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Swimming has been one of the most dominant sports in Pinellas County with teams and swimmers routinely coming home with state titles. Now it is time to assess the talent pool with a quick primer on the teams, players and events to follow as the season starts this week.
Five swimmers with state title aspirations
Georgi Krastev, Sr., Northeast: After finishing eighth in the 100 back in 2010, Krastev surged to the top in his signature event last year, winning his first state title in a tightly contested race.
Ryan McRae, Sr., Palm Harbor University: The leader of the Hurricanes finished fifth in the 200 free and fourth in the 100 free last season. He is the top returning swimmer in each event in Class 3A.
Sydney Pickrem, So., East Lake: The Times’ 2011 girls swimmer of the year won a state title in the 100 breast and was runnerup in the 200 individual medley. In the spring she competed in the Olympic trials for Canada.
Jack Stein, Sr., Shorecrest: Last year, he ended years of frustration by capturing his first state title in diving and is the top returning boys diver regardless of classification.
Michelle Turek, So., East Lake: The transfer from Palm Harbor University gives the Eagles star power after an impressive freshman season in which she was the runnerup in the 100 and 200 free.
Four teams to watch
Countryside: The Cougars always seem to be a top-10 contender among the state team standings. Last season, the boys and girls teams each finished sixth. Countryside should be in the hunt again. Ryan Peters (100 back) is the boys top returner. The girls team is led by Summer Finke (200 free, 500 free) and Lauren Hall (50 free, 100 free) and gets a boost with the addition of Annika Smith, who transferred from East Lake.
East Lake: With Turek transferring from PHU, the Eagles have the top two returning girls swimmers in the county and should be able to win multiple events in the postseason. The boys are not as strong but they should fare well with the return of Kevin Smith, who was fourth in the 100 breast last year.
Palm Harbor University: The boys have won state team titles two of the past four seasons, but their quest for another was made difficult with three of their top four swimmers from last season graduating. McRae is the veteran of this group. Taylor Uselis (500 free) returns and the Hurricanes get some reinforcements with Tristan Sanders transferring from East Lake and Garrett Hose moving in from North Carolina. PHU’s girls were the surprise last year with a runnerup finish at state. The loss of Turek hurts, but the Hurricanes return Rachael Freeman, Sarah Freeman and Morgan Perrotti among others.
Shorecrest: The boys and girls have won elusive St. Petersburg City titles the past two seasons. The boys will most likely have the most success this season with Stein returning, as well as John Farese, who was fourth in the 100 back at state. The girls’ top returner is Meredith Little (50 free).
Three top events
100 back (boys): The event includes a state champion (Krastev) and two others who placed in the top five at state (Peters, Farese). Perhaps the biggest battle will be at the St. Petersburg City Championships, where Krastev and Farese will square off. Last year, Farese beat Krastev.
Diving (boys and girls): This might be the deepest event in the county with the return of a state champion (Stein) as well as three other boys and girls who placed in the top eight at state: East Lake’s Alexi Gonzalez (third), Lakewood’s Madalyn Golightly (fourth) and East Lake’s Jeffrey Burns (eighth).
500 free (boys and girls): The county has had a boy or girl state champion in two of the past four seasons. There are plenty of contenders with Osceola’s Alexandra Wittman (eighth at state) and Calvin Bryant, (eighth), Countryside’s Summer Finke (fourth) and Autumn Finke (fifth) and PHU’s Taylor Uselis (sixth) returning.
Two burning questions
Will PHU’s reign end? The Hurricanes have a stranglehold on team titles. The boys have won nine straight conference, 10 straight district and seven straight region titles. The girls have won three straight conference and five straight district titles. It appears the Hurricanes might be more vulnerable than they have been in years, especially after the graduation of several top boys swimmers and the loss of Turek to East Lake. But depth is what drives PHU, and the sheer number of Hurricanes swimmers still is stronger than any other county program.
Can the boys rival the girls? For years, girls swimmers have dominated the county landscape, from Northeast’s Megan Romano to Countryside’s Melanie Margalis to Seminole’s Kaitlyn Frehling. The list goes on. This year’s group is strong with Pickrem and Turek returning and former state champion Hannah Roper (100 breast) coming back from injury. But the boys are catching up. Last year, the county had more boys win individual titles than girls (2-1). And McRae and Peters have legitimate shots at winning titles this year, too.
East Lake girls will bring home the most individual medals at state, but no team will be able to surpass PHU in the team standings.
For the fans
Admission: Dual meets and invitationals are $4. District meets are $6, region meets $7 per session and state meets $9per session.
Regular season: Schools can compete in a maximum of 13 meets from Monday-Oct. 20.
Postseason: District meets are Oct. 22-27, region meets are Nov. 1-3 and state meets are Nov. 8-10 in Orlando.
Sept. 7-8: Total Team Relays at North Shore Pool; Sept. 28-29: PCAC meet at Long Center; Sept. 28-29: Tampa Bay Classic at North Shore Pool; Oct. 6: FSPA Invitational at Orlando YMCA; Oct. 12-13: St. Petersburg City Championships at North Shore Pool