NORTH CANTON  Making history for Hoover High School athletics isn’t easy these days.

For a school with multiple state championship banners hanging in its rafters, setting a new standard for success is a tall task. The school’s boys and girls swimming teams managed to do just that and did it in emphatic fashion at the Division I state swimming meet.

The girls team ranked fourth with 150.5 points and the boys team finished 13th with 61 points, each establishing a new mark for the best finish in program history at the state meet.

“We showed up strong and everyone swam really hard. We did phenomenal,” senior Annie Lochridge said. “Personally, I feel like I did very well. I wanted to go faster, but I know I have four more years in college to do that.”

Before shifting her focus to swimming in college for the Akron Zips, Lochridge took part in four (200 medley relay, 200 IM, 100 breaststroke, 400 freestyle relay) races at the state meet. Her strong third leg helped the Vikings to a seventh-place finish in the 400 freestyle relay, one of the team’s best finishes of the day.

The best race of the day in terms of points came in the 50 freestyle, where junior Amanda Palutsis placed third, barely ahead of teammate Parker Timken in fifth to help Hoover make a big leap up in the standings.

The Hoover boys and girls made the most of their chance to swim in a familiar pool, one Lochridge noted they swim in more than they swim in their home pool at the North Canton YMCA. There were plenty of big efforts for the Vikings, including a state championship for senior Nahtan Mullens in the 50 freestyle and a third-place result for senior diver David Waszak, who overcame a spinal cord injury that kept him out of action for nearly a year and an abdominal injury that shelved him for two weeks at the end of the regular season.

The boys team had the two highest individual finishes, but the girls team rode consistent efforts from a bevy of swimmers to fourth place. Lochridge first became aware of how high the Vikings were on the Division I leaderboard near the end of the meet, but wasn’t surprised.

“I saw it before the second- or third-to-last event … the 100 breaststroke gave us big points and the 400 freestyle relay did really well,” Lochridge said. “Last year, we finished seventh overall and had pretty much the same amount of girls swimmers and events. We thought top 10 was possible but top five was awesome.”

Like the dozens of other seniors who competed in the meet, Lochridge had the experience of being excited to compete at the highest level of high school swimming in Ohio while knowing that it would be her final high school meet.

“It was definitely bittersweet, but it’s such a great atmosphere … the Ohio state meet is one of the best in the country, so I wanted to be able to enjoy myself and be nice and relaxed,” she said.

The moment that Lochridge believes will stick in her memory most prominently going forward is the 200 IM, in which she swam a time of 2:07.12. After touching the wall to finish the race, she quickly turned her attention to the scoreboard and was excited to see that she had reached her goal time. It was a feat she “didn’t know if it was going to happen this year,” but seeing her time, she looked up into the stands to those on hand to cheer her on and then to head coach Matt Johnsen.

It was one last memorable moment in a career that has featured lots of them for Lochridge, as well as one of the final highlights of arguably the most successful season in the history of Hoover swimming. The girls team went undefeated, won its second straight Federal League title and had an impressive postseason run. The boys team lost just once, finished second in the league, had an individual state champion and ended the year with its highest-ever state meet finish.

As the program moves forward, maybe its next goal will be adding to the softball team’s stash of state championship banners hanging in the rafters of the school’s gymnasium. 

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or andy.harris@thesuburbanite.com.
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