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PHU boys take state swimming title, deliver drama

Palm Harbor University coach Lisa Bitting is more than pleasantly surprised after her boys wrapped up the state title.

JIM DAMASKE | Times

Palm Harbor University coach Lisa Bitting is more than pleasantly surprised after her boys wrapped up the state title.

ORLANDO — In the final leg of the 400 freestyle relay, the swimmers matched each other stroke for stroke. And whatever his level of exhaustion, Palm Harbor University High's Tyler Reed maintained his form.

As Reed approached the final turn, he drew his legs in, somersaulted, thrust himself off the wall and headed underwater. Then, with the end of the race in sight, he kept his head down and touched the wall. When he looked up, he realized his team finished second.

That didn't seem to matter to his teammates and coaches, who started celebrating at the Orlando YMCA pool.

All the Hurricanes needed was to finish second in the final event of the Class 3A state meet to win the team title. PHU did that, outscoring Miami Palmetto by the slimmest of margins, 187-186.

It is the first time a bay area swim team has won a team title since Seminole High's girls in 1985. Hurricanes coach Lisa Bitting was a captain of that swim team that won at the same pool. That title, too, was not decided until the final event.

"Everything has come full circle," Bitting said.

Things lined up nicely for PHU to have a chance at the title. All three of the Hurricanes' relay teams finished in the top eight in the preliminaries. Then, in the finals, the Hurricanes' Wes Stearns won the 200 free, out-touching the favorite, Lakeland's Eric Moore, at the wall.

"It was so close at the end, and I was nervous when I looked up at the scoreboard," said Stearns, who won in 1 minute, 39.32 seconds. "I was relieved to see I was on top."

Stearns was the PHU's only individual champion. But the Hurricanes' strength lies in their depth, and they put those numbers to good use with Stearns finishing second in the 500 free and Reed taking fourth in the 100 free.

Still, PHU trailed in the final and needed a big performance in the 400 free. The Hurricanes got it as Stearns swam the first leg, followed by Justin Chambers, Chris Mertens and Reed.

"By count, we needed to make up 59 points to have a chance to win coming into the meet," Bitting said. "These boys did it by swimming the meet of their lives. It's just amazing how they were able to work as a team."

Countryside's boys also did well with Jonathan Taddeo placing third in the 200 IM, fifth in the 100 breaststroke and teaming with Mate Fabian, Tony Lombardo and Paul Polgar to take third in the 200 medley relay.

PHU boys take state swimming title, deliver drama 11/14/08 [Last modified: Friday, November 14, 2008 9:53am]
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