CLEARWATER — This was supposed to be the season that Palm Harbor University's four-year reign as the Pinellas County Athletic Conference girls swimming champions could end.
After all, East Lake was the team with the star power, led by Sydney Pickrem and Michelle Turek. The Eagles also had added strong swimmers via transfer.
Then the Hurricanes' chances to continue their streak took a hit in the finals, when their 200 free relay was disqualified because of a false start.
Still, PHU prevailed, again, by proving its team is greater than the sum of its parts. The Hurricanes, thanks to superior depth, scored 448.5 points to beat the Eagles by 19.5.
"We knew this was going to be close, especially after that disqualification," Hurricanes coach Lisa Bitting said. "But the girls came through, and our numbers were the difference."
East Lake not only racked up wins, but it also set several records. Pickrem set the conference mark in the 200 individual medley, winning in 2 minutes, 2.16 seconds. She also won the 100 backstroke in 56.25 seconds.
Turek also was a champion in multiple events, winning the 100 free (51.22) and 200 free (1:49).
Pickrem and Turek teamed with Annika Smith and Alexandra Aitchison to win the 200 medley relay in a conference-record time of 1:47.60. The 400 free relay of Turek, Pickrem, Aitchison and Mackenzie Hubbard won in 3:31.75 to set another PCAC mark.
"This was one of my last big meets, and I knew I had a chance to do well and set some records," Pickrem said. "I was close to setting the record in the 200 IM last year, and I was just able to get it."
Morgan Perrotti was PHU's only individual champion, taking first in the 100 fly in 57.46. But the Hurricanes gobbled up points with multiple place-winners in the finals.
Osceola's Alexandria Wittman won the 500 in 4:51.68, setting another conference record.
On the boys side, the Hurricanes won their 11th straight team title, beating the Eagles 477-383. More impressive, PHU was able to do it without its top distance swimmer, Taylor Uselis, who was on a recruiting trip.
Tristan Sanders, who committed to Michigan earlier this week, led the Hurricanes by winning the 100 free (45.37) and 100 back (48.08). Both times were conference records.
"I've been traveling the past three weeks, and I'm still not in shape," Sanders said. "Still, I had a certain time I wanted to reach in both events, and I was able to swim faster than I planned."
Manuel Barragan was the PHU swimmer to win multiple individual titles, taking first in the 100 fly (51.58) and 200 IM (1:53.47).