Area swimmers enjoy themselves at state meet

CANTON It’s been heard time and time again.

It’s a statement that makes the diehard sports fans cringe.

It’s not about winning or losing. It’s about having fun.

Thursday night at the Division II State Swimming and Diving Tournament at the C.T. Branin Natatorium, it was clear that three Tiffin swimmers were having just that.

Typically what happens on high school’s grandest athletic stage is there’s a lot of tears and anger and Bobby Knight impersonators.

What three Seneca County kids showed Thursday night was downright refreshing.

One of the first things Columbian’s Natalie Howard did after swimming in the 100 butterfly prelims was smile and tell her coaches it was the most fun she’s ever had.

No tears. Just smiles.

“That was probably the most fun I’ve ever had in a race in my whole career,” Howard said.

And a like a great thrill ride at an amusement park, Howard is ready to race around to the back of the line and get on the roller coaster again.

“Next year, I want to be back here,” Howard said. “This was such a great experience. I just want to do it again.”

Her coach, Donna Hudacek, said Howard’s attitude about it is a change of pace from what she’s used to seeing here.

“I was happy that she was happy with it. When a kid gets out and they’re happy with how they’ve done, and swimming for the love of swimming, that’s great,” Hudacek said. “On my way over here, a kid slammed a trash can down on the floor out here. I don’t know who they were; just saw the reaction. To see a kid that just loves to swim and loves to do better. Loves to PR but if they’re close and they know they race their best, they’re happy with that just for the love of racing. That’s great.”

It’s also something that can inspire her teammates.

“I try to promote that with all my kids but it’s hard because not everyone takes it that way,” Hudacek said. “You want that happy, good attitude because in life, not everything is going to be great every single time you do it.”

Chris Gates can speak to that. The Columbian senior came into Thursday’s prelims having spent the previous two days “puking my guys out.” A swimmer wants to be light in the water but it certainly not what Gates had in mind when prepping for the 100 backstroke, his final race of his high school career.

Devoid of much energy but not lacking in enthusiasm, Gates finished 24th in the race. He said regardless of how he felt, there was nothing keeping him from the pool.

“I said that as long as I had a pulse, I’m swimming,” Gates said. “There was no way they were going to get me out of it.”

No tears. Just smiles.

“I didn’t swim as well as I would have liked but you know what? I had a great season and I had a great time here,” Gates said. “I really couldn’t have asked for anything more.”

Calvert’s Corinne Harris embodied that same attitude as well.

In fact, she never stops smiling. One has to wonder if she smiles when she swims.

She had two chances to make it to finals and missed in both by less than a second, finishing 17th in the 100 freestyle and 18th in the 200 freestyle.

No tears. Just smiles.

Going in, it was the 200 freestyle Harris hoped to qualify for the finals in because she was seated 17th coming in, one spot away from making the finals. To hear her talk about the 100 free prior to the race, it was the least important of the two races if not for the simple fact she had a better chance in the former than the latter.

But she fared better in the latter than the former. Nerves could be chiefly to blame for the first result. Confidence could explain the second.

“It kind of sunk in that I’m at state and I can do well,” Harris said.

Thursday night there was no tears from these Seneca County kids.

Just smiles.

Just fun.

Their fun lasted just a minute but the memories and lessons they learned will last a lifetime.