St. C.’s Eaton set for state swim
When it comes to the Ohio State Swimming Championship, St. Clairsville’s Michael Eaton has been there, done that.
He’s actually done it quite well seeing that he earned all-Ohio last season, placing eighth in the 100-yard breaststroke.
Still, what the junior is embarking on this weekend is uncharted waters.
When Eaton sets foot inside the Branin Natatorium in Canton Thursday afternoon, he’ll have double the workload.
For the first time in his already highly impressive prep career, Eaton punched his ticket to the Division II state meet in both the 100 freestyle and he’ll be back in the field of the aforementioned breaststroke.
“It’ll definitely be a little bit different being in two events, but I think I’ll be able to manage,” Eaton said prior to a practice earlier this week at Wheeling Jesuit University.
Eaton opens his state meet Thursday afternoon at 5 with Division II qualifying swims. The championship swims will be held on Friday at 5 p.m. Eaton will actually depart for Stark County today, so he’s able to take part in the open pool practice session.
While being in two events is nice, being seeded in the top three for one is something that Eaton is stoked about.
“I am really looking forward to that breaststroke,” Eaton said. “After placing in the top eight last year, I immediately set a goal for myself that I wanted to be top three.”
At last week’s district in Columbus, Eaton got edged at the wall by Dover’s Frannie Brogan, whom he’d beaten in the sectional the week prior. Eaton posted a 57.81 for the silver, which was four hundredths of a second behind.
“Brogan really kind of came out of nowhere,” Eaton said. “I think, prior to the district, his best time was a 1:01, so he dropped nearly four seconds.”
At the sectional, Eaton was also second to a Torando, but it was sophomore Jake Armstrong, who is the fifth seed in this weekend’s meet after gaining an at-large berth.
He avenged that loss in the process at the district. The top seed entering this weekend is Cincinnti Wyoming junior Jonathan Rutter, who is the defending state runnerup in the event.
Eaton defeated him in December at a meet in Canton, ironically.
“After swimming a minute flat last year, I thought I’d have a good chance to be in the 58s at this point this season but I never would have thought that at the district, I’d be in 57s already. I got into the 58s in December, so I was well above my expectations.”
So, having said all that, Eaton firmly believes he can make a serious challenge for the state title, but he knows it won’t come easy.
“I know it’s not going to be easy, but I also know that I’ve beaten all of the top kids,” Eaton said. “I know all of these guys are quality swimmers and will be ready, but I planning on trying to give them a run their money. I know I’m going to have to swim my best and we’ll see what happens.”
Eaton has been dropping time with regularity since that meet in December, but he doesn’t think he’s hit his ceiling yet.
“I think I can go faster,” Eaton said. “It’s been kind of a two-week process. I lifted during the week of sectionals, so I knew I woudn’t be that fast there. I cut out the lifting last week and started resting. This is the week that counts, so hopefully, the training falls in the right place for me.”
Eaton, who is a student of the sport, has looked back at past state meet times and is amazed how times are dropping so rapidly.
“I didn’t think a top three finish would take nearly what’s going to take time-wise this year,” Eaton said. “There were four of us under the 60-second barrier in our district alone, but there were only six in the entire state meet in 2012 under 60.”
In the 100 freestyle, Eaton earned an automatic spot in the field after winning the district meet with a time of a 48.36.
His time, which is exceptional, ranks 14th overall, meaning Eaton has a solid chance of scoring in both events, but will have to drop nearly half a second or so to have a legitimate shot at reaching the ‘A’ final.
There will be no rest for Eaton once the state meet wraps up. This weekend, he’ll rejoin his ‘Y’ team and take part in a meet at Kenyon College on Sunday. Plus, he’ll join the Red Devils’ track team as a pole vaulter.
“That’s like our league championship meet,” Eaton said. “The following weekend, we’re back at Canton and then in April, I’ll take part in the national meet in North Carolina. It’s like a never-ending cycle.”
Cambridge’s Daniel Clifford is the only other swimmer from an OVAC school to have qualified this season for the state meet. He’ll take part in the 100 fly after earning an at-large berth with a time of 53.74.
Staskey can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org