NORTH CANTON  Records are falling, wins are piling up and the Hoover swimming and diving teams are feeling good as the new year fires up.

Both the boys and girls teams ended the 2016 portion of their respective schedules with an undefeated dual meet record and matching strong performances in the season-opening McKinley Relays. For the girls, winning the McKinley Relays set the tone for the early weeks of the season. After amassing 67 points to win the meet, they followed that triumph by besting Boardman, Massillon, Stow, Dover, Canton McKinley and Lake before a pair of invitational meets to close out the month of December.

“The girls were able to check off one of their short term goals by winning their second McKinley Relays in as many years,” head coach Matt Johnsen said. “They are ranked very well in the state right now, but they surely know that December rankings don't mean a thing. They look great on computer screens, but February counts.”

The boys team placed third at the McKinley Relays, but as Johnsen noted, still turned in good times. The team’s response to that third-place finish was a resounding 112-73 win over Boardman as junior Nathaniel Mullens won multiple events and senior diver David Waszak made his return to the pool after missing a year due to an injury. After a routine practice dive, he discovered that he had broken the L-4 vertebrae in his spine.

Having finished as the state runner-up in 2015, his diving career was suddenly in jeopardy. Surgery and months of rest and rehabilitation got him back to the board and at the McKinley Relays, he broke the longstanding meet record with a score of 335.80 for six dives. The performance was an exclamation point on the comeback process, but it also served notice that Waszak is not simply back to be back, but that he’s back to his usual self and ready to make a run at a state podium finish once again.

Breaking record has become a theme for the Vikings early in the season, as Amanda Palutsis broke her own school record in the 100 freestyle (51.11) and teamed with Anne Evans, Kate Lochridge and Parker Timken to break the school and county records in the 400 freestyle relay.

Evans has been busy raising the bar for herself individual, having hit her fastest times in her three main events this season. All of that positive momentum is building toward what the Vikings hope will be another championship season.

“We’re focused on accomplish our next short-term goal, (to) strive through two-a-days and race well during the difficult January schedule,” Johnsen said.

As the new year began, Green, Jackson and Hoover were the only undefeated programs left in the Federal League in both boys and girls swimming. After capturing the league crown last season, the Hoover girls are confident in their ability to repeat, while the boys have dreams of reversing last season’s outcome and toppling reigning champion Jackson.

The good news entering the toughest part of the schedule is that, according to Johnsen, there are no major injuries to report. That clean bill of health is the best news a coach and team can receive at this point in the season, with four more league meets looming. A 21-day stretch during the heart of January will see Hoover take on Green, GlenOak, Perry and Jackson.

The Jackson and Perry meets will take place in a six-day span stretching across the end of January and beginning of February and with the Jackson meet doubling as senior night for Hoover, the pressure is sure to be high. 

“They enjoy the pressure,” Johnsen said of his swimmers. “Those are two quality programs.”

The end of the season is often where the great teams separate themselves from the pack and if they’re to reach their goals for the season, the Vikings will have to not only enjoy the pressure, but thrive under it. The reality is that less than one month remains until the postseason begins at O’Casek Natatorium on the University of Akron campus and given the way its season has started, Hoover is bullish on its prospects to make a big splash when the sectional meet takes place.

Reach Andy at 330-580-8936
or andy.harris@thesuburbanite.com.
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