Sandusky grad Taylor Vargo has strong first season at Ohio State

Freshman qualified to NCAA championships in 100 and 200 breaststroke for Buckeyes
Sarah Baker
Mar 28, 2014

The sky's the limit.

After a record-setting freshman year, including Big Ten freshman of the week honors and NCAA championship berths in two events, Ohio State University women's swimming coach Bill Dorenkott is excited about Sandusky graduate Taylor Vargo's first season as a Buckeye.

The coach is already looking for more from the former Division I high school state champion (2010, 100 breaststroke).

"She's had an awesome year this year," he said. "The transition from high school — and she was a good high school swimmer — but the transition from high school to swimming at this level, whether it's in the Big Tens or the NCAAs, that first year is a 50/50 proposition. Meaning it's a huge adjustment. So the fact that she had such a good first year, it's really a credit to her. And I would say the coaching she got prior to coming to Ohio State."

Vargo said the biggest transition from high school to college swimming was outside of the pool.

"The biggest difference would probably be outside the pool training — dry land training — and practices are longer," she said. "So going from more dry land and longer practices and harder classes — it's a lot harder to stay on top of everything, but I think the out of the pool experience is the biggest difference." 

Vargo said beyond the ubiquitous laps in the pool that swimmers are used to, the team also runs stairs, works out in the track team's fieldhouse and does a lot of weight lifting and circuit training. 

"It's a lot more running and cardio work than it was in high school," she said. "I think it helped me accomplish more, just being more fit and having a better cardio and core to work with. Having a good core helps in swimming a lot. So I think running and doing all that different kind of stuff just helped me prepare more for my season in the long run."

The freshman started the season with a third-place finish in the 200 breaststroke with a time of 2 minutes, 23.84 seconds and a fifth-place finish in the 100 breaststroke (1:06.38) in a 195-104 win over the University of Kentucky Oct. 11 2013 at Kentucky. The former Blue Streak standout ended the season at the NCAA championships — with a couple school records and Big Ten honors along the way. 

"My first season went really well," Vargo said. "I accomplished way more than I had expected to — so that's always exciting. I was extremely pleased with how I did this season."

Vargo, a breaststroke specialist, had a breakout performance in the Buckeyes' win over Michigan during a two-day meet March 31-Feb. 1. 

During the first day of competition, Vargo finished second in the 100 breaststroke (1:03.68) behind the Wolverines' Angie Chokran (1:02.75). She then came back the second day and bested the Michigan senior in the 200 breaststroke (2:15.21) to help the Buckeyes come up with the 181-172 victory.

"I know that the week heading into that particular meet she had it made up in her mind that she was going to win the 200 breaststroke," Dorenkott said of the Michigan meet. "And I believe she wanted to win the 100 as well, but it was a two-day meet and she got beat on Day 1, and we came in that morning and I told the team, 'we're going to win six events today and we're going to take this meet to the last relay and we're going to win the relay and we're going to win the meet.' 

"And I remember looking at Taylor and knowing that she was going to take the kid on the other team to the ropes," he added. "And she did exactly that. That was a huge breakthrough. She went 2:15, she beat a girl who was an NCAA All-American from Michigan and I don't think it did anything but build her confidence."

The first-place finish earned Vargo Big Ten freshman of the week honors for the week of Feb. 4.

"It was definitely a cool honor to have, being Big Ten freshman of the week, out of all the freshmen swimming and competing," Vargo said. "I had beaten a senior from Michigan — I placed second to her in the 100 breaststroke — and I beat her in the 200 breaststroke, so that kind of placed me in the area of being chosen for that honor."

The win was even more sweet coming against Michigan.

"It's a very big rivalry between both teams," Vargo said. "It's still 'the team up north' and you want to prove who's the best out of both teams. It came down to the last relay and our relay pulled it out. We won by just a couple points and then in Big Tens we beat them again, so that was pretty sweet."

Ohio State finished fourth (374) at the Big Ten Championships, held Feb. 20-22 at Minnesota. The hosts were first with 760, while Indiana was second (649), Penn State took third (484) and "the team up north" finished fifth (361).

At the meet, Vargo and teammate Ashley Vance both broke Ohio State breaststroke records.

In the 100 breaststroke, Vargo finished sixth (1:01.20), while Vance was seventh (1:01.75). In preliminaries both swimmers bested Megan Alexander's mark of 1:01.04, set in 2010, but Vance earned the new mark (1:00.90), while Vargo finished just behind her teammate.

In the 200 breaststroke, Vargo has already set and reset the Buckeyes' top time.

The freshman finished fifth in the event at Big Tens, with a time of 2:11.62, to top Alexander's mark set in 2011 (2:11.79), then broke her own mark at the Last Chance Meet held March 2 at Ohio State's McCorkle Aquatic Pavilion, in the preliminaries with a 2:10.35 to qualify to the NCAA championships.

"That was one of those things that I accomplished that I wasn't expecting to," Vargo said of her school records. "I went in thinking I'm looking to have some best times and I ended up dropping a lot more than I expected to. So toward the end of the season I had my eye on the record, but it really wasn't a goal of mine at the beginning of the season to get it. But toward the end of the season I was like 'wow, I'm getting really close to this, it's a possibility.' So when I got it I was pretty excited."

While Dorenkott is pleased with the record-setting performances, he sees the potential in Vargo going above and beyond what she's accomplished this season.

"I have mixed feelings there. Quite frankly, the records were pretty slow when we got here five years ago, and the breaststrokes in particular aren't that strong," he said. "So I don't want her to be easily satisfied based on the fact that she beat some records that really weren't that good.

"That's no disrespect to the girls that had it prior to Taylor," he added. "But she's really just scratching the surface in terms of what she's capable of doing." 

After the Last Chance Meet, Vargo finished 48th in the 100 breastroke (1:02.02) and 51st in the 200 breaststroke (2:15.54) at the NCAA championships, held March 21-22 at the University of Minnesota.

"Holy smokes, that in and of itself is pretty remarkable," Dorenkott said of Vargo making the NCAAs as a freshman. "When you look at the names of some of the other freshmen that made the meet — kids like (Olympic champion) Missy Franklin and some of the best the best — not just of the United States — but of the world. And I think that speaks to Taylor's ability. She can be as good as she wants to be."