ORLANDO — Tarpon Springs' Kelsey Buckley did not want to focus on a specific time in her medal pursuit at the Class 2A state swim meet Saturday at the Orlando YMCA Aquatic Center.
"If I did that I would just get nervous," Buckley said. "And I can get nervous pretty easily. I basically wanted to just go out there and do my best."
Buckley's first event was her toughest. The 200-yard individual medley combines the four disciplines of swimming in a single event. It is one of the state meet's most interesting races, a grueling test of both the technical and the physical.
Though the race is challenging, Buckley had conquered it before, winning the event as a junior at last year's state meet. Buckley again rose to the challenge, defending her title with a combination of explosiveness and virtuosity.
She skimmed the water in the butterfly before churning to a commanding lead during the backstroke. She continued to charge ahead in the breaststroke and lunged toward the wall in the freestyle.
All her competitors saw was the whitewater from her kick as she won in 2 minutes, 1:40 seconds, nearly two seconds ahead of the rest of the field.
Buckley lifted her arms to the ceiling and grinned upon seeing her time flash on the scoreboard. She had not only won, but she had also shaved a second off her personal best.
On the awards stand, with droplets still falling from her swim cap, she proudly held the gold medal she was able to obtain, again.
"My goal was just to go out fast and bring it home," Buckley said. "I didn't really know how I did until I looked at the scoreboard. I was really proud of what I was able to accomplish."
Buckley was not finished. In her final event, the 100 freestyle, she was trying to win what had been an elusive gold medal. At last year's state meet, she was out-touched at the wall in the final and finished second.
She entered Saturday's meet with the top time from the preliminaries. And she exploded out of the blocks and burst into the lead through the first 50 yards. In the final two laps, Buckley was swimming in lockstep with Tallahassee Lincoln's Alex Merritt. In a dash toward the finish, Merritt surged ahead and touched the wall just before Buckley to win the race by 0.50 seconds. Buckley was the runnerup again in 50.81.
"The 100 free is a tough race with really fast swimmers," Buckley said. "It's a sprint, so you need to have good turns and be able to finish strong because you might have a swimmer near you who will hit that button to go faster.
"Of course, I wanted to win both and thought I had a shot to do that, but I'm happy with how everything went."
Osceola's Alexandria Wittman was sixth in the 200 freestyle in 1:55.40 and eighth in the 500 freestyle in 5:10.00.
On the boys side, the Warriors' Calvin Bryant was the only county athlete to place in an individual event, taking eighth in the 500 free in 4:39.51.