It's a crisp and sunny Tuesday in the heart of north Dunedin, and a battle between the sexes is brewing at Highlander Pool. Dunedin High girls swim standout Paige Lowery has entered the water and is preparing to compete with the entire Dunedin boys team in practice.
This is neither a dare nor a stunt, but rather Lowery's standard daily training method. A method, Falcons coach Kris Moellenberg says, that has helped her improve tremendously. A method, Moellenberg adds, that has done just as much for the guys.
"Overall _ girls and guys included _ Paige is the No.
2 swimmer on my team," Moellenberg says. "And every practice she'll come out here and put four or five of my guys to shame.
"But they love it, and it would be hard otherwise for her to keep her intensity level up. We have just seven or eight girls on the team and this is the first season out for most of them. A lot of them just find Paige kind of untouchable in the pool."
This season, on all but one occasion, she has been. Although Dunedin's girls have won just one dual meet so far, Lowery has remained undefeated throughout all nine. She has recorded two event wins (the maximum possible) at every outing, and has won each of the eight individual events at least once.
"It's been a pretty good year for me, for the most part," said Lowery, a junior whose only loss of the season was to Countryside's Sara Webb during the Pinellas County Athletic Conference meet in September.
"My coach has been putting me in as many events as possible to see what I can do. I would like to be going a little bit faster, but I'm happy with the way things have gone so far."
She should be. She has turned in Pinellas County's best performances of the year in two events _ the 100-yard butterfly (her favorite race) and the 500-freestyle _ has been second-fastest in three others and is third-best in a third. Her times in five of the six already are better than the best she turned in last year. And, Moellenberg says, she's only getting started.
"Utility-speaking, she's the best in the county," he said. "She's up there in the top three of everything and she's really hardly even been pushed. With most of the schools we swim against, I haven't been able to get _ except for Sara _ a good race for her. Who knows how fast she can really go?"
Lowery admits she hasn't a clue, but says she has some goals. "I'd like to finally go under one minute in the 100-fly," she says. "I think I have it in me but I've been stuck at 1:01 for a while.
"I'd also like to swim well at districts and make state, and at state I want to make finals _ not consolation finals _ but finals. Until then, I just want to do my best and help the team."
And the team could surely use some. Dunedin's girls, though never a county power, have plunged to an all-time low in 1990. The Falcons have been thrashed by better than 70 points in each of their last three meets, and their only win of the season has come against Pinellas' most woeful girls squad _ the four girls of St. Petersburg Catholic.
"I was planning on having about 15 girls on the team this year and now sometimes I have to use my divers in meets," Moellenberg said. "But still, they stay supportive of each other. When they win a relay, Paige gives all the girls credit, and it goes vice versa. Like when she comes from a body length or two behind _ like she's done a couple of times They go nuts."
Performers of the week: Dee Spanolios, Tarpon Springs, and Mike O'Dowd, Dixie Hollins.
Spanolios won both the 100-fly and the 100-back, and swam on the Spongers' winning 200-medley and 200-free relay teams in a one-point, dual-meet win Wednesday over Largo.
O'Dowd won the 50-free and the 100-fly, and swam on the victorious medley and 400-free relay teams during the Rebels' one-point, tri-meet win over East Lake the same day.