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Feb. 23—CANTON — If there was an interwoven pattern on the road to gold for Krys Gorski, Sarah Pophal and University on Feb. 23 at the Division II state swim meet, it was the path toward the summit did not come without its obstacles.

With the might of the champions they all now are, though, they shoved some obstacles out of the way with the force the greats seem to muster on the biggest stages of all.

Success toward the top of the podium abounded as usual at Canton McKinley's Branin Natatorium for The News-Herald coverage area contingent.

But the place to begin is with Gorski, securing an elusive piece of history years in the making for himself, his school and for Lake County.

The Andrews Osborne senior claimed top honors in his signature 100-yard backstroke with a time of 48.93 seconds. In a twist of fate from a year ago when he was second in the event, this time Gorski was the one to find the magic touch to edge out a win at the wall over a fine swim from Troy Christian's Caleb Reno (49.11).

It is the first state championship in a swimming event — boys or girls — by a Lake County high school.

‍♂️ AOA's Krys Gorski 1st 100 back 48.93

25.40 home to edge it out at the wall

1st swimming state ever from a Lake County school

US' Paul Moody 3rd 50.68

Perry's Brody Hicks 6th 51.89 pic.twitter.com/UXyGxeB8Dp

— Chris Lillstrung (@CLillstrungNH) February 24, 2024

"This was a rough senior season for me that was a little shaky, so it was a little bit of a rough start," Gorski said. "I had some doubts. But I made sure to kind of keep going through it. I had a whole bunch of teammates that were up there on that podium with me. They really helped motivate me and pushed me through.

"So I'm really thankful for all the people that helped me through that struggle period. And I'm happy to see them all accomplish what they want to do and get up there on that podium. And then I'm also really happy for me after a whole bunch of years of work to be able to wear this medal and represent my school. I cannot be any more thankful for everyone that has helped me get to this point."

With four top-four finishes the last two years as a junior and senior, including a state title now, Gorski exits as one of the most accomplished swimmers of recent memory from the coverage area ranks en route to Ohio State.

As he noted following the D-II Cleveland State District, he knows the future is in steady hands with sophomores Paul Moody of US, who was third in 50.68, and Brody Hicks of Perry, who was sixth in 51.89.

"(Being the first from a Lake County school) is very meaningful," Gorski said. "Especially for AOA, because it's a smaller school that's not really known. I've got to point it out to people when I tell them where I'm from. So it really helps me put AOA on the map a little bit, I would say, for swimming. But I also feel like it's a good motivator for the people on the team that are coming up.

"I'm just super excited because a lot of my friends are with me. I'm really hopeful that one day, they'll be in the same spot that I was also for Lake County. Then soon enough, I won't be the only Lake County backstroke champion. I'll be like one of three or four."

Pophal repeated as D-II 500 free state champion with a 4:54.91, a swim that had impeccable execution.

The Hawken senior knew the pace in the final could get interesting after Cincinnati Hills Christian's Taylor Bacher went 4:50.27 in prelims, but she stuck to her plan, one that looked eerily similar to her championship formula in 2023.

‍♂️ Hawken's Sarah Pophal repeats as 500 free state with a 4:54.91

What a back half clinic that was — kept chipping on back walls early, then a 29.65 7th made all the difference

Hawken's 21st girls 500 free all time

Carys Edgar 6th 5:05.04 — so 65 Hawks state top 4s in 5 pic.twitter.com/2SsOFCbVRk

— Chris Lillstrung (@CLillstrungNH) February 24, 2024

Pophal chipped away early on her back-half walls, going from being down .98 on her sixth split to .07 on her seventh. Then came a 29.85 eighth split, about on pace with her title swim last winter, and she took care of the rest. It marks the 21st state crown in girls 500 free for the Hawks.

"The first half of the race, I was just trying to swim my own race," Pophal said. "I was just trying to stay back a little bit, and then I'm kind of a back-half swimmer. So I knew that I would have energy at the end. So I tried to keep a pace. I tried to feel good. And then, when I did, I gave myself the green light to just go ahead and start going for it."

Hawken was a solid second as a team with 199 points to Hathaway Brown, whose laudable depth produced 347 points and a second straight team title.

A standout and, arguably, breakout performance was turned in by Hawks senior Savannah Hirsch, who was entrusted with anchor duties on all three relays and maximized the occasion to lead Hawken to a trio of runner-up placements. Hirsch went 23.95 as the free anchor on 200 medley relay, which recorded a 1:47.20, as well as 23.89 on 200 free relay (1:37.15) and a 53.17 finale on 400 free relay (3:33.76).

"I was really happy," Hirsch said. "We all seemed to get up and perform when we needed to, which is most important. And I'm glad that everybody did and were able to.

"We've all just been feeling really good with the vibe at practice. Everything is coming together, and we're all just like in a better mood and just happy with one another."

‍♂️ Hawken's Nina Newton discusses her 3rd in 100 breast, 4th from an outside lane in 100 free & the Hawks' team runner-up during the D2 state meet in Canton pic.twitter.com/HNstRN3ics

— Chris Lillstrung (@CLillstrungNH) February 24, 2024

Hawks standout sophomore Nina Newton had an encouraging evening as well with a fourth in 100 free (52.02) and a third in 100 breast (1:04.69).

As far as the boys team race, the hardware isn't leaving Hunting Valley, as US dominated in a runaway with 274 points, more than doubling runner-up Lexington (131).

The Preppers got titles from its 200 medley (1:34.13) and 400 free (3:07.58) relays, as well as a close runner-up from senior Ben Davis in 200 IM (1:51.33) amid another banner night for US in Canton.

‍♂️ US 400FR 1st 3:07.58

Ben Davis 46.21 anchor

5th state in 400FR for US

Hawken 3rd 3:16.08

Preston Wooley 47.75 anchor

Lake Catholic 4th 3:16.54

Now THAT is a way to punctuate a state meet, NH area pic.twitter.com/7JijGvwdkK

— Chris Lillstrung (@CLillstrungNH) February 24, 2024

"The performance from the team was amazing," Davis said. "None of us ever lost hope in what we could do. We had faith in ourselves all throughout the meet. Even when somebody may not have performed their best, or when they thought they let the team down, the team was there to back them up. Like for my IM, at the end of it I felt like I just let the team down. I just got outtouched.

"And my team was right there with me in the bleachers, congratulating me. Nobody was disappointed in my swims. I thought everybody was going to be disappointed. But nobody was disappointed. That was so comforting, going into the last race. Just my team having my back felt amazing. And I know everyone on our team felt like we had their back."

‍♂️ US 200MR 1st 1:34.13

Ben Davis 25.36 breast .97 drop vs 23 state

Also ❤️ that 24.56 back from Alex Pesek, .42 faster vs 23 state & Matthew Devine 23.00 fly

1.60 drop overall

13th 200MR top 4 & 7th

Beachwood 6th 1:38.50 pic.twitter.com/DdSx4qV5WG

— Chris Lillstrung (@CLillstrungNH) February 23, 2024

Lake Catholic's boys 200 free and 400 free relays were third and fourth, respectively, marking the first state top fours on the boys side for the Cougars in swimming in school lore.

‍♂️ Lake Catholic's Owen Pesek discusses an historic night for the Cougars with a 3rd in 200FR & 4th in 400FR — the 1st state top 4s in boys swimming in school history — at the D2 state meet in Canton pic.twitter.com/I4eC9qPogK

— Chris Lillstrung (@CLillstrungNH) February 24, 2024

Other News-Herald coverage area top fours were turned in by Gilmour's girls 200 medley and 400 free relays (fourth), Hawken's Pophal (third, 200 free) and boys 400 free relay (third), AOA's Gorski (second, 200 free) and US' Miguel Figueroa (fourth, 100 free), Quinn MacPhail (fourth, 500 free) and Paul Moody (third, 100 back).

‍♂️ Here are full NH area results from the D2 state meet tonight ... pic.twitter.com/Qhi41d9FuH

— Chris Lillstrung (@CLillstrungNH) February 24, 2024

‍♂️ University's Miguel Figueroa discusses his gutsy 4th in 100 free, US' strong relay work & another team title to take back to Hunting Valley out of the D2 state meet in Canton pic.twitter.com/HSDEIVA7OM

— Chris Lillstrung (@CLillstrungNH) February 24, 2024

‍♂️ Hawken's Preston Wooley discusses a 3rd in 400FR — IMO 1 of the most pleasant surprises of the night NH area-wise — during the D2 state meet in Canton pic.twitter.com/xVBS4a1DZL

— Chris Lillstrung (@CLillstrungNH) February 24, 2024