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Eagles still waiting for big test _ in districts

One of their biggest meets of the season was canceled, but Springstead High's boys swimmers have not run out of challenges. Springstead was to take a dual record 11-0 into a season-ending meet against Tarpon Springs-East Lake on Tuesday. Officials from the two schools did not finalize the long-scheduled meeting, however, and Springstead wound up spending Tuesday preparing for the Class 3A, District 4 meet.

Springstead head coach Rick Dofka and assistant Debbie Raab expected East Lake to offer the Eagles their toughest competition of the regular season.

"It would have been a good meet. We really built it up at the school," Dofka said. "We were going to have the cheerleaders out here and everything. I think the meet would have been very close. It probably would have come down to the last relay."

Instead, the Springstead boys are left to reflect on a season in which they went unchallenged on the scoreboard. With the exception of their first meet, a 90-77 win over Orlando Edgewater, Springstead defeated its competition by large margins, sometimes as many as 100 points.

"The boys have been wiping them off the sheets," Raab said.

That includes rival Gulf High, the only Suncoast team to beat Springstead in its 7-2 season of 1989. This year, with depth in its corner and enthusiasm in its lanes, Springstead took on all comers.

Dofka and Raab attribute the success of the boys team to its size: 18 swimmers.

"Depth-wise, we're hard to beat," Dofka said. "We get a lot of seconds and thirds, even when we don't get the first places."

In the post-season, however, team points are just a matter of pride. Only individual swimmers and relay squads, not entire teams, can advance from the district meet to the state championships.

The 3A-4 meet is Nov.

10 at North Shore Pool, in St. Petersburg. Springstead's boys placed 17th at last year's district meet and did not qualify any swimmers for the state championships.

"I can't take anything away from them _ they've worked hard this year _ but they're nowhere near their potential," Dofka said of his boys. "We'll find out at districts just how close they are."

Springstead's girls, led by captain Mona Disanti, finished the regular season 3-7. That's about what Dofka anticipated from the young team, which will lose just one senior, Jennifer Edwards.

The boys team did surprise Dofka, however; he said he expected them to finish slightly above .500. Opposition lacking in both quality and quantity helped Springstead cruise through its schedule, though the Eagles also were buoyed by an unexpected source.

Joe Vella, a junior transfer from Gulf who was the Times Boys Swimmer of the Year on the North Suncoast last season, has won at least two events in every meet this year. Vella is Springstead's top hope to earn a berth in the state meet, Dofka said.

Vella's specialty is the 100-yard butterfly, though he has excelled in the 200-yard individual medley and at various freestyle distances.

Captain Steve Renner (distance freestyle) and fellow seniors Jeff Venegoni (breaststroke and freestyle) and Jim Chez (breaststroke and freestyle relay) also have been crucial to Springstead's success.

But Vella says it is Dofka who pushes the swimmers to their potential.

"I've had a lot (of coaches), and they were very lenient. His practices are a lot tougher," Vella said. "He wants us to improve, and to make sure we don't get big heads."

Dofka looks for strong district-meet performances from the big four and junior Sal Disanti (another specialist in the 100-yard butterfly), junior Chris Tuskes, and sophomore Rene Vasquez.