Season preview: Pinellas boys swimming, diving

Wes Stearns, a state title winner in the 200 freestyle, is back for PHU. Repeating as state title winners this year is a lofty goal for the Hurricanes, who lost top players to graduation.

JOSEPH GARNETT JR. | Times

Wes Stearns, a state title winner in the 200 freestyle, is back for PHU. Repeating as state title winners this year is a lofty goal for the Hurricanes, who lost top players to graduation.

The Palm Harbor University boys swim team won its first state team title last year in exhilarating fashion, claiming the championship on the final event and outscoring its closest competitor by a point.

It meant everything. It means nothing.

It meant the Hurricanes were able to shed their image as also-rans and assert themselves as a dominant power in the state. After all, the title was the first one a boys or girls swim team had won from the bay area since Seminole's girls in 1985.

But last year's euphoria is history. Now comes the hard part: winning another one.

PHU will have to do it without Chris Mertens and Tyler Reed, two swimmers who played an integral role in the Hurricanes championship run but have graduated.

Wes Sterns, who won an individual state title in the 200-yard freestyle and took second in the 500 free, is top returner for the Hurricanes. Blake Freeman, designated the team captain, will help fill the leadership void.

Other PHU swimmers who should have big roles include Ryan McRae, David Morgan, Zach Perotti and Jason Williams.

"We lost some key people, but we have a good group here," Hurricanes coach Lisa Bitting said. "We'll see if they're up to the challenge."

Because of their depth, PHU should be in contention for conference, district and region titles. But the test will be at state, where Miami Palmetto, last year's runnerup, looms as the favorite.

"I think the guys realize that winning a state title is a very tough thing to do," Bitting said. "They're not walking around saying, 'Look at us'. They know have to work hard.

"And the good thing is they have a desire to win."

Top returning swimmers

1. Wes Stearns, Palm Harbor University: The only returning boys swimmer to win a state title last year (200 free) and came close to adding another in the 500 free, finishing second. This season, he hopes to win titles in multiple events.

2. Jon Taddeo, Countryside: The Cougars' top swimmer was third in the 200 individual medley and fifth in the 100 breast at state last year.

3. Zach Metka, Seminole: The sophomore came on last year, finishing sixth in the 500 free and eighth in the 200 free at state.

4. Jack Stein, Shorecrest: He finished seventh at state in 1-meter platform diving as an eighth-grader last season.

5. Mate Fabian, Countryside: Teams with Taddeo to give the Cougars a solid tandem and was fifth in the 100 back at state last year.

Season preview: Pinellas boys swimming, diving 08/26/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, August 26, 2009 11:35pm]

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