Tuesday, January 16, 2018
Sports

Swimming: Land O'Lakes' Hilgenberg has little room for error

LAND O'LAKES — Cameron Hilgenberg would just as soon step to the pool in relative anonymity Saturday, surprise a few people and win his first state swimming title.

Sorry, not happening.

The state title is in play. But good luck not gathering any attention along the way.

"It's all everybody wants to talk to me about at school," the Land O'Lakes senior said Wednesday after practice. "I'm trying to do whatever I can to put it out of my mind until Saturday."

Hilgenberg happens to be at the top of the chart for the Class 2A 50-yard freestyle. His region-winning time of 21.22 seconds is almost four-tenths of a second faster than his competitors posted at regionals — an eternity in the sport's true sprint event.

So Hilgenberg admits to feeling a little pressure, hence cashing in on a gift certificate for a 60-minute massage this week. All the relaxation techniques in the world won't ease his mind once the action starts.

"The 50 is so fast, you literally can't make a mistake," Hilgenberg said. "The flip turn has to be perfect. It may come down to whether I take a short stroke at the end or not."

As a junior he was fifth in 21.42 and came in eighth in the breaststroke. Hilgenberg is back at state in both, seeded third in the breast.

Also returning in two events is teammate Jordan Wheeler, who placed in the butterfly (fifth) and individual medley (seventh) last year and is seeded high again in both. Hilgbenberg and Wheeler will join Alex Long and Tom Guglielmello in the 200 medley, where the Gators placed ninth in 2012.

The boys finished third overall at the region meet, missing second by a half-point.

"Considering we brought eight swimmers and those top two teams had 16 and 17, that's pretty good," said boys coach Brian Vaile.

And really good considering only six boys came out for the first practice.

Eventually with Hilgenberg's help — he's a baseball player and asked some of those guys to swim — Land O'Lakes ended up with 13 swimmers with Guglielmello being the big find.

"I'm telling Tom to get me seven baseball players next year and I'll make him a bag of brownies for each one," Vaile said, referring to the caramel turtle concoctions he's famous for.

No need for dessert inducements for the girls, who had the usual two dozen or so and churned out another district title (sixth in a row) to go with region and Sunshine Athletic Conference crowns. Seniors Krystin Demsher and Jocelyn Williams lead the way.

Demsher will swim the 100 and 200 free and is part of the 400 relay with Williams, Connor McKay and Isabelle Spalding. The 200 medley relay unit has two freshmen (Pierce Imperialbobis and Megan Thai) along with McKay, a junior. Williams qualified individually in the 100 back and got the last available of 24 spots in the 200 IM field. Thai also qualified in the 100 free.

This year's state meet is at a new location, the Sailfish Splash Waterpark in Stuart — with water slides and all sorts of fun stuff just across the way from the swimming pool.

Can you say distractions?

"We don't want them on the slides," said Vaile.

As is the case with almost everyone in Stuart, most of the Gators' top performers swim for clubs, in this case Land O'Lakes Lightning and TBAY out of Tampa. But what sets the Gators apart is they cooperate with the clubs, and vice versa. Many competitors will come on their own and only nominally be a part of their high school team. The Gators will ride together.

"We preach team unity," girls coach Robin Hilgenberg said. "It's not like oh, you're a club swimmer so you do your own thing. It's important to us and it's important to the kids that they get the high school experience."

As for her son? He has baseball to fall back on, and that's the sport he hopes to play collegiately.

But he wants his swimming experience to end in one specific spot.

"I want to get to the podium," he said, which will require a top-three finish. "I've been there three years now and I'm tired of watching others up there."

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