February 23rd, 2013

Gold brings silver: St. X wins 25th in a row

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Paul Najjar

Senior Writer

Gold brings silver: St. X wins 25th in a row
St. Xavier swimming team with the state championship trophy / photo by Paul Najjar

Tigers win with depth and extend title streak to 25 straight

Records are made to be broken. But when talking about the St. Xavier swimming program, records are made to be set. And set high.

For sheer dominance in a sport, try these numbers: 49 state swimming titles in 67 years and now, after a decisive performance at the 2013 Pannell Swim Shop KHSAA Swimming and Diving Championships, the Tigers have won their 25th consecutive title. For this year, gold is silver, as in the silver anniversary of the start of the win streak. For next year, the Tigers will strive for a golden (50th) title.

St. X, as always, won with depth and superior talent. It scored 430.5 points to take first place ahead of second place Covington Catholic (311.5), third place Ballard (235.5) and the fourth place finishers Trinity (190.5).

The 25-year win streak ties St. X with Brophy College Preparatory of  Phoenix as the two schools with the longest swimming state title streaks in the nation. The two are tied for third for the longest consecutive state title winning teams in any sport.

“One thing we’ve tried to do is never concern ourselves with the streak,” St. X head coach Todd Larkin said. “Life’s not about streaks; it’s about getting out there, working hard and giving your best. These guys put so much into their daily work that it’s great when it all comes together for them and they can win a championship.”

The Tigers won four of the 12 events (11 swimming plus the diving competition), but their superior depth provided so many valuable points. And it is that depth that other teams just cannot match. St. X placed three swimmers in the top eight in the 100-yard backstroke and two in the top eight in the 200 freestyle, 200 Individual medley, 50 free, 100 butterfly, 100 free and the 500 free. Alex Dumstorf took third place in diving.

Seniors Robert Leasure (200 IM) and Mitchell Forde (100 free) earned individual wins for the Tigers in addition to their 200 medley relay and 200 free relay getting wins. The 200 medley relay team of Leasure (backstroke), Nicholas Sehlinger (breaststroke), William Harrison (fly) and Garrett Stephens (free) set a state record with their All-American qualifying time of 1:33.26.

Trinity junior Thomas Cooper, who had to deal with flu-like symptoms, won the 100 fly (50.00 seconds) and took third in the 200 free. Covington Catholic senior Max Williamson, named Outstanding Meet Competitor, took the 200 free in a state record time of 1:37.93 and the 100 back with an All-American time of 48.77, just 0.70 off of Covington Catholic grad Nate Dusing’s record that was set in 1997.

But this meet was all about the St. X dynasty and the determination that the team brings to every state championship swim meet. Larkin, a 1986 St. X graduate and a four-year swimming letter-winner, reflected on the influences for the program.

“The first name that comes to my mind is Dr. Sangalli (St. X president), who was my coach,” Larkin said. “He exemplifies what leadership is all about. I learned and grew so much from him as a swimmer at St. X and I put a lot of what he taught me into our program. It never feels like a job here because we have so many people supporting us and looking out for us. It’s great to just give back to the school and the community.”

It may have started with Sangalli for Larkin, but the winning tradition was ramped up a few notches by Marty O’Toole’s tenure. Longtime coaches in Jefferson County, Region Two in the state’s swimming breakdown, talked glowingly about what St. X swimming means to the city and the state. Quite simply, St. X has helped put Kentucky high school swimming on the national radar.

“First, let’s point out that this 25th title is not just a Kentucky record, but a national record and that’s a testament to their great program,” Manual head coach J.C. Barnett said. “A lot of people work really hard to make that happen. In the 70’s and early ‘80’s Kentucky’s high school championship meet ranked in the bottom 15 in the country. Now our swimmers and the times they swim are among the top 15 state championships in the country and St. Xavier has a lot to do with that.”

From Collegiate head coach Damian Vitale: “Give St. Xavier all the credit in the world. It’s an awesome achievement and they don’t sit on their laurels. Coach Larkin pushes his team every year to win that state championship.”

The grind-it-out performance by this year’s unsung bunch of Tigers proved that their exceptional effort could bring a lofty reward.

“It is amazing what this group of kids accomplished,” said Larkin. “Our guys are very mature and they realize that some of the great teams of recent years aren’t going to help us win now. We have to perform, step up and race. They did a great job of focusing on what they have to do to achieve.

“They’re fully aware of the legacy,” Larkin continued. “And really, it’s been a great year for our program with Clark (Burckle, class of 2006), swimming in the Olympics and coming back to talk to the guys and attending some workouts. Our alumni support really makes our school special. One of the messages we give our guys is that you may graduate from this school, but you never leave.”

The only thing the St. X swim team leaves at the end of every season is a longer championship winning streak and a more prominent place among the great high school sports programs in the nation.



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