The Cuyahoga Falls boys swimming and diving team won't finish undefeated in the Northeast Ohio Conference River Division standings.
But Black Tigers head coach Mike McDonald knows there is much more at stake down the road.
"It's crunch time now," he said. "This is where [Falls head girls coach] Peter [Nauman] and I switch philosophies. We've done all the coaching we can. Now we become cheerleaders."
The coaches certainly did plenty of cheerleading Jan. 12 at Stow.
Unfortunately, the Black Tigers fell a little bit short as the Bulldogs earned a 93-91 victory.
"They [the Bulldogs] had a little more guys than we did," McDonald said. "We asked the guys to step up in huge ways and they didn't go down without a fight."
After the meet was over, both the boys and girls teams did something the coach will never forget.
"The whole team interlocked arms to show unity and chanted, 'We will rise,'" McDonald said. "That was the best thing about the meet."
Andrew Appleby won the 200-yard individual medley with a time of 1 minute, 59.68 seconds and the 100 backstroke (55.46). He also joined Landon Alderman, Will Turnbull and Ryan Hillyer on the winning 200 medley relay (1:44.48) and Justin Capriola, Austin Crawford and Hillyer on the winning 400 freestyle relay team (3:27.62).
Hillyer also had a strong meet for Falls, which dropped to 2-1 in the River Division. He took first in the 50 freestyle (22.89) and 100 freestyle (50.72).
Also triumphing for the Black Tigers were Justin Capriola in the 200 freestyle (1:58.93) and Crawford in diving (133.05 points). Although he didn't win any races, David Nix made a lasting impression on his coach.
"David Nix had some amazing swims," McDonald said. "He took third in the 200 IM and third in the 500 free."
Nicholas Neal, Jordan Wood and Nick Romanoski were named the team's performers of the meet.
"Nick Neal constantly surprises the heck out of me," McDonald said. "He's a student of the sport. Jordan dropped four seconds in the 500 free and has dropped eight seconds in the last two weeks.
"Nick Romanoski had a three-second drop in the breast. He's beginning to show me what he's truly capable of doing. Everything is starting to click for him."
Falls also participated at the Northeast Classic, which took place Jan. 12 at the University of Akron's Ocasek Natatorium and C.T. Branin Natatorium in Canton.
Appleby set a meet record with a first-place time of 50.41 seconds in the 100 backstroke. He also triumphed in the 50 freestyle (21.33) and joined Turnbull, Hillyer and Crawford on the ninth-place 400 freestyle relay team (3:22.91).
"The 400 free relay swam a 3:27 in prelims and then dropped five seconds in the finals," McDonald said. "You don't see that a lot. They're four seconds off the school record and are ranked 20th in the state."
The 200 medley relay team of Appleby, Alderman, Turnbull and Hillyer finished 11th (1:43.96) and Hillyer placed 12th in the 100 freestyle (49.31).
"Ryan is swimming in unbelievable fashion and Will went from a 54.5 [Jan. 11] to 53.7 [Jan. 12] in the preliminaries to a 52.7 in finals in the 400 free relay," McDonald said. "It's nice to see the hard work is paying off. It's a great testament to his will and determination."
Appleby, Hillyer, Turnbull, Crawford and Alderman were named the team's performers of the meet.
Falls was scheduled to host River Division foe North Royalton Jan. 18 before heading to Ocasek Natatorium for the Barberton Invitational Jan. 19. Results of those competitions were not available at press time.
The Black Tigers are set to conclude the regular season with a home date against River Division rival Medina Jan. 25 at 5 p.m.