by Frank Aceto
Associate Sports Editor
They have been one of the best teams in the state for the last several years.
Still, even with all their success, the Explorers weren't even the best team in their division last season.
They are now.
The Hudson boys swimming and diving team easily captured the Northeast Ohio Conference Valley Division title with 481 points. The meet took place Jan. 4 at Cleveland State University's Robert F. Busbey Natatorium.
Strongsville finished second with 420 points and Solon took third with 394 points. A total of five teams competed in the Valley Division meet.
Last year, the Explorers placed third in the Valley Division meet to Strongsville and Mayfield.
As it turned out, falling short at the conference meet wasn't such a bad thing after all.
Hudson, the 2012 Valley Division champion, eventually finished sixth at the 2013 Division I state meet.
"I was very proud of our team," Explorers head coach Matt Davis said.
"I hope this meet will propel our kids to a great second half of the season and the state tournament season in February."
Hudson made it clear who was boss right away.
The Explorers' 200-yard medley relay team of Doni Moffa, Ross Palazzo, Brendon Mulcahey and Cole Clampffer held off Solon to place first with a time of 1 minute, 37.17 seconds.
By the way, that time is a new NOC record.
"The start couldn't have been any better," Davis said. "The fun didn't stop there as we went on to win the next three races."
It certainly helped that a reigning state champion had something to do with it.
After Clampffer kept the ball rolling with a first-place time of 1:45.43 in the 200 freestyle, Palazzo easily won the 200 individual medley with a meet-record time of 1:52.08.
Palazzo, the 2013 state champ in the 200 IM, beat his nearest competitor by nearly five seconds.
Mulcahey added a first in the 50 freestyle (21.6) to put Hudson in complete control.
Palazzo also seems to be in peak form in the other event that led him to gold at the 2013 state meet.
Palazzo won the 100 breaststroke with a meet-record time of 55.71 seconds. Palazzo beat his nearest competitor by nearly six seconds.
"Ross knocked off more than three seconds off his own NOC record," Davis said.
Clampffer and Palazzo also joined Peyton Brown and Ryan Johnson on the second-place 200 freestyle relay team (1:28.25).
Clampffer added a second in the 100 freestyle (48.51).
The Explorers had three swimmers place in the top eight in the 500 freestyle.
They were Brown (fourth, 4:56.1), Alex Faiman (seventh, 5:06.7) and Brian Holcomb (eighth, 5:06.9). Brown added a fourth in the 200 IM (2:01.75).
Brown, Daniel Nguyen, Doni Moffa and Johnson led the 400 freestyle relay team to a fourth-place time of 3:25.73.
Moffa and teammate Keegan Goeke finished fifth and sixth with time of 56.32 and 57.3 seconds, respectively, in the 100 backstroke. Moffa added a sixth in the 200 IM (2:06.51).
Adam Ambroziak took a sixth (1:05.12) in the 100 breaststroke and Johnson placed seventh (1:05.26). Johnson also placed eighth in the 100 freestyle (51.91).
Taking ninth for Hudson were Holcomb in the 200 freestyle (1:54.35) and Will Wiley in the 100 butterfly (58.12). Wiley added a 10th in the 200 IM (2:12.17).
There was a little bit of bad news for the Explorers. Diver Alex Obendorf, the 2013 state runner-up who won the state title the previous year, was unable to perform due to concussion issues. Davis hopes Obendorf can be back on the diving board soon.
Brendan Dagley did an admirable job filling in as the leading man in the diving competition. He finished sixth with 284.9 points.
"Overall, I was really pleased with everyone," Davis said. "They really stepped up and raced really well and deserved to win that meet."
The Explorers are scheduled to host Lakewood St. Edward Jan. 10 at East Woods Elementary. Swimming is set to begin at 6 p.m.
Hudson is scheduled to compete at the Northeast Classic Jan. 11 at the University of Akron's Ocasek Natatorium and C.T. Branin Natatorium in Canton. The meet is set to begin at 8 a.m.