TAMPA — Moments after the Academy of the Holy Names' 200-meter freestyle relay team captured the state championship last season, the lone senior of the bunch made a grand statement.
"They're young," Paige Russell said. "They're going to be good for a long time."
And coach Bill Shaffer found a simple way to remind Konner Brewer, Clare Fleming, Tori Litschgi and Mary Green just how good they can be. The girls carry badges on their swim bags that list All-American times in their events.
Reaching that would be the latest accomplishment on the girls' checklist.
District crown. Check.
Regional title. Check.
The county's only Class 2A state swimming championship last season. Check. And done in a school-record time, to boot.
And with a talented, versatile and youthful but experienced group, Shaffer said he's optimistic they can improve this year.
"This group won as a team last year," Shaffer said. "And that's hard to do because usually, you'll have maybe one piece missing here or there. We won because we had all the pieces there, and we didn't have to invent it at the end of the year. It was there all season."
Freshman Brewer, sophomore Fleming, junior Litschgi and lone senior Green will get an early-season test Saturday at the City Relays at Bobby Hicks Pool.
The higher classifications and deeper teams that AHN will face at the City Relays ultimately may help. It gives the girls a gauge of what they need to work on, they said.
"We kind of know each others' strengths and weaknesses," said Litschgi, who along with the other members of last year's title team was named to the Times All-County team. "So we've experienced this and we kind of know where we are now and where we need to be by the end of the year."
Brewer, Fleming and Green also swim the 50 and 100 events while Litschgi competes in the breaststroke and the 200 individual medley. The already talented group got an infusion of even more youth and skill, this year with freshmen Alex Nuyianes and Julia Cogdill joining the AHN team.
Shaffer said he is juggling his lineup still, but sees the two newcomers possibly filling in on the 200-free relay.
"There's only one senior," Shaffer said of his 200-free roster. "So with these five or six swimming in four spots, we feel we can defend district and regionals and place better at state."
The Jaguars were sixth as a team at the state meet in 2010.
Meanwhile, the foursome, the de facto leaders of the AHN swimmers, know exactly where they want to be by the time of the state meet in early November — a few seconds faster.
Their state championship 200-free relay time of 1:39.35 earned a title and a school record but 1:36.86 would earn that All-American status on their badges.
And build on their growing tradition.
"We want another very good year and we want another win at state," Fleming said. "This is a young team. We definitely have a chance to be champions again for the next couple of years."
Rod Gipson can be reached at hills firstname.lastname@example.org.