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Wed. August 25, 2010 | Bob Putnam | Email

With the swimming season just five days away, there is one question overriding all others.

Where did everyone go?

Countryside’s Melanie Margalis and Mate Fabian, and Seminole’s Kaitlin Frehling, all state title winners from a year ago, graduated. The county’s other state champion, East Lake’s Taylor Katz, transferred to Sarasota Riverview.

With so many changes, the chances of producing multiple champions at the state meet remain unclear as coaches try to find replacements in their lineups. Welcome to swimming 2010, a season in which anything seems possible.

“It seems as if the entire county is going through some rebuilding process,” Shorecrest boys/girls swim coach Patty Nardozzi said.

But the county isn’t ready to cue the violins. Pinellas still is awash in talent.

Palm Harbor University’s boys team, which won a state title two years ago, is led by a trio of juniors, David Morgan, Zach Perrotti and Jason Williams, and sophomore Ryan McRae.

On the girls side, the Hurricanes have one of the most talented freshman classes to come along in years.

And there are other returning swimmers, such as Seminole’s Matt Thompson and Tarpon Springs’ Kelsey Buckley, who came close to winning last year.

Best shots at state titles
Girls
1. Kelsey Buckley, Tarpon Springs:
The junior nearly won the 200 individual medley at last year’s Class 2A state meet, finishing 0.44 seconds behind Sarasota Booker’s McKayla Lightbourn, who graduated. Buckley also is a contender in the 100 free after finishing third last year.
2. Jessica Piper, St. Petersburg: The transfer from Shorecrest moves up to 3A, but should still do well after placing fifth in both the 200 IM and 100 back at last year’s Class A meet.
3. Hope Andrews, Shorecrest: The junior should improve upon her sixth-place finish in the 500 free at last year’s Class A meet considering she is the third-highest returner in her classification.
4. Megan Rossi, Clearwater: After placing in the top eight in the 500 free the past two years, the senior will contend for a medal with three of the top four place winners graduating.
5. Hannah Stein, Shorecrest: She is poised to improve last year’s seventh-place finish in 1-meter diving with two others ahead of her graduating.
6. Kelly Verheyleweghen, Tarpon Springs: The junior, who was sixth in the 100 fly at 2A last year, only had one place winner ahead of her who graduated.

Boys
1. Matt Thompson, Seminole:
The senior was second in the 200 IM and third in the 500 freestyle at last year’s 3A meet. He is the second-highest returner in each event but will have to unseat Sarasota Riverview’s Nicholas Caldwell, the defending champion in both events.
2. Patrick Rinard, Northeast: Though he finished sixth in the 50 free at last year’s 3A state meet, the senior is the highest returning place winner in his event.
3. Jack Stein, Shorecrest: A diver for the past three years, Stein, now a sophomore, was sixth in Class A and the top returner in his classification.  
4. Matthew Tomlin, Osceola: After placing third in the 100 breast in 2A, Tomlin could move up though the top two in the event both return.
5. Ryan McRae, Palm Harbor University: Despite an eighth-place finish in the 100 free, McRae is one of the top two returners in the event. He also is a contender after finishing sixth in the 100 back last year.
6. Zach Metka, Seminole: Rocketing to the top after taking sixth in 200 free last year shouldn’t be a problem with four of the top five ahead of him graduating. He was eighth in the 500 free, as well.

Teams to watch
Girls
1. Palm Harbor University:
Last year, the Hurricanes overwhelmed teams with depth to win their second straight conference title. Those numbers should be bolstered even more thanks to a stellar freshman class to go along with veteran holdovers such as Abbey King.
2. Countryside: The Cougars have always stayed with PHU and will be there again. But Courtney Grace and Lauren Hall will have to make up for the loss of Margalis. 
3. Shorecrest: Despite losing Piper, the Chargers are not short on talent and have enough to win their sixth straight district title.
4. Clearwater: Megan Rossi is the leader of a young team that finished third at the conference meet a year ago.
5. Northeast: There are no superstars, but the Vikings have a consistent lineup that can score points.
6. Tarpon Springs: The Spongers might have the best pair of returners in Buckley and Verheyleweghen, which should be enough to stay near the top.
7. St. Petersburg: A good lineup got better with the addition of Piper.

Boys
1. Palm Harbor University:
No county team has been as dominant as the Hurricanes’ boys, who have won seven straight conference titles and nine straight district titles. Despite losing county swimmer of the year Wes Stearns to graduation, PHU should stay on top with a strong junior class along with young swimmers moving up that will provide depth.
2. Countryside: After finishing second at last year’s 3A meet, the Cougars have to deal with the loss of three standouts who graduated. But Countryside should still be near the top with seniors John Kelly and Jon Witkowski, and juniors Gary Lush and Richard Wilsey leading the way.
3. Seminole: There is star power at the top of the Warhawks lineup with Metka and Thompson both title contenders.
4. Osceola: The Warriors return most of their swimmers and will have a lot of experience in the relay events.
5. Northeast: Though young, the Vikings have enough quality at the top to stay among the elite.
6. Clearwater: The numbers are good, which should give the Tornadoes the depth needed to contend.
7. Shorecrest: The Chargers have plenty back from last year’s team that was the district runnerup and placed fourth at regionals.

Key dates
Sept. 11: Total Team Relays at North Shore
Sept. 25: PCAC meet at Long Center
Oct. 2: Tampa Bay Classic at North Shore
Oct. 9: FSPA Invitational at Orlando
Oct. 16: St. Petersburg City Championships at North Shore
Oct. 25-30: District meets
Nov. 4-6: Region meets
Nov. 11-13: State meets in Orlando

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