Winning team titles at state swim meets is a tough thing to do. After all, the county, as well as the bay area, has won just two team titles in the past 25 years.
Lisa Bitting had a hand in both. She was a captain on the Seminole girls team that won in 1985. Then she coached Palm Harbor University’s boys team to a title in 2008. The Hurricanes clinched it on the final event to win by a point.
This year, PHU is one the verge of adding another title. Scoring the team standings based on the seed selections, the Hurricanes trail Hagerty by three points going into Saturday’s Class 3A meet.
But that is a difference Bitting said her team can make up.
“A lot of the guys can place higher,” she said.
PHU will not win by sending swimmers to the top of the medal stand. The Hurricanes are not seeded first in any event. But there could be enough second- and third-place finishes to gobble up enough needed to win.
Some of the toughest competition could come from Countryside, which finished second to PHU at last week’s region meet.
The Cougars will most likely come home with more individual medals. Matt Ellis is seeded in the top two in his events, the 50 free and 100 fly. John Kelly has the second-best time in the 100 free going into the state meet. Ellis and Kelly also swim on two relays, the 200 and 400 free, that are seeded among the top two.
It could be enough for the Cougars to finish in the top three for the second straight season.
“We have a lot of real strong swimmers who have worked real hard for a long time,” Countryside coach Ian O’Neil said. “We finished as the runnerup last year and should be near the top again.”
And if the Hurricanes come up short, at least they can take solace in knowing every swimmer advancing to state returns.
“It’s a good young group,” Bitting said.
Top seeded swimmers, relay teams
Nick Alexiou, Clearwater: After skipping last year’s high school season to focus on training, Alexiou has made the work pay off with his first appearance at a state meet. The junior has the 3A top seed in the 200 free with a time of 1 minute, 39.18 seconds, more than a second ahead of his toughest competitor, Sarasota Riverview’s Nicholas Caldwell, whom Alexiou beat at last week’s region meet. Alexiou also is seeded third in the 500 free (4:34.40).
Matt Ellis, Countryside: Since moving here to train this summer, Ellis has been dominant in his events, the 50 free and 100 fly. The junior has 3A’s top mark in the 50 free (21.29) and is tied for second in the 100 fly (51.24). He could improve upon those times considering he is now recovering from flu-like symptoms he had the past two weeks. Ellis also swims a leg on two relay teams, the 200 free and 400 free, that are seeded in the top two.
Jessica Piper, St. Petersburg: A transfer from Shorecrest, Piper has had no problem adjusting to the jump from Class A to 3A. The junior is the top-seeded swimmer in the 100 back with a time of 57.12. Her time is .65 of a second better than her fifth-place showing at state in the event last season.
Hannah Roper, Seminole: The sophomore, who is the daughter of Warhawks football coach Sam Roper, has made a quantum leap in the 100 breast. She has gone from not advancing to state in the event last year to recording the top seed time (1:06.06). Her time is more than six seconds faster than the one she had at last year’s region meet.
Countryside’s 200 free relay: The team of Richard Willsey, Jon Witkowski, John Kelly and Ellis has been the county’s most consistent all season and won the region title with a time of 1:27.29 to claim the top seed going into the 3A state meet. The Cougars’ toughest challenge will come from their closest rival, Palm Harbor University, which finished as runnerup at regionals and has the second seed.
Other county swimmers, relays seeded in top three:
Clearwater – Megan Rossi (500 free); Countryside – John Kelly (100 free), 400 free relay (Matt Ellis, Gary Lush, Richard Willsey, Kelly); Northeast – Tyler Burrows (diving), Patrick Rinard (50 free); Palm Harbor University – Ryan McRae (100 free), David Morgan (100 breast), 200 free relay (McRae, Zach Perrotti, Morgan, Jason Williams); Seminole – Zac Metka (100 breast), Matt Thompson (200 IM); Shorecrest – Hannah Stein (diving); Tarpon Springs – Kesley Buckley (200 IM, 100 free)
When: Today (Class A), Friday (Class 2A) and Saturday (Class 3A). Diving finals start at 2 p.m., swimming finals at 5:30.
Where: Central Florida YMCA Aquatic Center, 8422 International Drive, Orlando
Admission: $7 per session