It didn’t take long for Cincinnati St. Xavier senior Matt Columbus to
set the tone for this winter. As one of a handful of St. Xavier seniors
coming off a rare state runner-up finish, Columbus was clearly focused
on the state meet in Canton. That keen focus and strong mental approach paid off.
It didn’t take long for Cincinnati St. Xavier senior Matt Columbus to set the tone for this winter. As one of a handful of St. Xavier seniors coming off a rare state runner-up finish, Columbus was clearly focused on the state meet in Canton.
That keen focus and strong mental approach paid off in late February when Columbus won the Division I state title in the 500 freestyle (4:28.10) and was part of the state champion 400 free relay team (3:05.04). Maybe even important was the fact that the Bombers reclaimed the Division I state title – its 30th overall.
As a result, Columbus is the 2009 Ohio High Magazine/Huntington Bank Boys Swimmer of the Year.
“I could tell from the first day of practice that Matt had the desire to win the 500 free at the state meet this year,” St. X coach Jim Brower said. “He had the same determination I saw in (former St. X standout) David Mosko when David was a senior and set the state record in the same event. He worked his tail off.”
Columbus said the Bombers’ state runner-up finish in 2008 to Columbus St. Charles “was definitely a bummer” and the challenge this season was evident all winter.
“I learned more from not winning (the 2008 state title),” said Columbus, who was named an All-American in 2008. “I think we grew up as a team and I did as a swimmer. It was a humbling experience – something I probably won’t ever forget.”
This year was different. The Bombers were a younger squad, but they improved dramatically as the season went on.
“The difference from this year to last year was amazing,” Columbus said. “We swam out of our minds this year at state. It was so satisfying.”
St. X scored 322 points at C.T. Branin Natatorium in Canton en route to the school’s 10th title in the past 11 years. The Bombers 30 titles overall are the most by any program in history – regardless of OHSAA sport.
After the meet, Columbus stood front and center in a front-page newspaper photo that printed March. 1. His euphoric expression as he held the state championship trophy said it all: Columbus had helped bring the state title back.
“He’d rather be a sprinter than a distance swimmer, but he knows where his talents lie,” Brower said. “As a freshman I think Matt was only focused on his own performances (swimming leads itself to an individualistic approach). As he has grown in our program, Matt’s focus has been all about helping the team. He has been a great leader for us.”
Brower said Columbus stayed well-rounded in his efforts throughout the season and was inspiration to the younger swimmers at St. X.
“We all know what the past teams have done,” said Columbus, who has signed to swim at South Carolina. “The state title banners from 1970-2007 are all on the pool wall (at Keating Natatorium). To be a part of something that special everyday is a blessing.”
The 18-year-old Columbus will bring what he’s learned at St. X to the Southeastern Conference next year. Although he prefers sprinting, Columbus knows his future will continue to be in distance form.
“I’d like to win an SEC championship by the time I’m a senior,” Columbus said. “I’d like to further my ability in swimming.”
Columbus, who also considered Ohio State, Georgia Tech, LSU and California-Irvine, also has plans for his education in Columbia. He wants to major in a biology-related field and eventually become an orthopedic surgeon.
“Matt is a young man that we believe has everything we look for in a student-athlete,” South Carolina coach McGee Moody said.
Moody said academics, athletics and personality are three priorities the Gamecocks use for recruiting in the swimming program.
“We believe Matt brings all of these to the table,” Moody said. “He is an outstanding young man and we are lucky to have him joining the South Carolina program. I believe he is just starting to scratch the surface of how good he can be.”