ORLANDO — On the opening leg of the grueling 200-yard medley relay, Palm Harbor University High School was in second, 36 seconds behind Miami Palmetto. But those in the know were aware that the race was over.
Ryan McRae stayed close enough to the leaders in the first 50 yards that it would only be minutes before the Hurricanes caught up. David Morgan zoomed to the front in the second leg, Zach Perrotti pulled away in the third leg and Jason Williams won the event by touching the wall a full body length ahead of the closest competitor to finish in a time of one minute, 33.70 seconds.
It was the only gold medal the Hurricanes would win. But it set the tone in what was a historic performance. Palm Harbor University, which won a state team title in 2008, took first overall again in Thursday’s Class 3A meet, scoring 235 points to beat Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas by 43 points.
The Hurricanes became the first bay area program to win multiple team titles since St. Petersburg’s boys won six from 1923 to 1945.
“I don’t know if it’s truly set in what we’ve accomplished,” Palm Harbor U. coach Lisa Bitting said. “But it is pretty amazing.”
And the Hurricanes were not finished. The girls team, which had finished no higher than fourth before, took second overall with 145.5 points.
“That was completely unexpected,” Bitting said. “We’re so young on the girls team. We only lose one senior. I thought we’d be another year away from doing something like this. What can I say? My dream came true.”
Palm Harbor U.’s second boys title was truly a team effort. Nearly everyone who qualified for the meet scored, many of whom placed in the top five of their individual events.
Morgan took second in the 100 breast (56.45) and third in the 200 individual medley (1:50.86). McRae placed fourth in the 100 free (46.29) and fifth in the 200 free (1:41.44). Williams finished third in the 50 free (20.87) and 100 free (45.94). Perrotti was fifth in the 100 fly (51.85) and Taylor Uselis was sixth in the 500 free (4:37.57).
The Hurricanes also gobbled up points in the relays. Williams, Shaun VanHuyssteen, Perrotti and Morgan were third in the 200 free relay (1:26.03). VanHuyssteen, Uselis, Manuel Barragan and McRae were fifth in the 400 free relay (3:12.03).
“I think the relay we won really got the momentum going for us,” Williams said. “We had so may guys who qualified for state, we thought we had a great chance of winning.”
The girls team was powered by a freshman, Michelle Turek, who was the runnerup in the 200 free (1:48.11) and 100 free (51.06).
“I’m a freshman, so just making it to the finals was great,” Turek said. “There were other swimmers who were older than me. It’s okay. I trained long and hard and knew it was going to be close.”
After the titles were announced, the Hurricane boys stood on top of the podium, hollering while raising their index fingers. Soon, the girls joined them.
“It’s such a great feeling to be a part of history,” McRae said. “We came in as freshmen and won the school’s first state title and now we’re seniors and we’ve done something no other team has done in more than 50 years. It’s pretty cool.”