ST. PETERSBURG — Plant swim coach Gil Gonzalez thought this might be the deepest girls team he has ever had. What he didn't know was how the Panthers would fare in the postseason after moving up in classification to Class 3A.
At Saturday's Class 3A-2 region meet at North Shore Pool, Plant had just one individual winner — diver Alex Hagan — but the Panthers girls' names littered the final score sheets. Gonzalez was dumped in the pool by his team, a celebration after Plant won its second region title in three years.
Plant (251.50) edged Countryside (237.50) and Sarasota Riverview (230.50) late after the teams swapped first place throughout the meet. The Panthers pulled away on the second-to-last event when freshmen Emily Clifford (1 minute, 8.06 seconds) and Emma Donohue (1:09.71) placed second and fourth, respectively, in the 100-yard breaststroke.
In the boys meet, Palm Harbor University (279) edged Punta Gorda Charlotte and Countryside (both 249).
The Class 3A state meet is next, Friday in Orlando.
"Moving up to 3A we didn't know what to expect but fast swimming," Gonzalez said. "We came in second last week, we came in here hoping to win it, and this was a good indication of our efforts. We really stepped it up this year. To win a championship trophy out of this is really satisfying."
Countryside's Melanie Margalis took her next step toward defending her state title in the 200 individual medley, winning in 1:59.62, then taking the 500 free (4:50.69). Seminole's Kaitlin Frehling was another multiple winner, taking the 100 fly (57.16 seconds) and 50 free (24.11).
Newsome's Kati Kyle won the 100 backstroke (57.17).
One of the best girls races was the 200 free relay, when Wharton's Blair Kuethe came from behind in the final leg to overtake Plant (1:39.08).
Meanwhile, on the boys side, Wharton senior sprinter Jordan Rees surprised the Pinellas crowd by winning the 50 free and 100 free from outside lanes. He took the 50 from lane 2 with a 21.20 and won the 100 from Lane 7 in 46.70.
"I wanted to keep it relaxed, do what I had to do to come back at night and give it my all," Rees said.
Wharton's 400 free relay and Wharton's Patrick Gilbreath (100 breast) earned victories after the winners were disqualified.