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Pancreas ailment can't slow down West Geauga senior

Two days at Hillcrest Hospital with a pancreatic illness gave West Geauga senior David Okeson a lot of time to think.

Too much time, to be honest, including the thought, "Is my swimming career over?"

For the record, it's not. Okeson swam what he called the best race of his life yesterday during the district swim meet at Cleveland State University, finishing second in the 50-yard freestyle race (21.25), shaving nearly a half-second off the time he swam at state a year ago.

"All I thought when I was in the hospital was, 'Oh my gosh! Is this it?' " Okeson said after finishing second to Boardman's Tyler O'Halloran. "When I looked up after the race and saw 21.2-something, wow. I've never gone that fast in my life."

After his illness, Okeson said he went back to work and tried to get his wind back, but wasn't sure he had enough time to do that prior to the sectional and district meets. He'll try to make it to next weekend's state meet in Canton in more than one event today when he swims in the 100 freestyle and the 200 freestyle relay.

"I'd say I'm still only about 90 percent," he said. "Hopefully I can cut some more time next week."

Okeson wasn't the only local swimmer to have a good day yesterday in the first half of the district meet. University School, despite winning only one event, is the team leader with 137 points, getting three state-qualifying performances from junior standout Andy Neff.

Neff won the final event of the day, the 100 butterfly, with a time of 51.72. He also took second in the 200 individual medley (1:55.42) and swam the third leg of the 200 medley relay that took fourth with a time of 1:39.56.

Trailing at the halfway point in the 100 butterfly, Neff turned it up a notch and outkicked St. Ignatius' Chris Conway (52.01) and Mayfield's Jonathan Salibra (52.38) to win the event.

"I've always been a strong finisher," Neff said. "It's more fun to come back on people the second half of the race."

Joining Neff on the state-qualifying 200 medley relay are Kevin Happ, Tom Shimrock and Arnaud Thibonnier. Thibonnier also placed second in the 200 freestyle (1:44.67), one spot ahead of teammate Ilya Byzov (1:45.60), to give US two state-qualifiers in the same event. Rounding out the Preppers' contingent yesterday was Mark Levendorf's fourth-place finish in the 50 freestyle (21.72).

Neff said the team plans to continue the strong showing, team-wise, today. The Preppers hold a decent lead over St. Ignatius (106.5), Akron Firestone (99) and North Canton Hoover (69).

"Last year, we got second and had our 400 relay DQ'd," Neff said. "We've never won a district championship. That's what we've worked for all year."

The only other area swimmer to lock up a state berth was Gilmour sophomore Alex Hostoffer, whose time of 1:58.28 placed him fourth in the 200 IM.

Additional state berths will be made known when times from the rest of the districts come in. Aside from the top four placers, 11 at-large bids based on time will also qualify for state in each event.

Swimming will continue today at noon.

©The News-Herald 2003
FEBRUARY 15, 2003

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