Tuesday, January 23, 2018

State swimming: Wesley Chapel freshman crowned champion

STUART — Abbey Duncan didn't have a crowd of Wesley Chapel teammates cheering for her as she took the top spot on the podium to receive the gold medal for her victory in the 200-yard freestyle. Only two Wildcats qualified for Saturday's Class 2A state championship swim meet.

Its showing might have been small. But with a pair of podium-worthy performances from Duncan, Wesley Chapel's presence was mighty.

Duncan, a freshman, won the girls 200 free with a time of 1 minute, 50.82 seconds. Just eight events later, she took second in the 100 butterfly with a time of 56.23 seconds, beating the third-place swimmer by more than two seconds.

The short rest between her two swims was tough, Duncan said. But sticking to a strict plan and without many teammates around to distract her, Duncan said she remained focused on the task at hand.

"I can't sit around and rest," she said. "I get done with my event, I go to the cool-down pool, I talk to my coach, and my next event is up."

St. Petersburg's Lakewood High had seven top-eight finishes — senior Noah Harasz took second in the 100 and 200 free races — as the Spartan boys grabbed eighth in the team standings with 86 points. Plantation American Heritage dominated with 276 points.

Duncan was one of two swimmers from Pasco County to make the podium. Cameron Hilgenberg, a Land O'Lakes senior, finished third in the boys 50 free in 21.33. He also took sixth in the 100 breast.

There were more Wesley Chapel coaches than swimmers present at Sailfish Splashpark Aquatic Athletics Center. The Wildcats had a total of 17 swimmers, boys and girls, participate on the team this season.

Coach Travis Ten Brink said he hopes that Duncan's state title — the first for the school in swimming — will encourage more Wesley Chapel students to get involved in the sport.

"It definitely brings our program to the forefront of Pasco County swimming, to have a state champion at our school," he said.

The soft-spoken Duncan was smaller than many of her competitors, and she was one of just two freshmen to make the podium for an individual event. But Duncan, who now has her eye on making junior national cuts in the 100 fly and backstroke, said she doesn't let thoughts about her opponents' age or experience enter her mind.

Youth didn't hold Duncan back at her first state championship meet. And when Ten Brink sees the new state titleist, he doesn't see inexperience, he sees promise.

"Now we have to try and find some girls who are total athletes to surround her so we can get her into four events at states," he said about the possibility of relays. "We're just excited about the future."

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