by Frank Aceto
Associate Sports Editor
The Hudson boys swimming and diving team has had its share of superstar swimmers in recent years.
Last year, Jimmy Dagley capped off a spectacular career at the state meet. Prior to Dagley, Mark and John Zucca were all-state performers.
In the 1990s, state champions Scott Claypool and Jamie Farnham ruled the pool.
As the 2012-13 season recently came to a close, the Explorers discovered another phenom who concluded a breakthrough season.
That phenom may be the greatest of them all.
Sophomore Ross Palazzo won two state titles at the Division I state meet, which concluded Feb. 23 at C.T. Branin Natatorium in Canton.
Palazzo placed first in the 200-yard individual medley with a time of 1 minute, 48.49 seconds and the 100-yard breaststroke (55 seconds).
For good measure, Palazzo also was a member of the 200 medley and 200 freestyle relay teams that placed sixth and eighth, respectively.
"It was incredible," Palazzo said. "Everything worked out. I trained all year and I was able to achieve every one of my goals that I set at the beginning of the year."
Palazzo captured his first title in the 200 IM, which features all four strokes.
He was not in first place going into the third leg, but the 16-year-old sensation wasn't too worried.
The breaststroke, his strongest event, was coming up.
"My plan was to pull ahead in the breast," Palazzo said. "I knew Josh Brooks of Centerville was strong in the freestyle and Derek Hren of [Cleveland] St. Ignatius also was strong in the breast. Josh was coming at me in the freestyle, but I held on."
Brooks, a senior, took second with a clocking of 1:49.53. Hren, also a senior, settled for third in 1:51.06.
"That one [the 200 IM title] was a bit sweeter because it was my first one," Palazzo said. "I definitely celebrated with my friends and coaches, but I had to refocus."
A short while later, Palazzo hoped to add to his collection of gold medals in the 100 breaststroke.
He got some inspiration from a friend and former teammate.
Cuyahoga Falls senior Andrew Appleby captured his only state title in the 100 backstroke. Palazzo and Appleby were teammates on the Cuyahoga Falls Tigersharks before Palazzo joined the Hudson Explorers Aquatic Team a few years ago.
"I've known Andrew for 10 years," Palazzo said. "Right before my race, he wished me good luck, which he has done in most of my races. It was special for both of us."
Palazzo also is a volunteer instructor with Make A Splash, which was founded by Appleby a short time ago. The purpose of this program is to teach inner-city kids how to swim. The lessons take place at the University Park Y in Akron.
"We bring a group of 20 to 30 kids, ages 5 to 10, and give them lessons," Palazzo said. "We get them to put their head in the water for the first time before getting them to eventually swim across the pool."
Not long after the friendly exchange with Appleby, Palazzo was back in the pool.
Once again, he didn't disappoint.
Palazzo held off Toledo St. Francis junior Jack Barone (55.55) to win title No. 2.
"The back half is usually my better half," Palazzo said. "I had a faster second split."
Palazzo finished sixth in the 200 IM and 11th in the 100 breaststroke at the 2012 state meet.
"Those same guys crushed me last year," he said.
But Palazzo, who was named the Performer of the Meet, certainly isn't a secret. He has competed against some of the best swimmers in the state for quite some time. He also has held his own against some of the nation's top swimmers.
"Ross is the best swimmer I've ever coached," Hudson head boys and girls swimming and diving coach Matt Davis said. "We've had some really good swimmers over the years and you always wonder how are you going to top this?
"A lot of these kids now are blowing those times away. Ross is such a talented kid, but he works hard and is very humble. He swims with a purpose."
If Palazzo continues his otherworldly pace, he may want to make plans for Rio. That would be Rio de Janeiro in Brazil, which happens to be the site of the 2016 Olympics.
"That would be really cool, but I don't like to set goals to beat people," Palazzo said. "I can't control what happens in the outside lane."
Palazzo plans to join the rest of his HEAT teammates at the Lake Erie Gold Champs next month at Cleveland State University's Robert F. Busbey Natatorium. After that, he may stay away from the pool for awhile.
"I'll go on spring break and then get ready for the long-course season in the summer," Palazzo said.