It's been awhile since Debbie Raab has had reason for optimism for the Hernando High School girls swim team.
It's about time, really about time so far, as the coach has watched four team records fall in the first week of the season.
"I think they will be strong," Raab said of her swimmers.
"I thought that before and they're already breaking records this early. I still think they will be much better, better than we've been in three or four years," she said.
Carli Dofka set a new standard in the 100-meter backstroke with a 1:15.33, breaking the old mark of 1:17.66, then did the same in the 100-meter fly with a 1:12.50. The old mark was 1:14.58.
The Hernando 200-meter relay team established a new standard of 2:22.49, then shattered that this weekend with a 2:17.66.
Adding to the excitement was Hernando's first boys and girls victories over Lecanto, according to Raab, and additional first-place finishes by junior Meghan DeWitt in the 100-meter freestyle (1:09.67), Tiffany Watson in the 200-meter free (2:52.74), Kyle Quave in the 200-meter intermediate (3:05), and Autumn Blaha in the 100-meter breast stroke (1:38.53).
Hernando's boys beat Lecanto 110-43. The girls posted a 111-53 decision.
Raab said she expects strong performances from Jessica Maggard (butterfly and distance events) and Megan Champagne (backstroke).
After finishing 1-9 last season, and with a win secured, Raab can safely predict an improvement.
"It's all up from here," she said.
She can't be so sure about her boys team, which finished 9-2 and third in districts last season but lost eight swimmers to graduation.
Among them were David Lemmerman, Travis Woodward, P.J. Wernicke, Jeremy Woods, Corey Noxon and Brandon Thomas.
"The boys that came back were panicking," Raab said. "We have 15, but they almost all are brand new."
Among the returners are sophomore Travis Malcom (butterfly, 500 freestyle), juniors Ben Williams (freestyle) and Travis Moore (butterfly).
Central coach Julie Withington knows whom her stars will be, but the rest of the cast is enigmatic.
Seniors Elizabeth Medeiros and Nathaniel Brault arguably are the best two swimmers in the county after competing in the Florida Finals last year.
Medeiros swims the 500 and 200 meters and occasionally the 200-meter immediate medley and 100-meter fly.
She owns Central records in the 50 free, 100 butterfly, 100 breaststroke, 200 individual medley, 200 free and 500 free. Her time of 2:13.54 in the 200 meters placed her 37th in Class A last season.
In the 500 at state, she sheared 13 seconds off her qualifying time and set the school mark at 6:03.26 _ good enough for 36th.
Brault finished 20th and 21st in the 200-meter IM and the 100-meter fly, respectively.
He took 0.86 seconds off his 200-meter time and set a Gulf Coast Athletic Conference record in the 100-meter fly last season.
"Elizabeth is not particularly a year-round swimmer, but she keeps up her athletic ability and has progressively gotten better," Withington said. "She and Nathaniel are both real leaders."
Central finished fifth out of six teams at the GCAC meet last season.
Withington expects senior Ashley Pfenning (100 breast, 200 IM) to bolster the 20-member girls team.
But Withington is concerned that junior Gary Mechler _ part of the 200-meter freestyle squad that finished 31st in the state last year _ is the only experienced male swimmer behind Brault.
"Twenty is a good number for the girls," she said, "but we're going to lose a lot of points with just five boys.
"I've asked coaches why they think it's so hard for us to get boys out, and I don't know if it's not having a pool right there at school, or that guys don't want to wear a Speedo."
No county school had as much talent vacate its Speedos than Springstead, which lost four-event performer Shannon Hulton to graduation and had boys leader Seton Hengesbach transfer to Clearwater Catholic.
"Shannon leaves a void for the girls relay and Seton, I had planned to have a strong boys and girls relay with him around," second-year coach Mike Maurer said. "Now we have to dig down."
Hulton competed in the Class 2A 500-meters Florida Finals four times.
Senior Adina Marmorato returns to the girls team in the freestyles and intermediate medley, with senior Mandy Loomis (freestyle and breaststroke) and senior Will Wilson (backstroke and fly) also returning.