehmann was seventh.
Fields was fourth in the 100 backstroke.
Fremont Ross placed fourth in the 200 free relay (sophomore Morgan Waggoner, senior Megan Hawk, junior Haley Fisher, sophomore Meghan Moses) and third in the 400 relay (Fisher, Hawk, Waggoner, Moses). Moses was seventh in the 50 free.