Jimmy Baker's goal in his final high school district meet was to swim his fastest time of the year.
Little did the Citrus senior know how fast he would go.
Baker led the North Suncoast contingent in Saturday's Class 2A, District 4 meet, capturing its only individual title in the 50 freestyle.
Baker, who took ninth at last year's state meet, posted his best time of the year, 21.66 seconds, which is three hundredths of a second ahead of the cut for Junior National recognition.
"That was the goal I was shooting for, but I didn't really know if I would get it," said Baker, who also captured second in the 100 free. "This is my first time going off blocks this season, and I didn't expect to go that fast. I've shaved and tapered for this meet to make sure I went faster, and I did."
Baker was one of nine North Suncoast swimmers to earn automatic berths in the state meet. Citrus led the North Suncoast schools (Central, Citrus, Hernando and Lecanto) with four. The Hurricanes also qualified with third-place finishes in the 200 medley relay and 400 free relay.
Hernando's Carli Dofka qualified with a third-place finish in the 100 butterfly and just missed in the 100 breaststroke by finishing fourth.
"The competition was tough. She hasn't swam the breast this year, and she wanted to try it," Hernando coach Debbi Raab said. "She could still get an invite. She was still pretty fast."
Raab also hopes to sneak her boys and girls 200 free relays in by virtue of wild cards. Both finished fourth. The FHSAA will announce the wild-card entries _ which qualify by time _ on its Web site (www.fhsaa.org) later this week.
Central's Mark Warren was the only other area swimmer to earn an automatic qualifying spot, finishing third in the 100 backstroke.
Leesburg and Ocala Forest won the girls and boys team titles, respectively. Hernando took fifth in the girls competition and sixth in the boys. Citrus finished third among the boys teams and sixth in girls.
2A-6: Zephyrhills sets record
WINTER HAVEN _ Two years ago, Zephyrhills sent what was a school-record seven swimmers to state.
Saturday, the Bulldogs topped that when 10 qualified at Gaines Pool.
"This is an awesome city," Zephyrhills assistant coach Karen Cooley said. "These kids rose to the occasion."
Keven Demers placed third _ the top-three finishers advanced to the state meet in Fort Lauderdale _ in the 500-yard freestyle to claim the Bulldogs' only individual berth.
But Zephyrhills placed four relays in the top three, led by the second-place boys 400 free relay of Kyle Bruce, Marky Beverlin, Travis Tenbrink and Tenbrink's brother, Trevor.
The foursome also finished third in the 200 free relay.
Zephyrhills took third in two girls relays, the 200 free and 400 free. Carissa Foster, Caitlin Kennedy and Renee Yonkoff swam in those relays with Chantelle Sones swimming in the 200 free and Elizabeth Borders swimming the 400 free.
Lake Region's boys and girls teams won the meet. Zephyrhills was fourth in the girls and fifth in the boys.
_ STEVE LEE