|Bluebirds Hope to Defend Combined State Crown|
|PHOTO: Pam Pendery. Highlands swimmer Sarah Redden is one of four seniors on the girls side this season. Highlands won the combined state championship last year.|
After years of knocking on the door of a championship, the Highlands Bluebirds Combined Swimming and Diving teams brought home the first state championship since 1995 last February.
Highlands won it with 205 points edging Louisville Eastern by three at the University of Kentucky. The Bluebirds return a number of swimmers and divers to make another run at a crown.
"The kids have been training hard. They're excited," said Amanda Johnson, Highlands Head Coach. "We're ready to get started whenever we can get a meet in. We're hoping it will start up soon."
The title came down to the last event in the 400-yard Freestyle Relay. The team of seniors Mac Russell, Jack Banks, Will Griffith and junior Sam Jones pulled off the second-place finish in three minutes, 10.76 seconds to rack up 34 points to win the crown.
The Highlands boys finished state runner-up with 193 points after finishing third in 2019. Thirty-two-time state champion Louisville St. Xavier ran away with the state championship with 592 points. The Tigers have 56 crowns overall.
Russell, a University of Kentucky commit, won the the 50 Free individual state crown in 20.63 and Banks won the individual state championship in the 100 Breaststroke in 55.65 seconds. Both are school records. Banks, a Cornell University commit, earned automatic All-American honors and Russell earned All-American consideration as a result.
Russell took second in the 100 Freestyle in 45.81 seconds and Banks took eighth in the 100 Butterfly in 51.08 seconds.
Highlands graduated four seniors on the boys side last year. But the Bluebirds return those four plus other solid swimmers. That includes senior Harrison Pawsat. Pawsat, Banks and Russell helped the 200 Medley Relay team finish second in 1:37.75. Sophomore Matt Herfel helped the 200 Freestyle Relay team finish fifth in 1:30.49 along with Jones, Pawsat and Griffith.
Junior Reece Guthier is the top returning diver. He took 12th in state last year with 373.2 points in the one-meter diving at state last year. Sophomore diver Robert Arnberg also qualified for state last year.
Highlands lists 37 swimmers and divers on the boys side including seven seniors. The other three are swimmers Miles Sower, Ethan Stuart and diver Michael Meadows.
"We have a big senior class this year that's shown a lot of leadership," Johnson said. "We have a lot of good underclassmen and a lot of younger swimmers that are going to step up and fill the roles. It's a strong group. They just reload. It's going to be exciting to watch those boys swim."
Johnson said a number of juniors and sophomores could rise up in the swimming events this year. They are junior Benjamin Vaught, sophomores Logan Holbrook, Sam Hopper, Evan Jones, Adam Pawlak and Bode Russell.
Five younger swimmers could step forward this year, Johnson said. They are freshman Charlie Banks, eighth graders Griffin Barlow, Torin Bryant, Hayden Hasson and seventh grader Charlie Herfel.
|Support local! 1017 S. Fort Thomas Ave.|
The Highlands girls have 25 listed on the roster. The main swimmer of the 10 seniors to graduate to fill in for is Caroline Sand. She scored 12 points at the state meet last year.
But four seniors return in swimmers Priscilla Caballero, Riley Dungan, Sarah Redden and diver Lauren Groeschen. The other diver hoping to contribute this year is sophomore Ciara Murphy.
"It's hard to lose the girls that graduated. But we have some good girls that are back," Johnson said. "We have some up-and-comers that we're excited about. We have depth, too. When you graduate a good class, you have to build it back up. We have some good leadership and some good youth on that side."
Junior Sophia Sarakatsannis returns to swimming after not participating the last two years. Other junior swimmers expected to participate are Molly Eide, Lindsey Lorenz, Grace Walsh and Lucy Willis. Sophomores Belle Bryant and Sarah Yu could have big seasons along with freshmen Peyton Wissman, eighth graders Sarah Jones, Evelyn Smith and seventh grader Ragan Moore.
Redden said a number of swimmers participate on club teams such as the Cincinnati Marlins. But there is a huge transition to high school swimming and diving.
"Certain events aren't offered at high school meets," Redden said. "I have some friends that are better at distance events. During high school season, they just really don't have that much. It's about finding those people and sorting them into that event like the 500 or 200 Freestyle. It's a very sprint-heavy meet schedule."
Johnson said there will be limited fans allowed at events hopefully in a few months. But only so many athletes are allowed to participate in the events.
"We want to keep ourselves safe. You want to be the close, tight-knit group that's always training together, always having fun. But at the same time, you have to keep some precautions," Griffith said. "Some precautions we have are spacing in lanes. In some practices, I have a wall to myself. Some are in the middle. Some are on the other wall. We wear masks whenever we're not in the pool to keep ourselves safe and to keep others safe."
The Highlands boys have won three consecutive Region 7 titles and the combined team has won nine straight region crowns. The Highlands girls finished fourth in region last year.