East Lake's Alexandra Aitchison and Sydney Pickrem spent the summer competing around the world in swim meets.
At times during the high school season, they will be gone again, each traveling to different colleges on recruiting trips as two of the state's top four prospects in the 2015 class.
When the postseason season rolls around, though, Aitchison and Pickrem are committed to staying at home and swimming with the Eagles.
Because of that, East Lake is the overwhelming favorite to win the school's first state team in girls swimming in Class 4A.
Aitchison, the Tampa Bay Times Pinellas County girls swimmer of the year, won the 200 and 500 freestyle and swam on the winning 200 medley and 400 free relay teams at last year's state meet. Pickrem, the Times' Pinellas girls swimmer of the year in 2011 and '12, could not compete in individual events at state because she swam in the FINA World Cup during qualifying for district and region meets.
Aitchison and Pickrem will team with Michelle Turek, who was second in the 100 and 200 free at state. All three will be favored to finish in the top two of their individual events and give the Eagles the kind of top level talent no other team can match.
"The classification is tough and anything can happen during the season," East Lake coach Tim O'Keefe said. "It's not automatic that we go out and win a team title, but we do have the talent, especially with Lexy and Sydney both assuring me they will have no conflicts during the postseason."
Aitchison and Pickrem are not the only area girls projected to be at the top of the podium. Three other state champions — Newsome's Maddie Hess (100 free and 100 back), Mitchell's Taylor Anderson (50 free) and Academy at the Lakes' Abbey Duncan (200 free, previously at Wesley Chapel) — all return.
Hess is a two-time defending champion in both events and beat Pickrem in the 100 back in 2012. Anderson and Duncan each won their first state titles last season.
The depth is so strong among girls that many events at state could have multiple area place-winners. In 4A, the area could win all eight girls individual events with Aitchison, Hess and Pickrem leading. And that list doesn't include Plant's Ally Donahue, the 2013 4A champion in the 50 free and 100 breaststroke, who graduated early and is now at Florida.
"The quality of swimming with the girls is as good as it's ever been in my 22 years of doing this," Plant girls coach Gil Gonzalez said. "And there is a lot of strong young swimmers that are coming up, too."
By contrast, the area had four male state champions graduate, including two from Palm Harbor University's program that won the 4A team title. The only returning champions among boys are Sickles' Nazareno Boscaino (500 free) and Ridgewood's Emir Muratovic (50 free).
"The boys are somewhat in transition given how many have graduated," O'Keefe said. "But girls swimming is incredibly deep. This could be the best year yet."
Other swimmers to watch
Nazareno Boscaino, Jr., Sickles: The East Lake transfer is a two-time defending state champion in the 500 free.
Joshua Chen, Sr., Shorecrest: The Chargers' top returner placed third in the 100 breast at last year's 1A state meet.
Ryan Franzese, Sr., Berkeley Prep: A state qualifier in the 50 and 100 free, Franzese leads a deep team that hopes to place in the top five overall.
Cooper Hoffman, Sr., Countryside: The Cougars' top returner is poised for a breakthrough season after finishing fourth in the 50 free and fifth in the 100 free at last year's 4A state meet.
Jonathan Long, Jr., Lakewood: The sprinter took fourth in both the 50 free and 100 free at last year's 2A state meet.
Wes McGovern, Sr., Newsome: After taking third in the 500 at the 4A meet, McGovern is the favorite to win with Boscaino moving into another classification and PHU's Taylor Uselis graduating. McGovern also was third in the 100 back last year.
Josh Morehouse, Sr., Northeast: After finishing second in diving at last year's 2A state meet, Morehouse enters this year as the top returner in his classification.
Emir Muratovic, Sr., Ridgewood: Last year's Class 2A champion in the 50 free joins Boscaino as the only boys swimmers in the area who are returning state place-winners.
Grant Sanders, Sr., East Lake: Ranked by collegeswimming.com as the state's fifth-best recruit in the 2015 class, Sanders is trying to rebound after battling the flu at last year's 4A meet.
Austin Sellers, Sr., Jesuit: He is the defending 2A state runnerup in the 100 breast and took sixth in the 200 IM.
Stefan Spiric, Sr., Seminole: One of the area's top sprinters, Spiric finished second in the 100 free and third in the 50 free at last year's 4A meet.
Jordan Wheeler, Sr., Land O'Lakes: Took fifth in the 200 IM at last year's 2A meet, the highest among area swimmers.
Amanda Burrows, So., Northeast: She should improve upon her fourth place finish in the 200 IM at last year's 3A state meet.
Summer Finke, Sr., Countryside: The Cougars' top swimmer finished fourth in both the 200 IM and 500 free at last year's 4A state meet.
Lauren McIntosh, Jr., Palm Harbor: The Hurricanes' top returner was fourth in the 50 free and eighth in the 100 free at the 4A state meet.
Alex Nuyianes, Sr., Academy of the Holy Names: She took fifth in the 100 breast and sixth in the 200 IM at last year's 2A state meet.
Peyton Palsha, So., St. Petersburg: Had a strong debut season last year with a sixth-place finish in the 200 free at last year's 4A state meet.
Dee Sopapong, Sr., Wharton: With Plant's Ally Donahue graduating early, Sopapong becomes the favorite to win the 100 breast after finishing second in 4A last year.
Emma Spilman, Sr., Clearwater Central Catholic: Finished fourth in the 100 fly at last year's 1A state meet.
Meets to watch
St. Pete Relays (diving) at Northeast, 6 Sept. 5
St. Pete Relays at North Shore Pool, 9 Sept. 6
City Relays at Bobby Hicks, 9 Sept. 6
Florida Christian School Meet at Fort Lauderdale Sept. 6
PCAC meet at Long Center, Sept. 20
City Meet at North Shore Pool, 9 Sept. 27
Tampa Bay Classic/Bay Conference at North Shore Pool, 9 Oct. 11
Berkeley Diving Classic, 10 Oct. 18