For swimmers outside the Tampa Bay area at last year's state meet, it was a weekend of looking up reluctantly and often bitterly at the scoreboard, a weekend of looking up at the top step of the medal stand, a weekend of becoming increasingly familiar with some of the area's stars.
And as swimmers who bring their shaved bodies to Orlando for another state meet this week are well aware, more of the same likely is on tap.
Tampa Bay is no longer a rising power in state swimming, it is one of the powers.
Last year, two swimmers from Pinellas County — Northeast's Megan Romano and Seminole's Kaitlin Frehling — won multiple titles in their signature races with startling and record-shattering ease.
Romano broke the state meet record in the 100-yard backstroke (54.41 seconds) and was within one second of breaking the national record in the 200 freestyle (1:46.70). Frehling took first in the 50 free (23.46) and 100 butterfly (56.64).
A swimmer from Hillsborough County, Plant's Meg Anderson, is a two-time former champion in the 50 free and won the 100 free last year.
All three are back.
That's not all. Five other boys and girls from the area who won individual titles last season return. And four others who came close to winning a year ago are the top seeds in their events this season. So Tampa Bay swimmers could pile up even more medals in what could be the greatest season ever for the area.
"It certainly has the potential to be the best," Palm Harbor University coach Lisa Bitting said.
Bitting was a captain on the Seminole team that won a title in 1985, the last boys or girls team from the area to do so.
It ushered in the first golden age of swimming in Tampa Bay, with such stars as Lakewood's Nicole Haislett, Seminole's Scott Tucker and Tampa Bay Tech's Maritza Correia winning state titles before going on to Olympic stardom. (Brooke Bennett went to Brandon but did not win a state title.)
Since then, there have been others from Hillsborough and Pinellas counties who have won state titles. But strength in numbers — and speed — sets this current group apart.
Four years ago, Romano burst onto the scene setting three individual records and helping a relay team to a fourth at the conference meet. In the 200 free, she cruised to victory in one minute, 47.74 seconds, shattering the 16-year-old record of 1:52.89 set by Haislett, a two-time Olympic gold medalist.
Last month, Palm Harbor University's Tyler Reed made virtual mincemeat of the conference record books, setting standards in the 50- and 100-yard freestyle and anchoring the record-setting 200 and 400 freestyle relay teams. Reed broke individual records set by Tucker, an Olympic gold medalist.
"This year has the chance to be the most productive," said Fred Lewis, who coaches Romano and Frehling, among others, in the offseason with St. Pete Aquatics. "But most of these swimmers are going to have targets on their backs. That's who everyone else is aiming for.
"Still, the possibility is there for something great this season."
Bob Putnam can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 445-4169.