A talented and productive bunch returns at Perkins for another run at the state championships.
Having won the Sandusky Bay Conference every year since 2001, the Pirates appear ready for a high-scoring run that will see Perkins, with three-time state placer Stephanie Gyurke, pile up podium finishes at the end of the season.
Asked what's in store for the 2010-11 Pirates, head coach Steve Cremean said "It's a positive and strong outlook." Without knowing the full extent of what other area teams have in their pockets, Perkins has a productive and experienced group in every event.
The Pirates, Sandusky Bay Conference, sectional and district champs, were third overall February at the Division II Swimming and Diving Championships in Canton. While no one on Campbell Street is ready to toss out predicitions on what this group can achieve, the ceiling for success is always high.
"With the kids, we try and repeat the same success levels," Cremean said. While it's too early to tell state-wide where the Pirates will fit in the standings, the team does have "high-quality kids, and we'll take them and get faster."
Talentwise, this team is one of the best at Perkins, but it is one of the smallest. There are 13 swimmer, and a few divers -- including state placer Kori Penrod -- though a handful have experience at the state level.
Gyurke had four finishes in the top four a year ago at state -- second and third in the 400 and 200 freestyle relays, and fourth in the 200IM and 500 freestyle -- and has been the team MVP each of the last three years.
"I want her to enjoy the experience, and I want her to be satisfied with whatever result she gets. She's self-motivated," said Cremean, adding it's responsibility to keep swimmers productive and guide them through their feedback to their top levels. "It's more of a partnership than anything else.
"I have to put the overall plan together and make the changes, to talk to them and communicate and figure things out in the constant states of flux of high school. They experience a lot in high school."
Gyurke isn't limited to swimming just the 200 individual medley and 500 freestyle in her individual races, even though they're the two she's competed in at the state meet the last three years.
"She's so well rounded," Cremean said of Gyurke, who signed a letter of intent with Ohio University. "She can do everything and everything well."
Gyurke, like two of the area's other top swimmers -- Sandusky's Taylor Vargo and Port Clinton's MacKenzie Stewart, both of whom won state titles last winter -- could score at state in multiple events.
Sophomores Jillian Chapman -- who dueled Margaretta senior and two-time state qualifier Sydney Craig in the 50 freestyle -- and Kim Anglin are also back for the Pirates, as are senior Emily Mariea and junior Camile Cremean. All were state placers.
Craig holds a school record in the 50 freestyle for the Bears, while Rachel Patten, Amanda Carroll and Ashley Traczek also hold school marks at Margaretta.
Perkins already won the Northwest Ohio Aquatic Conference Relays, and will compete at the Cleveland State Viking Invite Saturday. In January, Perkins will host the SBC Championships.
Sandusky champion Taylor Vargo
More to do to get better.
Sophomore Taylor Vargo capped her first varsity season last February with the first state title for Sandusky swimming in 60 years.
Now a sophomore, Vargo has an idea of what it takes to reach the summit at state swimming, and her coach is guiding her from the shoulders up on how to get there again.
"I think she's more motivated than she ever was," Sandusky coach Tommy Patterson said. "She knows what her goals are, and she has an idea of what you have to do to achieve those things."
It's been an enjoyable ride -- and Vargo still has three seasons to see how good she can be.
"I'm looking hopefully to do as well as I did last year," said Vargo, the defending state champ in the Division I 100 yard breaststroke. "I'd like to get faster. And I want to help our relay teams get to Canton -- any of our relays. If we could get a guys and girls relay that would be great."
Vargo's state title, one of four for this area's swimmers last year, was the first for the Blue Streaks swim program since the 1959 season, when the 200 freestyle relay of Dan Frohman, Tim Ziemke, Dave Scott, Mike Bennett won gold.
"I just like watching her swim, and I'm very fortunate that I can see it every day," Patterson said. "It's been so long at Sandusky (since we had a state swim champ, and I've gotten a lot of nice notes and calls from former swimmers. That's probably the neatest thing so far."
Patterson even got an e-mail from a former exchange student who graduated from Sandusky in 1981 and lives in Finland.
Vargo's title continues a trend of success Sandusky started in the spring of 2009, when the baseball team won the school's first Greater Buckeye Conference title since joining the league. Weeks later, hurdler Dailyn Moore won a state title in Columbus.
"With all these different sports, its nice to have the swim team brought up as one of the top sports programs," Vargo said. "It's nice to show that 'Hey were here and we're just as good as sports that have conference titles and other achievements.'"
Returning home hours after her win in Canton, neighbors converged on the Vargo residence in Sandusky, honking horns and applauding.
"That's more support for this year showing that people cared. I'm hoping their support will help me progress this year to another state title," she said.
The preparation this year for Vargo -- like fellow state champion and Port Clinton junior MacKenzie Stewart -- is in the details.
"(We're working on) mentality and my turns as I swim, stroke technique and pushing myself in practice," Vargo said. "(I knew I would have to) step it up a bit and work twice as hard as I did last year. Every year people are geting faster and I hope to get faster."
Patterson knew she was fast and said he wasn't caught off-guard by her times and performance at state. But he also wants swimmers to focus on times, not places or the pressure of repeating as a swim champ.
"Our expectations have been to come to practice and do the things we need to get done for that day," he said. "If we can do that, all these things will take care of themselves."
Patterson has preached "one meet at a time" to his swimmers, "and if you truly believe that and work at it, your going to be alright."
With school records in five events (200 freestyle, 200 IM, 500 free, 100 breaststroke, 400 freestyle relay) Vargo hopes to swim at the college level and place at the next three state meets.
"But I'm focusing this year on doing well at state," she said, "and doing as well as I did last year."
Port Clinton's MacKenzie Stewart
She may not have won a state title in her favorite event, but it makes MacKenzie Stewart want more.
This time, Stewart is out to swim better and faster.
"Being a state champ, and everything that comes with it, makes me want to work harder and beat those times as a junior and do that much better," said Stewart, a junior at Port Clinton.
Stewart won the 200 individual medley (2:05.94) and placed third in the 100 breastroke (1:04.05) at the state finals in February in Canton.
"Hopefully I can go back and drop time in both of those events and hopefully go back and get another state championship," Stewart said.
That's the plan. Now she and coach Danny Diaz need to figure out which events to swim.
"She'll swim the breaststroke, but we're deciding whether she wants to defend title in the IM or go after another event," Diaz said. "She's always looking for a challenge, and for MacKenzie the one that has eluded her has been the breaststroke. That's her favorite event."
Already with a solid work ethic, Diaz said he works with Stewart on little adjustments in the pool -- starts, turns, hand placement. The little things that shave fractions of seconds off.
"Technique is a big part of it," Stewart said. "If you have those down, hopefully you'll do fine."
Diaz spent time in the offseason introducing exercises for core strength -- the area from the chest down to the mid-thighs -- using intense workouts like P90X and Insanity, which Diaz used in the summer to drop 35 pounds. Most of those core exercises are high-repetition power movements performed at maximum intervals.
"At the start of the season, we were ready to pile on the yards, so to speak," he said of the workouts. "She's in pretty good shape, but during swim season there's that fine balance you have to have from overworking and running into injuries. We have to keep her healthy."
Stewart is the first ever swim champ for Port Clinton, which sent its inaugural group of qualifiers to Canton in 2001.
"We had five girls, one of which was Hayley Manly, who is my assistant coach," Diaz said. "Things have come full circle since."
The Redskins also qualified all three relays, two of which Stewart swam on, and Diaz hopes to get all three back. "There are a few changes we can make to hopefully place, but who knows what can happen," Diaz said. "With so many incoming freshmen, I do have some options."
Stewart, like fellow returning champ and Sandusky sophomore Taylor Vargo (who was first in the Division I breaststroke), enjoyed success early in their careers, but have managed their goals heading into the 2010-11 season. And the similarities don't just stop there. "They're built for swimming, and it's interesting because they swim against each other very frequently, and they're pretty good friends," Diaz said.
"(Vargo) did really well, especially going in as a freshman," Stewart said. "I've swam with her a lot since we were little, and she's a lot of fun to swim against."
Asked if expectations are high in Port Clinton to repeat Stewart's results from February, Diaz said, "I don't think so. I try to keep the community grounded. Just because you won it one year doesn't mean you'll win it the next.
"It wasn't easy the first time, so it definitely won be easy the second time," Diaz said.
The community has been supportive of her since she won in Canton, said Stewart, whose wins were founded before she ever set foot into the pool as a freshman in 2008.
"It's from how hard you've worked in your past," Stewart said. "I've been swimming since I was 5. You'll do whatever you can to make sure that happens."
It also comes from the right mental approach -- the type of approach that makes a swimmer want to swim faster and better one season removed from standing at the top of the podium.
"I think, and I've said it a million times about MacKenzie, she never gets bigger than the sport. She's a team captain this year and motivates everyone to swim faster," Diaz said. "She realizes how much she's accomplished but it hasn't gone to her head."