Eaton takes silver
CANTON – Michael Eaton certainly isn’t hanging his head this morning.
And why would he?
The St. Clairsville senior achieved something that nary another swimmer from Belmont County has Friday evening inside the C.T. Branin Natatorium at Canton McKinley High School.
Eaton put the finishing touches on a brilliant prep career by finishing as the Division II state runnerup in the 100-yard breaststroke as the OHSAA State Swimming and Diving Championship wrapped up.
“I am not disappointed at all,” Eaton said shortly after receiving his medal. “To compete in the ‘A’ final three times, I couldn’t be happier with how my career has gone.”
For good measure, Eaton also finished seventh in the 100 freestyle, giving him two medals.
All told, Eaton scored 29 points in the meet, which was good enough for a tie for 23rd place in the team standings.
“Michael gave it everything he had,” said his mother and head coach, Melanie. “He swam a best time (on Thursday) and it’s tough to duplicate that. I am very proud of what he’s accomplished.”
Eaton, who had the top time entering the finals and swam in lane four, was leading as the field turned for home.
However, Cincinnati Wyoming senior Jonathan Rutter, who won the title last season and had captured the 200 individual medley earlier on Friday, didn’t go away. He moved into the lead and touched the wall at 56.24, which was 38 hundredths faster than Eaton’s 56.62.
“Like I said earlier in the week, Rutter is a true champion,” Eaton said. “He’s fast. I watched him in the 200 IM earlier and he really turned it on in the last 50 (yards). He’s such a strong finisher. I could see him out of the corner of my eye, and I knew it was going to be tough because of how he closes races.”
Eaton knew exactly where Rutter was throughout the first 150 yards of the race. However, he could also sense some other things.
“I knew with the amount of energy I was expending, I didn’t think I had enough of a lead to where Rutter wouldn’t be able to close in on me,” Eaton said. “I could see Rutter pretty well. I knew it was going to be an up-hill fight, but I just did all I could in the last couple of strokes.”
Outside of the finish, the race went almost exactly how Eaton had drawn it up mentally.
“It’s not like I had bad splits or died off (at the end of the race), but he just caught me and finished the race,” Eaton said. “My mom and I had talked even before the (tournament) began that I didn’t want to lose to the Dover kids, but if I was to lose to anyone, I could handle losing to Rutter because he’s just that good.”
Though proud of what he did accomplish, the competitor in Eaton can’t help but think what might have been.
“I was really shooting for that gold,” Eaton said. “I know I had a shot to win, but Rutter has worked just as hard for it as I have and he earned it.”
In the freestyle, Eaton earned his way into the ‘A’ final as the seventh seed and that’s exactly where he finished. He posted a 47.78, which was a tenth slower than his qualifying time.
“I just went out and kind of swam that race,” Eaton said of the freestyle. “I was happy that I was able to stay seventh.”
Shortly after receiving his silver medal, Eaton spent several minutes posing for pictures with a large group of St. Clairsville students who made the trip to Stark County to support him.
Eaton certainly didn’t take that for granted.
“My friends being here means everything to me,” Eaton said. “To have this kind of support in swimming, with my closest friends here watching me compete for a state title … I couldn’t be happier.”
Though Eaton will never put the St. C. swimming trunks on again, he will compete in a little more than a month at the national meet in Greensboro.
He’s already looking forward to the next possible meeting with Rutter.
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