ST. PETERSBURG — For five years, the Tampa Bay Classic, an invitational swim meet cohosted by Shorecrest Prep and Northside Christian, has brought together area teams for a traditional preliminaries-finals competition format, much like the one typically used at the district, region and state levels at the end of the season.
Berkeley Prep had a good showing at this year's meet, which took place Saturday evening at North Shore Aquatics Complex, finishing second overall in the 16-school field with a boys and girls teams' combined 659 points. Shorecrest finished third (574), while Tampa Prep was fourth (514.5) behind meet winner Winter Park Trinity Prep (730). Berkeley Prep won the boys scoring (368) over Trinity Prep and Shorecrest (318). In the girls competition, Berkeley Prep was second (291), well behind Trinity Prep (411), but ahead of third-place Tampa Prep (268).
Because of a recent rule change, however, some coaches approached this year's Tampa Bay Classic a little differently.
For the first time, this year's district and region meets will be timed finals-only events. The change has forced coaches to encourage their swimmers to use meets such as the Tampa Bay Classic as an opportunity to practice going fast the first time they swim an event, in preparation for what's to come.
"Our major goal was to swim really fast this morning," Tampa Prep coach Jason Bowes said. "We're trying to teach the kids to get up and race fast in the morning, because there's no nighttime (at district and region.)"
Berkeley Prep's solid performance in the Classic comes one week after the Bucs finished eighth overall in the Florida Swimming Pool Association Invitational, behind record-breaking finishes from Elle Chancey, among others. At the Classic on Saturday, Chancey finished third in the 100- and 200-yard freestyle events and was part of the third-place 200- and 400-yard freestyle relays.
For elite, club-seasoned swimmers, Shorecrest's John Farese said, the lack of preliminaries at the district and region level is a positive change; it means only having to swim an event once to qualify for the next level.
"I'm a nighttime swimmer," said Farese, who won the 100-yard freestyle and finished second in the 100-yard backstroke.
But for those swimmers who lack experience, the pressure of competing in an event only once could be a difficult adjustment.
That's why Shorecrest coach Patti Nardozzi has been entering her team into a handful of meets, such as the Tampa Bay Classic, that offer two chances for her swimmers to do their best, so they can prepare for when they only have a single shot at the top.
"We're doing a lot of prelims-finals meets to get the bugs out," Nardozzi said, "so when we go into that meet, we're going to be ready to roll."