NORTH CANTON  It would be difficult to find a high school swimming relay team that entered the season with higher expectations than the Hoover 200 medley relay squad of Kate Lochridge, Annie Lochridge, Amanda Palutsis and Parker Timken.

The quartet was ranked as high as 10th nationally last season, broke two national records and returned all four members this winter. Coming into the new year, it was clear that they were one of the teams to beat in the area.

"I think starting out the season, if it’s even possible, we broke some people’s expectations by how strong we came out at the start of the season," Palutsis said. "We came out really strong on the boys and girls sides both and now we’re working on keeping that momentum going."

Palutsis admitted that in the back of their minds, she and her relay teammates are aware that other teams will be gunning for them this season. Racking up the accolades and accomplishments they tallied one season ago tends to have that effect, but the difficulty of maintaining that lofty perch could work in their favor, the senior swimmer noted.

"We take every practice and meet as it comes," Palutsis said. "I don’t think any one of us will allow themselves to get too far in front of our reality."

Palutsis called last season "a great indication of where we were and how good we could be." With that success in their rearview mirror, Palutsis, Timken and the Lochridge sisters believe that their best days as a relay team are still ahead and as she scans the rest of the roster, Palutsis says there is growing confidence that various swimmers can not only reach the state meet, but have the ability to top the podium once they get there.

One of those swimmers is returning 50 freestyle champion Nate Mullens, who signed his college letter of intent with North Carolina State at the same time Palutsis signed to swim for Ohio State.

"It was definitely a relief to take care of that. Nate and I signed together and we did that before meets even started this year," Palutsis said. "It’s been great training alongside him and all of the talent we have on this team. Everyone is so successful we push each other during those grueling practices."

This season, Palutsis is a regular member of multiple relays along with swimming events such as the 50 and 100 freestyle and 100 butterfly. While winning individual races is fun, she enjoys a relay victory even more because it spreads the wealth and feeling of accomplishment around.

"Relays are by far more fun. It’s always great to win individually, but with a team, it’s a lot more staying to see not only your hard work pay off, but other people’s hard work too," Palutsis said.

This winter may be her final season swimming for Hoover, but there are plenty of new challenges ahead for Palutsis in the years to come. She plans to major in biomedical engineering, a challenging major that will be made all the more difficult by the time demands of being a college student-athlete at the Division I level.

Given the way she’s handled the lofty expectations and schedule challenges that have come her way so far, it’s safe to say that Palutsis is well prepared to handle what comes her way next.

Reach Andy at 330-580-8936
On Twitter: @aharrisBURB