VERSAILLES — The Versailles swimming team has higher expectations than ever as it enters the state meet with the Tigers focused on making the podium and possibly even winning the school’s first state championship in swimming.
Versailles has nine swimmers, plus four alternates, who will compete in 11 events at the Ohio High School Athletic Association state meet today and Friday at C.T. Branin Natatorium in Canton.
Five girls comprise three relay events plus three of those girls — Lexi Fliehman, Hannah Marshal and Amber Seibert — are competing in individual events, too. Four boys will compete in two relays for Versailles while Mitchell Stover also has a couple individual events to swim in at the state meet.
All nine of the swimmers have competed at state in the past so this year the excitement of simply making state has given way to high expectations of finishing among the best in Ohio.
“I think it’s great because they’re thinking positively,” said Versailles head coach Penny Cromwell, who is assisted by Travis Fliehman and Ed Ruhe. “They want to win. They want to get up on the podium.”
No one on the team has higher expectations than Stover, a senior who is making his fourth trip to state. He has the top qualifying time in the 100-yard butterfly (49.97) by almost a full second and is third in the 100-yard backstroke (51.36).
“I think it will be awesome to make it back again, and hopefully I’ll be able to win this time,” said Stover, who is committed to swim collegiately for Wright State University.
Stover had a pair of top-five finishes last year in the 200-yard individual medley and the 100-yard backstroke.
This year he’s also part of the 200-yard freestyle relay and 400-yard freestyle relay along with fellow seniors Cole Albers, Andrew Kramer and Michael Marshal.
The 200 freestyle is right before the 100 backstroke, which could hurt his individual performance, Stover said, but it’s a sacrifice he’s willing to make to help his team.
“It might hurt me a little bit, but in the long run I think it’s good for the team, and I want the team to do the best they possibly can do,” Stover said.
Versailles’ 200 freestyle relay also enters the state meet with aspirations of winning the championship. The Tigers are seeded fourth and already beat top-seeded Oakwood this season.
“This year we’re placed a lot higher than we were last year,” Albers said. “We have the chance to do something that we’ve never had the opportunity to do before. We could potentially get first in our 200 free, which would be a really awesome experience.”
The Tigers know they’re setting their goals high, but they are confident in their abilities.
“Anything can happen,” Kramer said. “It will be tough, but the sky is the limit.”
The 400 freestyle relay, which includes the same four swimmers as the 200 freestyle relay, is seeded 10th in the state.
Cromwell said she didn’t expect either relay to make it this far at the beginning of the season, but the teams swam really well thanks in part to Michael Marshal rejoining the team after taking two years off. He made state as a freshman and is happy to help his classmates make it back this year.
“I was hoping that we could just get to state,” he said about how well the Tigers have done. “I wasn’t expecting this.”
Versailles did have to overcome some obstacles to get this far, though.
“We’ve had some ups and downs like Andrew breaking his hand, but we’ve come back from all of that, and I feel like God’s really blessed us to get to this point, and I think he’ll continue to bless us through state,” Albers said.
In the girls 200-yard medley relay, 200-yard freestyle relay and 400-yard freestyle relay, the Lady Tigers are hoping to make the podium, which would require a top eight finish.
The 200 medley relay and 200 freestyle relay are in line for that position, having qualified fifth and seventh respectively, while the 400 freestyle relay has the 11th best qualifying time.
“We’re all pretty thrilled, and we have big goals going into this meet,” said sophomore Ashlyn Cordonnier, who is part of all three relays. “We just hope to make it a great last year for the seniors.”
While the Versailles boys have four seniors competing, the Versailles girls have two seniors and three sophomores. But even the underclassmen have state experience from last year.
“All those nerves that you have no idea what you’re going into, walking into, is gone,” said sophomore Abbey Marshal, who will compete in the 200 freestyle relay. “You know what the place looks like. You know what to expect.”
Fellow sophomore Lexi Fliehman, who will compete in all three relays plus the 50 freestyle, agreed that last year’s experience makes her less nervous and more ready to compete.
“Last year I was really nervous, but this year I’m prepared and I’m ready to go,” she said.
But even for the veterans there are new experiences such as Seibert, who is part of all three relays, competing individually at state for the first time in the 100 breaststroke.
“Even better. It gets better each year because we keep adding events,” said Seibert, who is making her fourth appearance at the state meet. “It gets better and better, and finally I made it individually so it just made it even better.”
Fellow senior Hannah Marshal, who will swim in the 200 medley relay and 400 freestyle relay plus the 100 backstroke, is making her third trip to state and said it’s hard to believe her high school swimming career is ending.
“It’s kind of surreal,” she said. “It hasn’t really set in yet. Just now, this past week, I’ve been thinking like it’s my last time doing this. Like today, it’s our last practice. It’s going to be our last time at state so we have to leave with a big bang.”
For Versailles’ six seniors competing this week, knowing this is their final chance to swim for the Tigers provides extra motivation to perform well.
“It just really kind of motivates you,” Kramer said. “You know you don’t have another chance at it, and especially with four senior guys, it’s kind of the boys team’s last shot for awhile. We want to make an impact.”