LOUISVILLE — Nobody was able to loosen St. Xavier's stranglehold on the Pannell Swim Shop/KHSAA Swimming and Diving Championships on Saturday, and the Tigers took home their 23rd consecutive team title.
But Henry Clay headed back to Lexington feeling like champions after knocking off the Tigers in the 400-yard freestyle relay, an event that St. X has long dominated.
"To me, this is better than first place," said Henry Clay Coach Dru Belli. "I'm on cloud nine. Words can't even describe it. This is a huge day for Henry Clay swimming and diving."
The Blue Devils' 400-yard relay team was led by three seniors — Nick Wrightson, Chris Gerhardstein and Chris Rush, along with junior Russ Bryant.
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Wrightson said the relay title was even bigger than winning his third straight state crown in the individual 200-yard freestyle.
"Just because it was St. X, it's probably bigger," said Wrightson, an Ohio State signee. "Our team has been so fired up for this. This was a big statement, not only for our school, but for our region also."
But the Tigers were still easily able to put the finishing touches on an unbeaten season with 419 points, well ahead of second-place finisher Trinity (117). Covington Catholic was third with 152.5, and Henry Clay was fourth with 148.
St. X's 200-yard freestyle relay team of Garrett Stephens, Khalid Aldaboos, Andrew Wagner and Bo Blythe broke the state record it set in the preliminaries, finishing in 1:23:87, and its 200-yard medley relay team came up just short of its own state record (1:33.67), finishing in 1:33.81.
Junior Michael Scheid also won the 100-yard backstroke, edging out Collins junior Carson Troutman 51.21 to 51.52.
"You never take it for granted because each team stands out on its own," St. X Coach Todd Larkin said. "This was a special group. We never had to motivate them; they were fired up for every race and every meet. They've got great leadership, great speed, great discipline. Just because we've won so many in a row, we get everybody's best shot, and this group accepted the challenge."
Beechwood junior Justin Youtsey won the diving title over Clark County junior Colby Coleman. Beechwood also had the 100-yard butterfly winner in senior Michael Miller. East Jessamine senior Matthew Tibbitt finished third.
Other area teams who competed included Tates Creek, which finished 13th (64); Paul Dunbar, which placed 14th (61); and Lexington Catholic, which came in 15th (52).
Wrightson wasn't able to add the 500-yard freestyle title to his trophy mantle. He finished fourth in a close race that saw Highlands' Conner Downard come out on top.
Still, that didn't put a damper on Henry Clay's big day.
"I tried a little different strategy (in the 500), and it didn't quite work out like I hoped," Wrightson said. "But we're all going home happy. This was a team thing, and that's what makes it special."