Chardon and West Geauga's swim teams are club sports and so only the most passionate compete.
Diane Diadiun started the West Geauga swim team 17 years ago because her daughter, Kelsey, was a freshman, and Kelsey wanted to swim.
But Kelsey competed with other relay swimmers in the off-season who went to Notre Dame-Cathedral Latin.
Eventually the Diadiuns sent Kelsey to NDCL her sophomore year. NDCL has a much larger swimming and diving program.
But what about the other West Geauga swimmers?
“I hated to say to the kids who came out to the program in its second year, ‘My daughter’s gone, bye,’” said Diadiun over her glasses as she checked the heat sheets. “So I stayed and coached, figuring I’d do this while there was interest. Seventeen years later, my kids are off having babies and doing other things, and here I am.”
Diadiun’s Wolverines are competing at the Chardon Hilltopper Invitational, held in its second year at the SPIRE Institute in Geneva.
The invitational is designed for swimmers who didn’t qualify for the Cleveland State Viking Invitational this weekend.
West Geauga’s program, known for its boys’ success — they have qualified a swimmer for states the past five seasons — has been inverted this year.
Where there once were 19 boys and eight girls, there are now 18 swimmers on the team, weighed heavily toward the girls.
“The girls, who typically watch the boys bring home trophies, have been the better team this year,” Diadiun said. “The tables have turned a little bit.”
As a club sport, swimming is funded entirely by the team itself.
West G’s team swims at Gilmour and is licensed through the University Swim Club.
Kelly Karban, Courtney Kirchner, Abby Owens and Natalie Poremba competed in the 200 medley relay, and came in eighth.
“It was pretty good,” said Poremba, who does the backstroke and the individual medley. “I love the pool. The pool is like the perfect temperature. It’s the best-temperatured pool I’ve ever been in. It’s really nice ‘cause all the other teams here are very competitive.”
Owens agreed that pool conditions were great and liked that swimmers had a warm-up pool, as well.
“It’s pretty awesome,” she said of being a senior. Owens has been swimming for four years on the team, but actually started when she was 6, she said.
Kirchner set a personal record with her 26-second lap. The breast stroke comes really naturally to her, she said.
Of team dynamics, she said, “It’s really important to know how they swim so you don’t disqualify the team.”
“It’s awesome,” added Karban. “It’s been an experience that I get to swim with all these girls.”
Tucker Harvey has been swimming since fourth grade; he does the 50 free and the 100 free, and does the butterfly often.
His classmates know he swims because he tells them.
Yet West G’s team doesn’t have a spot in the yearbook.
“It’s just something I like to do,” said Harvey.
Ryan Zuzek swims for fun, too. He’s been in the water since second grade, and does the 100 free.
Team parties are pretty common, both boys say.
“It’s a big family,” Zuzek said. “We’re all together. We’re friends.”
Dave Watson is an assistant coach. He stands next to the pool as Wolverines swim, waving forward, shouting, go, go!
“Swimming as a whole is difficult. It’s harder to find athletes,” he said. “A lot of the team just started swimming competitively about three years ago.”
The Wolverines girls team finished seventh out of 20 girls teams. The boys finished 17th.
This was the second Chardon Invitational, and some of the money raised from the event helps the Chardon swimming team, which is not a sanctioned varsity sport, therefore pay the expenses without any school assistance.
Twenty-three schools competed. Poland Seminary won the girls division with 150 points. Chardon’s girls swam to fourth.
Rebecca Repasky is the team’s coach.
She’s really proud of Charlotte Sopenski, the first Hilltopper to qualify for the Cleveland State Invitational. Sopenski is also a contender to be Chardon’s first swimmer to reach the state finals.
Sopenski is in her first year with the team, given that she is home-schooled and the rules have changed to allow her to participate.
“I think that we are closer together since we are smaller,” she said of the 13-member Chardon swim team, with four boys and nine girls. “It’s nice to have a team behind you. I’m really excited.”
Sopenski started swimming at 11 years old.
“My mom always had us in the water since we were little,” she said. “I wanted to do soccer, but swimming became my sport. I’m really excited. I’m pumped.”
Megan St. Jean is a sophomore who placed fifth as a member of Chardon’s medley relay team. She moved to Chardon from Maine and began swimming when she was 5 years old.
“It’s definitely my favorite sport,” she said.
After big meets, the team hangs out together.
“We go to dinner,” she said. “Even though the team is smaller we’re more close-knit.”
Danielle Scerbo finished 12th in the 200 freestyle. She said the pool conditions were good at the SPIRE Institute.
“It’s really new and really nice,” she said of the pool. Scerbo mostly sprints at the 50 and 100 events. Of being a senior, she said: “It’s surreal. It’s going by so fast.”
Repasky is helped by Matt Parrill, the coach of the Geauga-YMCA’s swim team, the Otters. Repasky and Parrill would like to see Chardon accept swimming as a varsity sport.
Repasky said principals and Superintendent Michael Hanlon are on board with the idea, so a presentation will be made in February to the Chardon Schools Board.
NDCL competed in both boys and girls divisions. The Lions’ girls finished ninth; the boys finished fourth.
For other photos of the swim meet, visit bit.ly/leafphotos.
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