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Published: 1/26/2011

After taking runner-up spot last year, experienced St. Francis swimming eyes top goal

St. Francis swimming coach Keith Kennedy. St. Francis swimming coach Keith Kennedy.
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Keith Kennedy is in his 11th year as the St. Francis de Sales swimming coach.

This could easily end up as the most rewarding season.

"Our expectations are high but we're trying to keep a low-profile," Kennedy said. "We're just trying to swim well at the end of the season."

There are nine reasons why expectations are high for the end of the season for the Knights.

More precisely, nine of the 10 members of Division I state runner-up team last season are back in the pool.

The Knights -- led by USA Swimming Scholastic All-America team members Rowan Williams, D.J. MacDonald, Dan Miller, and Michael DiSalle -- believe they can seriously contend for the program's fifth state title. St. Francis won it all in 1967, 1968, 1996 and 1998.

With virtually the same group that came up 10 points shy of perennial state champion Cincinnati St. Xavier for the Division I title last winter, the Knights have gone through this season focusing on getting better each time out.

"We were happy with last year's finish as state runner-up, but it wasn't really satisfying," DiSalle said. "It has given us a lot of motivation for this year."

The Knights have come out this season and have displayed a depth of talented swimmers.

They've recently claimed team titles at the Little Giant Invitational and Knight Invitational. They were also successful in defeating two former state title teams -- Carmel (Ind.) and Saline (Mich.) -- in dual meets.

Miller, a senior, has continued to impress this season after being a part of the state-champion 400-yard freestyle relay team a year ago. His season-best time of 1:39.59 for the 200 free ranks No. 1 in the state. His time of 46.46 in the 100 free ranks second best in the state, while his 21.46 for the 50 free ranks fourth.

A major reason behind his drive to succeed is more about helping the team's cause than his own. He shares his team's sentiments and believes they're built to make a run at a state championship.

"I think we're very good," Miller said. "I think this team is one of the best teams to come through St. Francis."

Kennedy, who was named the state coach of the year last season, has guided the Knights to nine district championships in 10 seasons and they're clearly favorites to claim another.

Most of them have been swimming together as a group since they were in grade school.

"As a group, they're very, very talented," Kennedy said. "We've had a lot of talented individuals in past years, but this year we have a big pool of them. We've always had some great swimmers."

Williams and DiSalle, both seniors, swam on the state-championship 200 medley relay and 400 free relay teams last year to help the Knights in their bid to upset Cincinnati Xavier, which has won 10 of the last 11 state championships.

Williams owns the second fastest time in the state in the 200 free (1:40.86) behind Miller, while DiSalle (1:42.24) has posted the fourth fastest time.

"They have an opportunity to possibly finish one, two, three at state in the event," said Kennedy.

Williams has also been strong in the 500 free. His time of 4:33.39 ranks No. 1 in Ohio.

"He can swim many events but we're focusing him on the 200 free and the 500 free," Kennedy said. "We think he's got a good shot at state in both events."

Phil Barone also figures as a key member of the team after placing second at state in the 100 breaststroke last season. MacDonald, a junior, who placed 11th at state in the 100 breast last season, has posted the third best time (58.43) this year in the state.

"He [MacDonald] had a great summer and that's why he's swimming great this season," Kennedy said.

The Knights depth also includes Nick Carmony, who was a member of the state-title 200 medley relay team, and Dan DiSalle, who swam a leg on the championship 400 free relay team.

Matt Zimmerman, who was a state-qualifier in the 500 free, and diver Dylan Szegedi, who placed 11th at state, are also back. Connor Trimble was a member on the 200 free relay that was state runner-up.

With the state meet less than a month away, Kennedy is spending more time at practice having his team work on technique and form -- focusing on starts and turns.

Every second counts. Every point at state could be crucial as the Knights look to make a big season-ending splash.

Contact Donald Emmons at: demmons@theblade.com or 419-724-6302



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