Bellbrook High School senior Cody Bybee entered the Division II state championships as the swimmer to beat. Waynesville sophomore Owen Conley left the championship the same way.
As Bybee closed out his record-breaking career with another two individual state championships, Conley claimed his first two individual titles with impressive swims. Add in Fenwick sophomore Adam Chaney’s two titles and one for Bellbrook senior John Sampson and the Southwest District won seven of the 11 swimming events at the C.T. Branin Natatorium in Canton on Friday night.
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“I’m usually pretty good at staying calm and not really thinking about it,” Bybee said of feeling pressure. “I actually think I do better when there’s a big crowd and a lot of energy. C.T. Branin Natatorium is notorious for having a ton of energy and excitement. I feed off that. I was like, ‘Okay this is the last one ever so let’s bring it.’”
He did. A season after breaking three-time Olympic medalist Joe Hudepohl’s 26-year old pool record in the 200-yard freestyle, Bybee lowered it again with a swim of 1 minute, 34.02 seconds. Bybee won in 1:34.55 last season.
Sampson finished second to Bybee in 1:41.14.
“He’s been working really hard in practice, too,” Bybee said. “It’s really nice to see him do that and tie for first in the 100 back. He’s a great teammate.”
In addition to winning three straight 200 free titles, Bybee also added his third straight state championship in the 100 butterfly (47.46). Gates Mills Hawken senior Zeb Hartman was second in 48.61.
“They were the best times so I can’t not be happy with it, but I really wanted a 1:33,” Bybee said. “Being a little ambitious I actually thought I had a shot at the national record (1:33.26). I was thinking maybe I could be the first high schooler to go 1:32. It’s not the fastest of pools but I know I’m capable of that in years to come.”
So, how long does Bybee think his pool record will stand? Maybe another season or two. He tabbed Cincinnati Sycamore sophomore and good friend Carson Foster as the swimmer who can break it.
Sampson tied with Gahanna Columbus Academy junior Jacob Eismann to win the backstroke in identical times of 49.34. Alliance sophomore Will Rose was third in 49.35.
As for Conley, he set a D-II state record in the 200 individual medley in 1:48.94 to beat runner-up Connor Blatt, a senior from Carroll (1:51.38). Conley also won the 500 free in 4:31.22 to edge Alter junior Kevin Leibold (4:31.42).
“I was expecting it to be close to this, but I wasn’t sure if I was going to win both of my events,” Conley said. “I was expecting to get top three in both of them.”
Conley’s events presented a contrast in racing styles. The 200 IM (which combines the butterfly, backstroke, breaststroke and freestyle swims each of 50 yards) is a sprint that uses a variety of muscles depending on the stroke used. The 500 free is still punishing, but being the same stroke helps.
“The backstroke is when I try to push further ahead of the crowd and get ahead because the breaststroke is one of my weaker strokes,” Conley said. “I have to get ahead before the breaststroke so I can come back on the free.”
Standing on top of the podium was a welcomed change for Conley. He finished second in the 200 IM and third in the 500 as a freshman.
“State has one of the most electric atmospheres of any swim meet around,” Conley said. “It’s pretty amazing to be on deck when everyone is yelling and screaming for everyone. Seating is pretty tough and you have to get there early. The atmosphere is amazing.
“This gives me more confidence to go for the three-peat. My goal now is to win both of those next year and my senior year.”
While Conley attempts to match Bybee’s finish, the Bellbrook senior prepares to swim for Arizona State University and coach Bob Bowman. Bowman coached Michael Phelps and guided the men’s Olympic team in 2016.
“I’m really looking forward to training outside in the fresh air, palm trees and sunshine,” Bybee said.
“Coming in this year there was a little bit of pressure. I kind of knew I was going to win but there were a lot of expectations. People were kind of like okay what’s he going to bring to the table this year? There was also pressure of it being my last high school meet. There were a little nerves, to be honest.”
Chaney, meanwhile, felt confident he could win the 50 free since he entered state as the No. 1 seed. He felt he could be competitive in the 100 as the No. 4 seed, and was bolstered by his title in the 50.
Chaney won the 50 free in 20.40 to edge Hawken’s Hart’s 20.92. His 44.26 to win the 100 beat Rose’s 44.42.
“It was more like I showed up in the 50 so now I have to show up in the 100,” Chaney said.