The case could be made that central Ohio girls swimming and diving traded one dominant program for another when New Albany ended Upper Arlington’s 20-year run atop the district in Division I.
The Eagles are seeking their fourth district title and third state championship in a row.
But even though the same teams come out on top almost without fail, the area hasn’t been this competitive in recent memory — and the teams themselves wouldn’t have it any other way.
Six area teams finished in the top 10 at state last winter, up from four in the top six the year before and the top three in 2020, when Dublin Coffman edged New Albany by nine points and third-place UA by 14 to capture its first team championship. At last year’s state meet, Eagles swimmers took home three titles — the 50-yard freestyle and 100 backstroke for Carly Meeting and the 400 free relay that clinched the team trophy — while Coffman’s Emily Brown and Olentangy’s Martina Peroni won two events each.
Gahanna Lincoln and UA each won a relay.
“It’s very strong. It’s nice that it’s competitive across the board,” said 27th-year New Albany coach Dave Wharton, who also led the 2009 team to a state runner-up finish in Division II. “(Eagles swimmers) know everybody has their eyes on them. They know how hard it is to stay at the top. Everybody is working hard to be the contributor they need to be so we can do the best we can. There are never any guarantees. … But the same attrition we have from year to year, everybody else has.”
It's a different world from when UA ruled the area, and to some extent the state, with a tight grip. The Bears won 20 consecutive district titles from 2000-19, scoring an average of 453.7 points in those meets and winning by an average of 230.6, and beginning in 2003 won 12 state championships in 15 seasons.
In that same 20-year span, Bears swimmers won 22 individual and 29 relay state titles.
At the height of its run, UA scored 600 points in four consecutive district meets from 2006-09.
“We had a lot of great, healthy internal competition,” said Abby Chin, a 2011 UA graduate who swept the 200 and 500 free championships as a senior and was part of three winning relays before going on to swim at Louisville. “There was such a high level of swimming throughout the state of Ohio, and that has not changed at all. It’s gotten faster even since I was in high school. … I think (the talent) is just a lot more spread among the schools.”
Chin helps coach Upper Arlington Swim Club youth competitors in her spare time, a level Coffman coach Mark Birnbrich called critical to the current state of high school talent.
“There are just a lot of great programs here for kids to get involved with,” said Birnbrich, who also coaches with the Dublin Community Swim Team. “Even though I am senior coach for our club and with Coffman, it’s the club teams that are making more of this happen.
“Kids from an early age see that and want to be a part of it.”
New Albany was district runner-up for five consecutive years starting in 2015, coming within seven points of toppling UA in 2018. The Bears have been district runner-up each of the past two seasons, and UA will visit New Albany for a dual Dec. 16.
“If you know your competition in New Albany or Dublin is going really fast, that means you have to go up and meet them,” Bears coach John Sands said. “Central Ohio swimming as a whole has taken a jump. We’ve all stepped up to the next level to keep up with each other.”
This article originally appeared on ThisWeek: Central Ohio girls swimming high school season preview