Swimming in the Ohio Valley has continually gotten better the last several years.
One of the individuals most responsible for putting Belmont County swimming on the map is Barnesville senior Christopher Baker.
After all, he was the first American-born male from a Belmont County school to earn the right to compete in the OHSAA State Swimming Championship.
Now, after four highly successful seasons with the Shamrocks, Baker has decided to continue his swimming and academic careers at Wheeling Jesuit University.
When he began considering colleges, Baker's familiarity with the Cardinals' swimmers, along with the WJU academics, won out.
"I have several good relationships with people currently on their team," Baker said. "I really like the coach and staff. I believe I'll fit in well with their program. I think my times will fit in well, and I'll be able to help the team."
Baker was a standout for the Shamrocks in the 200 individual medley as well as the 500 freestyle. It was in the 500 that Baker earned the right to compete in the state meet, twice. He quaified as a freshman and as a junior.
"Christopher is another of a great group of boys swimmers from Barnesville," said Shamrocks head coach Bobbi Jo Johnson. "All of those boys have left a legacy of working hard, having fun and maintaining a very positive attitude toward the sport. Christopher has taken those skills and raised them to another level."
Baker, who owns personal best times of 2:04.20 in the IM and 4:55.05 in the freestyle, finished his prep career with eight individual OVAC medals, including five golds, two silvers and a bronze. In both 2012 and 2013, Baker was named the OVAC small school boys' swimmer of the year.
He also established himself as one of the premier swimmers in the Eastern District by finishing in the top two of both of his specialties in all four years at the sectional, which earned him trips to the district all four years. He medaled at the challenging district meet three times.
"I believe that with all of the awards that Christopher has received, his greatest accomplishment is showing the younger swimmers of Barnesville, and the Ohio Valley, that with hardwork and determination, a person can accomplish whatever they dream."
Johnson believes Baker can make an immediate impact for the Cardinals' program.
"I have always believed that Jesuit is where he would perform his best on the college level," Johnson said. "Christopher, and his entire family, will certainly be missed by me and our swimming family."
On top of his exploits for the Shamrocks' squad, Baker has been a 12-year member of the Wheeling Chamber YMCA team and earned trips to national meet. Earlier this month, Baker took part in the YMCA Long Course Nationals in North Carolina.
Away from the water, Baker was a four-year letterman in cross country. He also excels in the classroom. He's a member of the National Honor Society and Varsity B Club.
Christopher, who plans to major in biology and pre-medicine, is the son of Chris and Tia Baker.
Staskey can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org