NEW PORT RICHEY — It has become commonplace for Land O'Lakes to sweep the Sunshine Athletic Conference swimming championships, and this year was no different.
The Gators boys captured their 13th straight title and the girls their fifth in a row Saturday at the New Port Richey Aquatic Center.
The boys' achievement was highly improbable at the beginning of the season, what with just six swimmers on the roster and former coach Brian Vaile replacing longtime coach Barbara Hayes, who stepped down after 13 seasons.
"Did we think we'd win (the boys) conference? Absolutely not," said Robin Hilgenberg, the Gators head coach who also oversees the girls team. "I give Brian a lot of credit for stepping into that position and knowing that there's a tradition we wanted to continue."
Having lost 18 seniors (nine boys and nine girls), the Gators had major holes to fill this season. Eventually, 13 boys came out to join 24 girls, ultimately leading to the SAC titles.
The boys scored 333 points, well ahead of Wiregrass Ranch's 284 and Mitchell's 269. The girls won by an even larger margin, scoring 514 with Sunlake second at 334 and Wiregrass Ranch third at 293.
"They know our reputation and know what we've done, and nobody wanted to take the blame for breaking the streaks," Hilgenberg said of the Gators' revamped rosters.
In all, Land O' Lakes won six boys and four girls events. Next was Wiregrass Ranch, which had three girls victories and won one boys event. Mitchell (two girls, one boys) and Ridgewood (all boys) each claimed three wins. The Wesley Chapel girls won the remaining two events.
Four conference records were shattered with Land O' Lakes, not unexpectedly, claiming two of those. Cameron Hilgenberg, the coach's son, swam the 50-yard freestyle in 21.73 seconds and the 400 free relay of Krystin Demsher, Connor McKay, Jocelyn Williams and Megan Thai finished in 3:49.76.
Record times also were turned in by Wesley Chapel's Abbey Duncan, who swam the 500 free in 5:07.27; and Ridgewood's Emir Murabvic, who touched in 47.91 to win the 100 free.