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ORLANDO — From the start, Clearwater’s Nick Alexiou moved through the water with steadiness and sureness in the Class 3A finals of the 200-yard freestyle race. By the final turn, the rest of the field had fallen back, leaving Alexiou to swim against himself and the clock.
After it was over, Alexiou checked the giant scoreboard to see his name and his time. He finished first with ease. But his time was 1 minute, 36.27 seconds, 0.46 seconds off the state record of 1:35.81 set by Clay Kirkland of Jacksonville Bolles in 2000.
Alexiou finally won what had been an elusive gold medal. Last year, he led the 200 free through most of the race, but was out-touched at the wall and finished second. This time, he left no doubt he would be the champion in a dominating performance. But his quest was only half-realized because he missed the state record.
“It is a relief to win,” Alexiou said. “I was able to take 9/10th of a second off my personal best. But it was a little bittersweet because I really wanted to go after the record.”
Alexiou came back to win the 500 free in 4:24.30. He was the only county athlete to win multiple state titles in individual events.
“I had a big lead in the 500 free, but I was starting to lose it at the end,” Alexiou said. “Still, I dropped a full second off my personal best.
Overall, I’ve got to be happy. Coming home with two gold medals was very nice.”
Alexiou, a senior, stole the show in a meet that was supposed to be dominated by freshmen. East Lake’s Sydney Pickrem was trying to become the first county girls swimmer win to multiple state titles as a freshman. She came close, winning the 100 breast in 1:02.91 and finishing second in the 200 IM in 2:00.55.
Pickrem had the top seeded times in both events heading in. In the 200 IM she fell behind at the start to Sarasota Riverview’s Ashlee Linn and was never able to catch up. In the 100 breast, she built a commanding lead and finished a second off the state record.
“I was hoping to be faster in the 100 breast,” Pickrem said. “Everybody was telling me to go for the record. In the 200 IM, I just ran into some really great competition.”
Northeast’s Georgi Krastev was the county’s other state champ. In the 100 back, Krastev whirled his arms 360 degrees, churning ahead in a tightly contested race to win in 50.82.
It was a marked improvement for Krastev, who was eighth in the event last year. Krastev also was seventh in the 100 fly (51.95).
“I looked around to see where I had placed after I won,” Krastev said. “I was so excited to see I had won. This was my goal and I just went after it.”
Seminole’s Zack Metka was the runnerup in the 200 IM (1:50.54) and third in the 100 breast (56.96).
Countryside’s 200 free relay of Richard Willsey, Ryan Peters, Tommy Kelly and Gary Lush took fourth in 1:26.35. And the Cougars’ 400 free relay of Willsey, Michael Lombardo, Peters and Gary Lush was third in 3:09.99.
Countryside’s Lauren Hall was third in the 50 free (23.88) and fourth in the 100 free (51.06). In the 500 free, the Cougars’ Summer Finke, a freshman, was fourth in 4:52.75. Sister Autumn, a junior, was fifth in the same event in 5:00.24.
East Lake’s Alexi Gonzalez was third in diving with 432.90 points. Northeast’s A.J. Jones was fourth in the 200 IM (2:04.69). St. Petersburg’s Jessica Piper took third in the 100 back (56.72) and fifth in the 200 IM (2:05.07).
Wiregrass Ranch’s Athena Cimino was Pasco County’s only place winner, taking seventh in the 50 free in 24.46.