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One year ago, Ross Palazzo's life changed forever.
He snuck up on a number of people on his way to winning two titles at the 2013 state swimming and diving meet.
Yes, being a champion on the highest level sure had its perks. But it also caused him a great deal of stress.
"Ever since that meet last year, I've had a target on my back," the Hudson junior said. "But it also was a privilege. I used it as motivation for next year."
Let's just say the target is still on the talented Palazzo's back.
And he couldn't be more proud it to wear it for one more year.
Palazzo defended his titles in the 200-yard individual medley and the 100 breaststroke at the 2014 state meet, which concluded Feb. 22 at C.T. Branin Natatorium. He won the 200 IM with a time of 1 minute, 48.75 seconds and the 100 breaststroke with a clocking of 55.19.
Palazzo, who is now a three-time state qualifier, just missed breaking the state records in both events. But he'll wear his gold medals proudly after another spectacular season.
"I'm very happy to defend my state titles," Palazzo said. "I would have liked to have been faster, but you can't be too disappointed when you win."
Palazzo had plenty of supporters to congratulate after him after his races.
A total of 15 swimmers, eight girls and seven boys, represented Hudson at the state meet.
The boys team placed sixth with 101 points at the Division I state meet, which concluded Feb. 22 at C.T. Branin Natatorium in Canton.
Cincinnati St. Xavier won the title for the 35th time with 255 points and Toledo St. Francis DeSales (238) and Cincinnati Moeller (179) finished second and third, respectively.
The Lady Explorers captured seventh with 102 points. Cincinnati Ursuline won the title for the seventh time with 281 points and Upper Arlington (264) took second and Mason (164) finished third.
"I thought we did really well," Hudson head coach Matt Davis said. "The kids gave us a chance to score as many points as we could. On the girls' side, they were tough all season long. All of their swims at finals were faster than their preliminary times."
Palazzo's first event was the 200 IM, which features all four strokes. He beat his nearest competitor, Moeller's Cooper Hodge, by nearly two seconds.
"We really worked to develop the first half of his race," Davis said. "His back half, which is the breaststroke and freestyle is as good as anyone. He had to get better in the butterfly and the backstroke. He was able to stay in front in the first two strokes and once he got to the breaststroke, no one could catch him."
Palazzo had to deal with some familiar faces in the 100 breaststroke.
Jack Barone of Toledo St. Francis DeSales was the runner-up in this event last year. He was the runner-up again after swimming a time of 56.11.
"Barone had a really good race last year," Palazzo said. "I knew it was going to be tight this year. The guy who came in third, Hutch Blackstone [Mansfield], had his breakout swim at the district meet. And the fourth-place finisher [Hodge] was second in the IM."
Palazzo also swam the lead leg on two relays. He joined Cole Clampffer, senior Peyton Brown and Brendon Mulcahey on the fifth-place 200 freestyle relay team (1:25.57) and the seventh-place 400 freestyle relay team (3:09.77).
"We had 15 kids at the state meet and it was great to share the experience with them," Palazzo said. "I couldn't ask to spend time with better people."
Paige Kelly concluded a remarkable four-year career with the Lady Explorers.
The senior, who made her fourth trip to the state meet, placed fourth in the 500 freestyle (4:55.05) and ninth in the 200 freestyle (1:51.26).
She also joined senior Jillian Saccogna, Steph Boyd and Caitlin Weigel on the fifth-place 200 freestyle relay team (1:37.22) and Saccogna, Sarah Wolanske and Boyd on the seventh-place 400 freestyle relay (3:32.24).
Kelly verbally committed to swim at The Ohio State University in Columbus. Saccogna plans to swim at the College of Wooster.
The other senior was Doni Moffa, who placed 16th in the 100 backstroke (53.11) and joined Ryan Johnson, Keegan Goeke and Clampffer on the 15th place 200 medley relay (1:37.64).
"Paige was one of the best swimmers we had coming in," Davis said. "She had a great career. Jillian, Peyton and Doni were pretty decent swimmers, but they weren't at the level they are now. It was great to see them develop."
The girls' 200 medley relay of Kristin Dagley, Gina Saxon, Weigel and Macy Trattner gave Hudson a glimpse of the future after posting an eighth-place time of 1:48.67.
Also competing for the Lady Explorers were Boyd in the 100 freestyle (15th, 52.73), Wolanske in the 500 freestyle (15th, 5:01.76), Weigel in the 50 freestyle (18th, 24.46) and Saxon in the 100 breaststroke (21st, 1:07.66). Walsh Jesuit's Kailey Francetic, a Hudson resident, placed fifth in the diving competition with 472.8 points.
On the boys' side, Mulcahey took 13th in the 50 freestyle (21.55) and 24th in the 100 butterfly (55.2) and Clampffer added an 18th place in the 200 freestyle (1:43.94).
"I'm super excited for next year," Davis said. "We have 11 kids who gained a lot of experience at the state meet. We're hoping to get more kids down there and strive for top five."
Don't expect Palazzo to take a break anytime soon.
He is scheduled to compete at the National Club Swimming Association Junior Nationals March 18 to 22 in Orlando. And then he'll focus on going for an unprecedented three-peat.
"Over the next year, I will take a total of two weeks off," Palazzo said. "Defending my titles next year is something I will be working toward in the next 364 days."