CANTON - Ryan Bailey stood a couple steps away from the Lane 4 platform with his black swimming cap tightly on his head.
With both hands, the Boardman High School senior swimmer smacked his head a couple times before finally taking foot on the platform before Saturday's Division I 100-yard butterfly.
The 5-foot-10 Bailey looked more like a linebacker preparing to rush the quarterback than someone ready to enter the pool for a state championship - an elusive title he claimed at the C.T. Branin Natatorium Saturday.
"It's kind of a an odd thing," Boardman coach Terry O'Halloran said. "You don't see swimmers doing that. Occasionally you'll see football players hitting themselves in the head. It's something he does, maybe to get everything lined up - from the top of his head to the tips of his toes so he's ready to go."
Surprisingly enough, it's not meant to motivate the Boardman senior.
"Smacking my head, I couldn't tell you why I do that," said Bailey, who swam who swam 49.43 seconds - an automatic All-American time in that event. "It gets me ready to go. It's my cue to get ready and it calms me down. You think it wouldn't, but it calms me down too."
Tribune Chronicle / John Vargo
Boardman's Ryan Bailey shows off his first-place medal in the Division I 100-yard butterfly and his fourth-place medal in the 100-yard breaststroke he won Saturday during the state swim meet in Canton.
He is not the same swimmer he was last year when he took third in this event. This year and last year, Bailey had the top qualifying time in state preliminaries heading into finals.
The final few yards of the final Cincinnati St. Xavier's Ian Wooley, Cincinnati Moeller's Greg Nymberg and Cleveland St. Ignatius' Peter Simcox were all closing in on Bailey. Wooley finished second (49.76), Nymberg took third (50.13) and Simcox was fourth (50.18).
O'Halloran said Bailey, who is attending the United States Naval Academy in the fall, had the determination to not let anyone take the state title from him.
"I think that's one of the reasons why he chose to go to the military academy because that's the type of competition he'll run into there," O'Halloran said. "Navy has an outstanding swim team. He's going to fit right in.
"I think he'll be a tremendous officer. I've said this before, 'I think we'll all sleep a little better at night knowing he's going to defend the country.'"
Bailey had tunnel vision the whole race, not focused on the swimmers around him. The competition didn't make him go faster.
"Last year, it would've," Bailey said. "This year, I focus on my swims and I think a big difference came out of it."
Bailey is the fourth state champion from Boardman. O'Halloran's son, Tyler won the Division I 50-yard freestyle in 2002 and captured 50 and 100 freestyle title in 2003.
This is the 14th straight year Boardman has sent someone to the state meet.
"It shows our program keeps on improving," Terry O'Halloran said.
Bailey said his state championship was a team effort.
"There are so many people that helped me get to this point," he said. "I can't thank them enough. I'm so grateful to everyone that have done this for me. I don't want to name names because I'm afraid I'll miss somebody. I don't want to do that because everybody has been an integral part of helping me out."
The Boardman coaching staff and Bailey's sister, Brooke, were waiting for Ryan after he finished. Brooke gave Ryan a hug, proud of her older brother's performance.
"It really became real when I saw her and my coaches poolside waiting for me. That was great," Ryan said.
Bailey finished up his senior season with a fourth-place finish in the 100-yard breaststroke (56.94). He finished eighth at state last season in this event.
Saturday, he was in between sixth and seventh place heading into the final 25 yards.
"I saw the kid next to me in Lane 1 and I said, 'I'm not going down my last race in high school.' I tried my hardest and I put up a great time for me," Bailey said.
He looks back at his career at Boardman as one of the best experiences of his life.
"I learned so many life lessons at Boardman, probably the best decision I ever made," Bailey said. "My freshman year, going back to that, my dad reminded me going back to districts (that season), I came down the stairs crying into my parents' arms that I didn't qualify to swim here.
"After that, I put all the hours into the pool. It wasn't easy. There was times when I hated everything. I think that's why I love it, it's not easy."