By DAVE HANNEMAN
Lexie Layne will be making her fourth straight trip to the OHSAA state swimming and diving championships in Canton this week.
For Findlay High freshmen Gracie Smith and Parker Stocker, it will be their first.
An accomplished voice of experience, Layne has a bit of advice for the newbies.
“I’d tell them to just go out and try their hardest, because they will definitely regret it if they don’t,” Layne said.
“When I was a freshman, I was a bit intimidated. It was all a little scary. But going back over the years after that — as I’m sure they will do, too — I felt it was better that I had that experience as a freshman.
“Oh, yeah. I’d also tell them to take it all in because it is absolutely awesome. It’s fun, and enjoy it.”
The top 16 placers in swimming events and diving earn all-Ohio honors and Layne, who finished 10th at state as a freshman, 13th as a sophomore and ninth last year, will be looking to earn all-state recognition for the fourth time. She’s already achieved one personal high this season, breaking her 11-dive school record with a score of 465.10 points in the winning the Division I district championship.
In a sport where fractions of points can make a big difference, Layne says she’s been doing some fine-tuning.
“My training has changed a little bit because I changed coaches,” said Layne, who now trains with Bowling Green State University dive coach Tricia Grant.
“My degree of difficulty has not changed. It’s the same as last year. But I’ve really been working on technique, on basic dives, so I think that has helped.
“I’m just going to do the best 11 dives I can do and hopefully it plays out well.”
Smith and Stocker have the freestyle events covered, with Smith qualifying in the girls’ 50- and 100-yard sprints and Stocker in the boys’ 200 and 500.
Both seemed anxious but not overwhelmed by the prospect of competing in their first state championship meet.
“Actually, I’m nervously excited,” Smith said. “But a little bit of nerves never hurt anyone.”
Smith came up through the Findlay Area Swim Team ranks. She took a few years off from FAST, competed in other sports like basketball, soccer and lacrosse, then returned to the pool when she got into high school.
Smith was the Division I district champion in the 50- (23.95) and 100-yard (52.08) freestyles. She also led off the state-qualifying 200 free relay team (1:37.54) that includes Meghan Quaid, Kaylor Stocker and Gabby Diehl.
“I like the sprints because I like to get my blood flowing,” Smith said. “You’re in the water, you’re going all out and you leave it all behind in the pool.
“I’m not going to think too much about (state). I’ll keep my headphones on, listen to some good music, and focus on my race.”
For Parker Stocker, it will be less splash and dash and more pace and patience when he competes in the endurance events, the 200 and 500 freestyle.
“They are grueling events. It’s a lot of conditioning,” said Stocker, who was Division I district champion in the 500 free (4:37.09) and runner-up in the 200 (1:42.17).
Stocker may be a freshman, but he showed a mature understanding of how he’d approach his first appearance at state, especially when it comes to the 500.
“It’s all about knowing how to swim your race,” Stocker said. “It’s knowing your stroke and everything about the race, and knowing what parts your opponents are worse at, what they’re better at and when to catch up. You can’t worry too much about the other guys, though. You still have to swim your race, not theirs.
“It’s just really good competition, good racing. I’m looking forward to going against the best in the state.”
Like Smith, Stocker will compete in three events. In addition to the 200 and 500 frees, he’ll also take part in the 400 free relay with Ethan Spradlin, Selby Wilt and Josh Kreinbrink. That group was fourth at district and is seeded 24th at state.
In an interesting sidelight, Layne, Smith and Stocker are continuing family legacies of sorts.
Layne’s father, Andy, still holds the Findlay High school record in the 100-yard freestyle (50.68, 1987) and her uncle Jeff was a member of the 400 free relay team — along with current FHS head coach Jeff Wobser, Sean Schultz and Ron Sailors — that in 1980 set the school record (3:11.95).
Smith’s mother — Sarah Niswander –was also an accomplished swimmer for FAST and Findlay High who once held the USA Swimming short course state record in the 50-yard butterfly.
And while it will be Parker Stocker’s first trip to state, it is the second for his sister Kayla, a senior. Their older brother Tucker was a four-time state qualifier for the Trojans.
“I think they were already in swimming before I was even born,” Parker Stocker said.
“I started out when I was four, because if they were going to be at the pool, I was going to be there, too.”
Six area swimmers will be competing in the Division II ranks.
Ada’s Klava Katayama is seeded fourth in the girls 50 free and sixth in the girls 100 butterfly. Tiffin Calvert’s Taylor Harris advanced as the No. 15 seed in the 100 breaststroke and 16th in the 100 fly.
Ottawa-Glandorf’s Sydney Porinchok advanced in her individual events as she’s ranked 23rd in the 100 breast and 21st in the 200 individual medley. Teammate Maddie White will make her first appearance at state as an individual, as she advanced in the 100 backstroke at the No. 19 seed.
Upper Sandusky’s Abbey Wenger qualified in the 100 breast for the second straight year with the 18th-fastest time.
In relay events, Ottawa-Glandorf’s Abby Warnecke, Ann Samuelson, White, Porinchok will compete in the 200 free relay as the No. 20 seed.
Upper Sandusky’s 200 medley relay team of Katie Conley, Wenger, Kami Swartz, Maya Collins are seeded 21st.
Miller City will be represented at state in the Division II boys meet. Zach Giesken netted the 16th at-large berth in the 100 backstroke and is seeded 24th.