NORTH CANTON  As they splash into a new season, the Hoover boys and girls swimming teams have different challenges on their respective plates.

On the girls’ side of the ledger, the Vikings are the defending league champions for the first time in several years and must defend their newly won status as the queens of the Federal League waters. The Hoover boys came up just short of a league title last season and will once again attempt to knock defending champion Jackson off its perch.

“If we stay healthy, we can compete with the top teams in the county,” head coach Matt Johnsen said.

The girls team returns a collection of talented swimmers in the wake of an undefeated season last year, including Amanda Palutsis, who earned All-American status last season and holds multiple school records, including the 200 freestyle and 100 freestyle.

Senior Anne Evans, one of the Vikings’ veteran leaders, likes what she has seen from her team in the early weeks of the season.

“We’re working even harder now than we we last year, so we’re expecting to do even better and we’re really pushing each other,” Evans said in regards to last season’s 13-0 record. “It’s exciting because even though we lost some great seniors, we have a really great bunch of freshman and as a team, we really get along well and we’re like a family.”

That family atmosphere tends to both the boys and girls teams and after going 12-1 last season, the boys have aspirations of avenging their loss to Jackson and joining the girls as league champions.

The process of reaching that goal began in earnest with the McKinley Relays last weekend, a meet at the C.T. Brain Natatorium that brings together the entire Federal League in a fun, unique meet that includes all manner of relay events and gives teams a chance to see where they stand and what their competition within the league and for the postseason looks like.

“It’s kind of a fun meet that gives you a nice view of how the other teams are doing,” Evans said. “It’s a good ice breaker and you see competition like you usually don’t see until the end of the season.”

The McKinley Meet is a good early barometer, but Johnsen believes that this squad will be at its best late in the year, assuming it can stay healthy and on its current pace. That’s no guarantee, but over the course of the next two-plus months, the Vikings will be doing everything they can to steer their season toward a strong finish.

“We should be a good team in February,” Johnsen said, alluding to the sectional meet and beyond that come at the end of the regular season.

Just prior to the postseason, Hoover will square off with Jackson on Jan. 27 in what has become in recent years a de facto league championship meet, as the boys and girls teams from both schools have dominated the Federal League and often entered the meet undefeated, knowing that the winner would capture the title.

Because of that, the sight of one of the boys and girls teams from each school jumping into the pool en masse and posing for a group photo to celebrate a league championship has become a common occurrence in recent seasons.

“Our one big goal is always to win the Federal League and then to go on and do well in the sectional and district meets and get as many people as we can to the state meet,” Evans said.

It’s ironic that as the weather outside cools down in a hurry, the swimming season is just heating up, but for two teams that combined to go 25-1 one season ago have the excitement rising at Hoover. February is still a long way off, but a good start can give a team plenty of momentum to use in its favor as it chases its title dreams. 

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