HAMILTON — Luke Paxton loves whenever he has a chance to go up against swimmers who are maybe a little better than him.
The Badin High School sophomore doesn’t always get challenged in his regular-season races, so he’s especially been looking forward to this weekend’s 36th annual Southwest Ohio High School Swimming & Diving Classic.
The Classic, which takes place at 10 preliminary sites Saturday and finishes Sunday at St. Xavier’s Keating Natatorium, brings together more than 3,000 swimmers from 118 schools to the largest invitational of its kind in the United States.
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Paxton, who went to the Division II state meet in four events last year, will meet many of the state’s top overall competitors, as Division I St. Xavier will be trying for its 36th straight boys team title. Mason will be trying for a fourth consecutive gir’s title.
“I am very excited about it,” said Paxton, who will compete in the 100-yard butterfly, the 200 fly, the 200 freestyle and 200 backstroke. “I love racing against St. X because all of their guys are so fast, and that’s some of the best competition I can get.”
Paxton was first-team all-Greater Catholic League Coed Division in the 200-yard medley relay and a second-teamer in the 50 free and 100 fly last year as a freshman. He placed in two individual events at the Division II state meet, finishing fifth in the 100 fly and eighth in the 200 free, and also placed eighth in the 200 free relay and was on the 200 medley relay that was 11th.
This year, he’s been even better, according to Badin coach Emily Muroski.
“He can cruise along in most of our meets and still win by a lap,” she said. “The fact he’s a sophomore and already to this level is unbelievable.”
A couple weeks ago while swimming against Lakota East and Lakota West in the 400 free relay, Paxton was a half lap behind the leader when he dove into the pool and ended up winning the race for Badin. He did the same thing in another race this season too.
Paxton said he tends to swim better when he’s got someone right next to him or ahead to catch up to.
This meet is his best chance to show that as it’s even harder to make finals at the Classic than at state since this is a mix of divisions and all the top talent in Southwest Ohio will be there. Muroski said he’s been talking about it all week and checking the weather forecast to make sure it won’t interfere with the Rams’ ability to compete.
“He likes to get in the pool and race the fastest person there,” Muroski said. “If they aren’t in his heat or event, he is disappointed. He doesn’t hold back. He just goes for it when he gets in the pool. Even as a freshman he was trying to chase down the top seed, the top kid in the state, the biggest college recruit and was excited to race him.”
Muroski enjoys watching Paxton swim because it’s obvious the work he puts into it.
He swims year-round with Powel Crosley YMCA and has been swimming competitively since he was around 8 years old. He began swimming at a private club when he was 4 and by eighth grade he made his first junior nationals cut.
“There are times he goes for it and is trying to chase someone way faster and he dies, but you can tell when you watch him the effort he puts into it,” she said. “Sometimes you can’t tell a swimmer’s mood, but you can tell with him when he’s in the water if he’s going for it or doing just enough to win.”
Last year at the Classic, he did well in preliminaries but couldn’t carry it into finals.
This time of year is always tough, Paxton said, because he is coming off even more intense training during Christmas break when he practiced twice a day. However, Paxton said he’s more confident going in this year and can tell he is stronger in the water and while lifting weights. He has been working on improving his push off the wall and hopes that can make a difference for him this weekend.
“State gave me more confidence because swimming high school is so different from swimming with the Y,” Paxton said. “It’s just different scenarios you are thrown into. I want to try to make the final in my events and if not, at least make it back (to later sessions Saturday) and see how fast I can go. Hopefully at the end of the year, I can compete for a state championship and do great things at YMCA Nationals.”