Lakota East senior Jacob McDonald is trying not to think about pressure as he enters his final high school state swimming meet. He’s embracing the challenges ahead.
McDonald won the 500-yard freestyle last year after placing sixth during his sophomore and freshman seasons, and he returns to defend his title as the top seed. He’s looking to add to a collection of five top eight individual finishes at state during his career, as he also is back in the 200 freestyle event that earned him a seventh-place standing in 2018.
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The Thunderhawks’ leader is among several area athletes to qualify for this week’s Ohio High School Athletic Association state meets. The Division II swimming events begin Thursday in Canton, and Division I swimming begins Friday.
“I think it gives me more confidence,” McDonald said about having won last year. “Last year, I think the nerves pushed me a little. Having won one already, that gives me more confidence. I’m just embracing the pressure this year. I like that I’m the top seed. That was the plan going in, so I feed off that.”
Lakota West senior Jacob Ortwein is the sixth seed in the 500 free. Other top area swimmers include Badin junior Luke Paxton, who has the top seed in the Division II races for the 200 free and 100 butterfly, as well as Rams teammate Adam Sherman (second seed in the 100 breaststroke), West sophomore West sophomore Paige Striley (second seed in the 200 IM) and East senior Hannah Cech (fourth seed in the 500 free and seventh seed in the 200 IM).
McDonald, a University of Tennessee recruit, wasn’t completely surprised to win the 500 free last year, as that was his main focus all season, but he also knows repeating won’t be easy even though his seed time is four seconds ahead of St. Xavier’s Kellen Roddy.
Last year he dropped the 200 free and did the 100 backstroke instead (he placed sixth), which spread out his races more and enabled him to recover for the 500 free. Now he will be crunched for time a bit as has two relays – the 200 medley and 400 freestyle relays – on his schedule in addition to the 200 and 500 freestyle races.
Coach Dennis Beck said McDonald still has a good chance to win the event again.
“So far he’s handling everything well,” Beck said. “It’s hard to repeat because everyone is watching and that’s a lot of pressure to put on a young adult. I tell him to go up and swim his best and see what happens. There’s going to be good competition from others who want to become state champion. I think he’s very confident he has a good chance of doing it again, and I feel the same way.”
“He looks really strong in the water. I think he’s trained as hard or harder than last year so he can be successful. He’s very committed to swimming , wants to do well and I think that will help him in swimming and in other areas of life.”
Entering his races this week, McDonald not thinking about who he is competing against, though. He’s seeking to break the state record (4:19.15) and will be driven by the pursuit of an even lower time. His personal best is a 4:22.15, which set a school record last year at state.
“I’m not looking to race other people,” McDonald said. “I have big time goals so I’m not worried about anyone else. This week I’ve put the hammer down on rest and recovery and I’ll be shaved and ready to go.”
The relays also give him a chance to reach the podium, something he would love to do one last time with his brother, Adam, who is in both relays with him. The two push and encourage each other, McDonald said, and next year he hopes Adam carries the torch. Adam is competing in the 200 IM event as well.
Jacob McDonald would like to try to add another individual first-place finish to his collection as well. He enters as the second seed in the 200 free at 1:39.52, behind Upper Arlington junior Hayden Jay (1:39.22). His best time is a 1:37.27 (1:39.07 in high school meets, which is a school record), and he’s hoping that getting under 1:36 would be enough for a win.
“That’s definitely the plan, to take down two this year,” McDonald said. “I’m looking to end on a high note for sure.”
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