With each flip of the calendar over the past few years, the Cincinnati women's swim program has progressively improved. The same can be said for recent Carroll High School graduate Abigail Johnston, which explains why the swimmer and her next team are a match made in aquatic heaven.
Johnston wrapped up a tremendous career this past season for the Charger swimming program and has been named as The News-Sentinel Female Swimmer of the Year.
Cincinnati had been mired in the middle of the pack of its conference for several seasons, as the Bearcats transitioned from the Big East to the American Athletic Conference. However, following a sixth place finish in the Big East (2013), and a pair of fifth-place finishes in the AAC (2014 and 2015), Cincinnati climbed from fourth (2016) to a best ever third-place finish this past spring.
At the same time, Johnston was doing some climbing of her own.
As a sophomore, she qualified for the IHSAA State Finals in four events and made the consolation finals in three races and the finals in the 200 free relay. But as a junior and senior, her performances improved dramatically, as did her placements.
“I don't feel like I was doing much different,” Johnston told The News-Sentinel. “I was maybe mentally preparing myself more for my races.”
Johnston competes in the sprint freestyle events, which makes improving very incremental. Months and months of training can be for naught by a missed turn or a mistimed finish. But Johnston overcame such maladies as she dropped her times over the final 24 months of her high school career.
After swimming a 24.48 and finishing 16th in the 50 free as a sophomore, she went a 23.55 in the prelims the following year and eventually placed 8th.
That improvement reached a 23.58 and fifth-place finish as a senior.
“One of the critical things was,” veteran Carroll coach John Gibson explained of Johnston, “was she realized how good she could be.”
Johnston never made an individual final at the IHSAA State Finals until her junior year, but she did so the maximum allowable four times (as an individual) and eight times total (also the maximum possible) over her final two seasons.
“Her freshman and sophomore year, she was good,” Gibson said. “Then it dawned on her 'Yeah, I'm pretty good.'”
Not to argue with the coach, but Johnston proved to be better than pretty good.
She placed eighth (50 free), sixth (100 fly), third (200 free relay) and seventh (400 free relay) as a junior and took fifth (in both the 50 free and 100 fly), sixth (200 free relay), and a career-best second (400 free relay) in the final race of her high school career.
It was in that last race, that she closed her great career on a very positive note.
Johnston had never swam better than a 52.97 in a 100 free race in her high school career, but led off the runner-up Charger squad with a stunning 51.49.
“That is when she started thinking about possibly swimming in college,” Gibson said of Johnston's final two seasons. “I don't think she thought that coming in as a freshman or sophomore.”
It is also when Cincinnati took notice and eventually signed Johnston.
The Bearcats graduate six seniors off of their 2016-17 roster and five compete in either freestyle or butterfly events, which are what Johnston will swim at the next level.
“I felt like I fit in with the team a lot more than the other places I visited,” Johnston said of the Bearcat program. “I felt like it was more of a family. I felt more included when I went on my visit there. I really like the coaches, the campus and the academics.”
Her best times will already make her one of the best on the team in the 50 free and 100 fly events and she'll be in the top five in the 100 free. Coupled with her addition to the 200 and 400 free relays, as well being versatile enough to contribute as a flyer or freestyler on multiple medley relays, her impact on Cincinnati's 2017-18 squad will be significant and immediate, just as her addition to the UC campus will be.
Johnston ranks among the top 25 academically in the 2017 Carroll High School class of 500-plus students.
She plans on majoring in health sciences at Cincinnati.
“She's always been a pretty hard worker,” Gibson said. “But her junior year, she started working really hard every day. She is pretty self-driven. But her improvement was a lot in her psyche that she realized that she could be really good.”
That is because Johnston IS really good.
Other members of the 2017 News-Sentinel All-Area Girl's Swim Team include:
* Jackie Brenn (Homestead)
* Avery Brooks (Carroll)
* Mya VanderHagen (Carroll)
* Mallory Jackson (Carroll)
* Megan Johnson (Homestead)
* Grace Hanna (Carroll)
* Abigail Young (Carroll)
* Jordyn Polderman (Snider)
* Mallory Walker (Homestead)
* Kayla Luarde (Homestead)
* Alyssa Cyrus (Norwell)
* Ashton Klopp (South Adams)
* Veronica Lantz (Carroll)
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