CANTON - It definitely wasn't a baby step. It was a giant step forward for St. John's Jesuit sophomore Jake Epperson.
After finishing 23rd one year earlier, the Titans sophomore made his first trip to the awards podium with a third-place finish in the boys 100-yard breaststroke event (58.16 seconds) at the Ohio State High School Swimming Championships at the C.T Branin Natatorium in Canton yesterday.
"I was expecting to do better than last year but not this much better," Epperson said.
The Titans swimmer credits training for his 20-place leap but Epperson couldn't hide a touch of disappointment as he was seeded first going into the final with a preliminary time of 57.78 seconds. Mason sophomore Spencer Hewes won the title with a time of 57.77.
"I think I thought about it too much," Epperson said. "But I'm happy with what I've got."
Epperson wasn't the only Toledo-area swimmer who made a trip to the podium as St. Francis de Sales senior Colin Murtagh placed third in the 100-yard freestyle with a time of 46.60. Westerville Central junior Austin Staab won the event with a time of 44.94.
"Sometimes you're on and sometimes you're not," Murtagh said. "Tonight, something just wasn't quite right."
After four trips to state, the St. Francis senior had no regrets.
"It's good to think back on all the races and I'm happy with my high school career, but I'm ready to go to college," said Murtagh, who has accepted a scholarship offer from the University of Texas.
Maumee senior Kendall Karchner was beginning to wonder if she would ever get back onto the podium. She swam to an eighth-place finish in the girls Division II 100-yard backstroke as a freshman but settled for ninth and 11th the next two tries.
"It made me want to work harder," Karchner said.
The hard work paid off for the Panthers senior as she finished fifth yesterday with a personal-best time of 59.04.
"It was amazing finishing my high school career this way," Karchner said.
The sole Maumee state qualifier will swim at the University of Akron in the fall.
The Bombers finished with 289 points while St. Charles (188) and Firestone (102) secured second and third places, respectively. St. Francis finished seventh with 95 points.
"If we have the best team, I want to win," St. X coach Jim Brower said.
Upper Arlington swam to a repeat state title in the girls Division I competition with 319 points. Ursuline (226.50) and Centerville (203) finished second and third.
Hawken earned its seventh D-II girls title, a distinction the Hawks have earned every year since the girls competition was split into two divisions in 2000. The Hawks more than doubled second-place Cincinnati Indian Hill's tally, 346 to 153.