The Lorain County Swimming and Diving Hall of Fame’s inaugural class will be enshrined Jan. 5 at 4:30 pm. during intermission at the ninth annual Elyria Catholic Swim Pentathlon at Oberlin College.
North Ridgeville brothers Kevin Mills and Glenn Mills and the Rangers’ Dave Valega, Avon Lake’s Aimee (Berzins) Schmitt and Jennifer (Saul) Michaels and Avon’s Beth (Schlessman) Barbian are the inductees.
All six were state champions.
Mills won the 1974 Division I state championship in the 100-yard breaststroke and was second the following year. In 1975 he was the high school state record-holder and was ranked second nationally.
Went on to swim at the University of Alabama where he was SEC champion in the 100-yard breast as a freshman in 1975 and was a seven-time Division I All-American.
He was also a 1976 USA Nationals silver medalist in the 100-meter breast and a 1977 USA national team member at the World Student Games in Bulgaria.
Lorain County’s most accomplished boys swimmer, Mills was a 1978 Division I state runner-up in the 100-yard breast as a sophomore.
But that was just the start of his stellar career.
Mills moved to Cincinnati for his senior year to train with the Pepsi Marlins Swim Club and won 1980 Division I state titles in the 100-yard breast and 200 individual medley as an independent at Finneytown High School. His state-record time of 55.44 seconds in the 100 breast lasted for 20 years.
Mills went on to win the 1980 Olympic Trials and was the No. 1 swimmer for Team USA in the 100-meter breast. The American team didn’t get the opportunity to compete at the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow, however, because of a U.S. boycott due to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.
A seven-time All-American at Alabama, Mills was also a U.S. Olympic alternate in 1984 for the Los Angeles Games.
Another highly successful swimmer from North Ridgeville’s era of dominance, Valega was All-Ohio four times in the 100-yard fly, including in 1982 when he won the Division I state title. His winning time of 50.57 remains a county record, tied with Avon Lake’s Brad Bartel.
Valega was also a 1980 Division I state runner-up in the 100 fly, took third at state in the same event in 1981 and was sixth at state in 1979. He also earned All-Ohio honors as a freshman member of the Rangers’ 200 medley relay that finished fourth.
He went on to swim two years at Eastern Michigan University.
Aimee (Berzins) Schmitt
Though she swam for Avon Lake High School just one season, she remains the most accomplished swimmer in the program’s history.
Schmitt won the 1983 Division I state title in the 50-yard freestyle as a sophomore in a Lorain County-record time of 23.432 that she still holds today. She was also state runner-up in the 100 free (51.485).
Schmitt transferred to Centerville and won two more state titles in 1984 and ’85 in the 50 free, setting a state record of 22.943 in 1985 that lasted until 2004. She also won state titles in the 100-yard free in 1984 and ’85 to give her five state titles for her career.
Schmitt earned All-America honors four years in a row at Stanford, where she helped lead the Cardinal to an NCAA Division I national title in 1989. She also competed in three Olympic Trials (1984, ’88 and ’92).
Her other highlights include making select USA National teams and winning a silver medal as a member of the women’s 4x100-meter relay at the World Championships.
Jennifer (Saul) Michaels
The Avon Lake swimmer was a 1990 Division I state champion in the 50-yard free as a junior and earned All-Ohio with a fourth in the 100 free as a junior and a fourth in the 50 free as a senior.
She swam at Texas A&M, where she advanced to nationals four straight years and was an eight-time All-American as a relay member. She was the only Texas A&M female athlete recognized as the NCAA Scholar Athlete of the Year her senior year.
Michaels was also a member of the Shoregals’ Division II state cross country championship team in 1988 and was a Division II state track runner-up in the 800 meters as a junior in 1990 after taking third as a sophomore. Overall, she All-Ohio in track six times.
Beth (Schlessman) Barbian
The Avon High standout was a 1995 Division I state champion in the 100-yard breast and a runner-up in 1994. She still holds the Lorain County record of 1:03.56 set at the 1994 Division I Cleveland State district meet.
Barbian was All-Ohio four times in the 100 breast and three times in the 50 free. She swam for Magnificat as a freshman and a sophomore before transferring to Avon. She was also a 1993 state runner-up as a member of the Streaks’ 400 free relay and fourth at the same meet as a member of the 200 medley relay. She had nine All-Ohio awards overall.
Went on to swim at the University of North Carolina where she was a member of Atlantic Coast Conference championship relay reams in 1997 and ’98, and was a member of the 1997 200 medley relay which set an ACC meet record of 1:43.52.