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Boardman seeks to continue success at states

BOARDMAN — Boardman swimming and diving head coach Carlo Cordon has been a part of the Spartans’ staff for the last three decades, and in that time, he has witnessed the program transform into a local powerhouse.

Nearly a dozen members of the Boardman team are in Canton this weekend to compete in the OHSAA state tournament. Cordon said his team’s continued success – the Spartans have had more than 30 state qualifiers since Cordon became head coach in 2018 – is all that more impressive considering the team has to travel to the Youngstown State campus for practice.

“We’re a team, like many of them around here, that don’t have a swimming pool and yet we’re still competing with the Upper Arlingtons or the Centervilles. Any team up in Cleveland has their own backyard pool, and we take a commute to YSU every single day. So we have limited pool time, but somehow we find a way to do it,” Cordon said.

Cordon, who took over for longtime coach Terry O’Halloran six years ago, credits the program’s sustained excellence to his own coaches constantly seeking to improve themselves and their techniques, as well as the area’s club teams, Applewood Swim Club and Boardman Tennis and Swim Club, properly preparing the athletes by the time they get to high school.

“We basically tell them at the beginning of the season, you either have to find a way to get better or you got to make a way to get better. We’re not going to use pool time as an excuse,” Cordon said. “My seniors that I have on my team right now, we’ve been coaching them since they were eight years old, so I think it’s a little more of a culture. Our strength is our culture. And as they come up through our system, and we get them into the high school, they’re ready to go.”

Landon Mitchell, a senior state qualifier in the 200-yard medley relay and 200-yard freestyle relay, has been swimming in Boardman for nearly his entire life, and he believes the standard set by the team’s past top performers has kept the current Spartans motivated.

“It’s our history. We’ve had so many good swimmers come through our program, a lot of great coaches,” Mitchell said. “It’s legacy. We know that’s what happened before and we look up to them and try to get to where they were.”

Ben Herrmann, a senior who will be competing alongside Mitchell in Canton, concurred with his teammate’s theory and explained what the team expects going into a season.

“I think greatness and leading on, like Lando said, the legacy of past Boardman swimmers. They’ve been so successful that you have to follow in their footsteps and strive to be the best for that year,” Herrmann said.

Junior Gina DiNapoli added that the Boardman community has been a major factor in the program’s success.

“Our coaching staff is incredible. They push us to work harder, and they really know how to help us succeed and do what we want and reach our goals,” DiNapoli said. “The community around us, our support systems, our friends and family, our fellow teammates — we’re all here and we all push each other during practice.”

Cordon highlighted Mitchell’s performances as a senior, remarking how “rewarding” it is to watch him succeed after Mitchell, who also played soccer for Boardman, suffered two ACL injuries in the same knee earlier in his high school career.

While he did not swim for two years while rehabilitating his knee, Cordon said Mitchell continued to show up to practice and work his way back to full health. Mitchell finally returned in December 2022, at which point he “really just started lighting it up,” according to his coach.

“It’s just great to see this kid back. Athletics is great for any kid. It doesn’t really matter what sport it is. But just to see a kid come back from injury two years in a row and excel the way he has, it’s just been as rewarding as any race that he’s won this year,” Cordon said.

In Canton, Mitchell and Herrmann will be swimming with junior Matthew Amendol and freshman Zac Mihok against 23 other teams in the relays, with senior Mason Prosser serving as an alternate. Herrmann said, though, that they did not expect to excel like they have.

“To be honest, the medley wasn’t on our radar. We didn’t really think that we could get this far and place this high. But, I mean, here we are,” Herrmann said.

On the girls side, Cordon said he has been most impressed with DiNapoli and freshman Alex Taylor this season. The two will compete together in the 200-yard medley relay and 200-yard freestyle relay, as well as individually.

Taylor qualified for the 50-yard freestyle and 200-yard freestyle events with strong performances at the Northeast district tournament in Cleveland last weekend. DiNapoli recorded the fourth-fastest time in the 100-yard butterfly at districts to advance to the state meet.

A newcomer to Boardman, Taylor did not have the benefit of growing up in the clubs many of her teammates did. But she said she has forged close friendships, which was a pleasant surprise.

“I was expecting to do good just because of hard work, but I didn’t expect to get this close with people and make new friends and new connections. It just surpassed expectations,” Taylor said.

Taylor, DiNapoli and junior Petra Crnjak will swim with junior Abbi Mihok in the freestyle relay and sophomore Aly Murray in the medley relay.

Junior RJ Keating, who qualified for his third consecutive state tournament despite dealing with a back injury this season, placed 20th in the 1-meter diving event Tuesday.

The preliminary swimming competitions will be held today. Those who qualify for the finals will swim again Saturday beginning at 3 p.m.

Have an interesting story? Contact Preston Byers by email at pbyers@tribtoday.com. Follow him on X, formerly Twitter, @PresByers.

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