TAMPA — There were stretches in Savannah Savitt’s athletic life when she seemed destined to excel in cleats instead of chlorine.
The oldest of three children spawned by a mom and dad who played college softball and baseball, respectively, Savitt was refining her swing and strokes concurrently.
That freckle-faced kid frolicking in the family’s Davis Islands pool as a preschooler also showed a knack for the sport that earned her mom a scholarship to Hillsborough Community College. As Savitt evolved into a shortstop, travel ball — with the South Tampa Spartans — evolved into a rite of summer.
“She was a good. She’s a good athlete,” said Alan Savitt, a 1981 Plant graduate who signed with the University of Alabama but finished his baseball career at the University of Tampa.
“But she loves swimming. That’s her passion.”
Today, the Tampa Prep swimming community couldn’t be more gleeful that this shy 15-year-old redhead chose racing over rise balls.
After setting the school record in the 100-yard breaststroke (1:06.47) at last week’s Class A, Region 3 meet, Savitt leads the Terrapins girls — who won the region team title — into Saturday’s ultra-competitive state meet in Orlando.
Medals might be an elusive commodity; Tampa Prep is mired in the same classification as aquatic dynasty Jacksonville Bolles. Of the four events in which she is seeded, including two region champion relay teams, Savitt’s highest seeding is eighth (100 breast).
Yet Terrapins coach Jason Bowes is certain of this much: Before each prelim, Savitt will eat one square of a chocolate Hershey bar (her lone concession to superstition), down some frost blue Gatorade and absolutely refuse to let the moment overwhelm her.
“I never really worry about Savannah and her head,” said Bowes, who has coached Savitt in his year-round Tampa Bay Aquatics club program for more than a half-decade.
“She’ll get nervous, but I think it’s a nervous, anxiety, excitement kind of feeling. I’ve yet, in five years of coaching her, seen her fall on her face. She’s just a gamer. She lives for the racing part.”
That moxie brandished itself in middle school. As an eighth-grader, Savitt — widely known as Savvy — swam on the Terrapins’ school-record-setting 200 and 400 freestyle relay teams that won bronze medals at the state meet. In the latter event, she teamed with three seniors.
Like most elite swimmers, virtually each of her waking hours is accounted for. There’s at least one 6:15 a.m. practice per week, with afternoon workouts — team and club — spanning more than three hours. Homework follows; Savitt has only one C, in Algebra II.
“I like coming to practice and working hard and being with my friends,” she said. “I like having something to do each day. I don’t like staying home and being bored.”
To the contrary, she might — just might — slip on the glove again. Savitt played softball as an eighth-grader, and could give it a go this spring if she chooses. Alan and Dorilee Savitt will leave that call to her. They know where her passion lies.
No use swimming against that current.
“I like swimming more,” she said. “If I just stick with something, they’ll be okay with that.”
State swimming and diving
Where: Central Florida YMCA Aquatic Center, Orlando
When: Thursday (Class 2A), Friday (3A) and Saturday (A)
Admission: $9 per session
At a glance: Newsome’s girls (Class 3A), behind sophomore Maddie Hess, could make the most noise of any county team. Hess is seeded first in the 100-yard freestyle and second in the 100 backstroke, and swims a leg on the top-seeded 200 medley relay team. Wolves senior Barbara Caraballo, on that same relay team, is seeded second in the 200 individual medley, one spot ahead of Wharton sophomore Dee Sopapong. … In 2A, Robinson senior John Nolte is seeded third and sixth, respectively, in the 50 and 100 free. …Their region team titles notwithstanding, Tampa Prep’s girls and Berkeley Prep’s boys will struggle for medals in the state’s toughest classification (A). Jacksonville Bolles has won 24 consecutive boys and 21 consecutive girls titles.