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ORLANDO — Tarpon Springs’ Kelsey Buckley had clearly finished first in the 200-yard individual medley, but she held onto the edge of the Central Florida YMCA pool and looked at the scoreboard to confirm her accomplishment.
Seeded second going into Friday’s Class 2A state meet, Buckley left the rest of the field behind to win in two minutes, 03.68 seconds.
Moments later, she had a gold medal placed around her neck and flashed a kid at Christmas smile when she was introduced as a state champion for the first time.
“I’m so excited I can’t stop smiling,” Buckley said.
The 200 IM is a grueling event, which requires 50 yards of near sprinting in the butterfly, back, breast and freestyle strokes. Last year, Buckley got off to a slow start and finished second, missing out on gold by 0.44 seconds.
This time, Buckley, a junior, left no doubt as she glided in the butterfly and sailed in the back to gain a sizeable lead. She never relinquished it the rest of the way, beating her closest competitor, Bradenton Lakewood Ranch’s Ashley Reid, by nearly two seconds.
“I knew I was ready for something big,” Buckley said. “I felt good the whole race, but I kept (Reid) in the corner of my eye. I had a feeling I accomplished what I wanted when I touched the wall.”
Buckley wasn’t finished. In the 100 free, she made up ground in the final to vault from fourth place to finish as the runnerup in 51.51 seconds.
“That was my last individual event of the meet, and I wanted to give it my all,” she said. “I didn’t really have time to think. I just had to give it my all and swim fast enough to finish in the top two.”
Buckley finished her night by teaming with Kelly Verheyleweghen, Sara Meador and Melissa Damaske to finish eighth in the 200 free relay in 1:43.17.
On the boys side, Osceola’s Matt Tomlin was seeded first in the 100 breast but finished as the runnerup in the final in 59.05 seconds, missing a gold medal by 0.35 seconds to Mitchell’s Devin McCaffrey.