STUART — After one of Hillsborough County's greatest swimming performances, Plant junior Morgan Tankersley was as gracious, humble and happy as any other day. But this Saturday at the Class 4A state meet was far, far from any other day.
Tankersley not only won state titles in the 200 free (one minute, 44.31 seconds) and the 500 free (4:37.60), but she set state records in those events. As if that wasn't enough, she set a third state record in the morning in the 100 free.
She pulled the 100 free mark off by swimming the lead leg of Plant's 400-free relay, which under state rules qualifies for a state record at the 100-yard distance. Her time in the morning 100 was 48.69 seconds, breaking the mark of 48.73 set in 2002 by Atlantic's Rhi Jeffrey.
Tankersley also helped teammates Catarina Sterlacci, Sidney Whitfield and Gabby Donahue win the 400 free relay in 3:23.80, and she helped the Panthers' 200 medley relay (switching out Whitfield with Caroline Rossi) to a second-place finish in 1:43.66, which was a little more than a second off another state record.
In the 200, Tankersley broke the six-year-old state record by 1.06 seconds and in the 500, she set it by .31 seconds, breaking the old mark of 4:37.91 set in 1999.
In the process, she helped Plant place second as a team with 204 points, 72 points behind Gainesville Buchholz.
When asked if she realized what she had, Tankersley shrugged a little and grinned her great grin.
"My training has been going really well and everything just came together," she said. "I'm so happy for everything. So happy for our team."
The toughest part of the day?
"Definitely the 500 free (after a full day of swimming)," Tankersley said. "I was hurting pretty bad so I knew I must have been going fast. I actually did surprise myself a little with that one. I wanted to get under 4:40, but 4:37, wow."
Rhoads' road to victory: For three years Plant senior Paxton Rhoads has steadily worked toward Saturday night, which ended with a victory in the 100 breaststroke.
As a sophomore Rhoads finished third; as a junior second; and as a senior, with a time of 56.12, he finally stood on the top of the podium with a gold medal draped around his neck.
"This year it felt like I had to get first," Rhoads said. "But this year I also took a little different approach. This year I said, 'Okay, this is my last high school meet and I'm going to make sure and enjoy it.'
"I think that relaxed me and help me perform a little better."
Rhoads' effort also helped the Panther boys to a fifth-place team finish with 120 points, which was highest among Hillsborough County's boys teams.
Playing catch up: Durant's Katie Vasiloff was the two-time defending state champion in the 100 fly. But the junior was unable to add another title in her signature event, finishing third in 54.48 seconds. She also was third in the 50 free (23.38), a year after finishing second in the event.
Vasiloff understood there might be a dropoff. Her training was off, partly because she became disinterested in the sport.
She switched club teams, which helped her regain enthusiasm. And she spent nearly all the high school season trying to catch up to the lofty standards she sets for herself.
"I went through a training slump in the summer," Vasiloff said. "I didn't like getting up in the morning. I just didn't have the love. But that's changed. I feel a lot better and just needed to put in the work".
Accomplished goals: Strawberry Crest's Celisma Guzman was thrilled with her performance. The junior finished second in the 100 back, with a personal-record 55.02 in her best event. She also was eighth in the 100 fly (56.36).
"For me it all about having fun," Guzman said. "I came in and just go out there and see what happens. I set my personal record in the preliminaries and then did it gain in the finals (of the 100 back)."
Staff writer Bob Putnam contributed to this report.