ST. PETERSBURG — The throng of swimmers arrived at North Shore Pool as early as 3 a.m., ready to pull off a theme that best illustrated the mascot of their school.
Palm Harbor University went with "Hero Cane." Boys swimmers dressed as Clark Kent, complete with shorts and suspenders. Girls swimmers, who sported blue tights, capes and tube socks, were action heroes.
The East Lake Eagles brought a kiddie pool lined with straw to resemble a nest, which their mascot popped out of.
Then the swimmers entered the water, whooping and hollering to impress the judges with the decibel level.
There also was some swimming.
The Total Team Relay Challenge, which started in 1990, is the first big meet of the season. It is popular for the disc jockey who blares music between events and the spirit/sportsmanship awards that are as coveted as the first-place trophies.
PHU, thanks to its depth, overwhelmed the competition in the swimming portion, scoring 838 points to win its 10th overall title in the past 11 years. The Hurricanes also used those numbers to drown out the other teams with their cheers to claim the overall spirit title.
"I'm real pleased with the way everything went," PHU coach Lisa Bitting said. "Because of our depth, we didn't really have a weak relay."
So strong were the Hurricanes they were able to win the boys title despite not having Tristan Sanders, who was on a recruiting trip. The Hurricanes' boys won eight relays to score 414 points, 56 more than East Lake.
On the girls side, PHU won seven relays, more than enough to beat the Eagles 424-396.
East Lake's Alexandra Aitchison, Michelle Turek, Annika Smith and Sydney Pickrem teamed to set meet relay records in the 200-yard medley (1:51.64), 500 distance crescendo (4:38.36) and 400 free (3:37.89).
"We couldn't match Palm Harbor because they were just too strong all around," Eagles coach Tim O'Keefe said. "But the girls I do have swam really well."
Spirit awards also were awarded in different classifications. The winners were: St. Petersburg (4A), Bradenton Lakewood Ranch (3A), Lakewood (2A) and Tampa Prep (1A).