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Firestone swimmers shine at Christmas Invitational

By Michael Beaven
Beacon Journal sports writer

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Firestone's Katie Miller swims to a first place finish with a time of 1:05.77 in the 100 yard breaststroke during the Canton City Schools Christmas Invitational swim meet Saturday at CT Branin Natatorium in Canton. (Karen Schiely/Akron Beacon Journal)

CANTON: Firestone seniors Katie Miller and Mark Belanger both maintain a 4.2 cumulative grade-point average.

Each student-athlete enjoys swimming and competed last week at the Speedo USA Junior Nationals in Knoxville, Tenn.

Neither emerged from that meet with a first place, but both gained additional confidence that they displayed Saturday at the Ninth Annual Canton City Schools Christmas Invitational at C.T. Branin Natatorium.

The Falcons both won two events Saturday, with Belanger setting two meet records and Miller setting one.

“They rested down for Junior Nationals last weekend in Knoxville and they swam very well,” Firestone coach Cindy Virdo said. “This week has been a tough week getting back into training. They hit it up really hard. They lifted Monday, Wednesday and Friday. We didn’t ease up really at all coming into this. It was kind of a crapshoot to see where we are at. I am very pleased with the results.”

Belanger, an Ohio State University recruit, set meet records in the 200-yard freestyle (1:41.32) and the 100 freestyle (46.28 seconds).

“I am definitely pleased with my times,” Belanger said. “I knew there would be fast guys in my events at this meet, so I wanted to swim against them and get some good races in.”

Belanger was a Division I state runner-up in 100 freestyle last season.

“I definitely feel like I am more prepared this year to be at the top and to show everybody what I can really do,” Belanger said. “We have been training hard. I am a little bit tired right now, but I definitely feel stronger than ever as a swimmer. I have added weight and everything feels great.”

Miller, a University of Notre Dame recruit, set a meet record in the 100 butterfly (55.0 seconds) and also won the 100 breast stroke (1:05.77).

“I didn’t let down in practice and I didn’t rest much this week,” Miller said. “I thought I did good today after lifting Friday morning and busting my butt during practices following Junior Nationals. I want to just keep riding this momentum into the end of February.”

Miller won a Division I state title in the 200 individual medley as a sophomore and was a runner-up in the 500 freestyle. As a junior, she was a state runner-up in the 100 backstroke and third in the 200 IM.

“Swimming at Junior Nationals gave me a lot of confidence,” Miller said. “I didn’t swim either of these two events at Junior Nationals. That is why I wanted to swim them today. I set a lot of personal bests down in Tennessee. Knowing how much stronger and better I have gotten is very exciting. I am trying to carry that through the rest of the season.”

Miller said she competed in eight events over three days in Knoxville. She swam in eight preliminaries and then five finals for a total of 13 swims.

“Cindy and I had fun,” Miller said with a big smile. “I broke two minutes in my 200 IM, which is good. My 200 back and 200 fly were also really good. I dropped two seconds from my 200 fly and a second half from my 200 back.”

Area schools Copley, North Canton Hoover, Canton McKinley, Green, Wadsworth and Western Reserve Academy were entered in the field along with perennial powers Cincinnati St. Xavier, Upper Arlington, Mason, Cincinnati Ursuline Academy and Cincinnati Archbishop Moeller.

Hoover had two individual first places and two relays that won events.

The Vikings’ 200 freestyle relay won in a meet-record time of 1:26.77. Junior Stephen Watson swam the opening leg in front of seniors Robert Tolson, Drew Bercaw and Brian Giannetti.

Tolson, Watson and Giannetti joined sophomore Michael Cochenour to win the 400 freestyle relay in 3:15.73.

Giannetti and Watson went 1-2 in the 50 freestyle, with Giannetti clocking a 21.64 and Watson a 21.90.

Senior Rebekah Acuna earned the Vikings initial first place when she won the 500 freestyle in 24.52.

Copley sophomore Madison Myers secured a win in the 200 IM in 2:06.35.

“There are a lot of little things that you can improve on,” Virdo said. “They always work on their kick, setting up turns and other little things that need to be cleaned up before we come back here in the end of February for the state meet.”

Michael Beaven can be reached at 330-996-3829 or Read the high school blog at Follow him on Twitter at and on Facebook at