Girls swimming repeats as State runner-up

Duncan MacKenzie | Staff Writer

The girls’ swim team finished their season as state runner-up for the second consecutive year, continuing their tradition since 2013 as a top three state finalist.

The team earned 230 points at the meet in Canton, Ohio, 16 shy of champion Upper Arlington. Junior Allison Bloebaum and senior Ashley Volpenhein paved the way for the Comets with powerful individual performances, taking a combined total of three state titles. Bloebaum won the 200 and 500 yard freestyles with times of 1:47.65 and 4:50.15, while Volpenhein won the 100 yard freestyle and finished runner-up in the 50 yard freestyle with times of 50.24 and 23.21.

The team’s relay squads were second in three events: 200 yard medley, 200 yard freestyle, and 400 freestyle, with help from senior Caroline Wolf, junior Lauren Thomas, and sophomores Harna Minezawa, Leanna Wall, and Mckenzie Grau.

Last year, Bloebaum finished second in the 200 and 500 yard freestyles behind the same swimmer from Upper Arlington. This year, she bested that very swimmer, Katie Trace, in both of the events to take the titles. She said it was proof that hard work pays off.

“If you had told me last year at this point I would have two state titles, I would laugh right in your face,” Bloebaum said. “I would not think that would be true. I would be like, ‘no, Katie Trace has it.’ Just to see how my dedication to the sport made me improve so much was really amazing.”

Head coach Mark Sullivan also left Canton with an award of his own: the Ohio High School Swim Coaches Association Division One Girls Coach of the Year. Sullivan began his coaching career at Mason 14 year ago, and for the last five years, his girls team has placed within the top three teams at the state meet. Sullivan agreed with Bloebaum that his team’s success has largely been due to his swimmers’ year-round dedication to the sport.

“I think any coach would say it’s a team award,” Sullivan said. “I never have put myself above my swimmers. Everything I have earned has been because of my swimmers and their hard work and their outstanding performances. I want those kids to know that even though I have received an award, they have earned that award for me.”

Volpenhein said the program’s growth into a perennial powerhouse can be attributed to Sullivan’s coaching styles inside and outside of the pool.

“I have never met a coach that really cares about somebody as a person rather than a swimmer like Sullivan does,” Volpenhein said. “He develops these relationships with his swimmers and really makes you feel special and a part of the team. He pushes the team a lot and I think that’s really huge.”

Sullivan’s three keys to maintaining a dominant swim program are having a pool, a local club team, and a dependable coaching staff. Add on a group of tenacious, goal-driven swimmers, and Sullivan said his job becomes a lot easier.

“I really have to feel very, very lucky,” Sullivan said. “When I came here 14 years ago, we had nothing here. We just didn’t have the pool, we had kids that were here but I joked about we used to go to state in my van. Now we’re taking 14 to 18 kids a year up to state. I’m just so fortunate that Mason gave me a shot to come over here from Sycamore and have the opportunity to coach and continue to grow the program. All of my credit really goes to those types of kids and those types of swimmers that want to have those goals. It’s really easy to coach when you have that.”