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Hard work paying off

(ran PC edition)

Initially, Autumn Yanchunis' goal was to win a district championship as a freestyle swimmer.

Mission accomplished: She won two apiece in each of the past three seasons (three in the 100-yard free, two in the 200 free and one in the 50 free).

Then, the Wesley Chapel senior vowed to break into the top 25 at the state meet.

Last year, she finished 24th in the 100-yard freestyle.

Now, the Sunshine Athletic Conference champion in the 100 free aims to qualify for the consolation finals by breaking into the top 16 at the state meet.

She'll get her chance Thursday in the Class A meet at the International Hall of Fame Aquatic Center in Fort Lauderdale.

"She's very motivated," Wesley Chapel coach Kristi Frye said. "It's her last year and she realizes this is it."

A year-round swimmer between high school and the Tampa Aquatic Club, Yanchunis figures her hard work has to pay off some time. Going out with a state championship might be asking a bit too much, but swimming in the consolation finals is a distinct possibility.

"This year, I've set my goals higher and hopefully I can get into the consolation finals," Yanchunis said.

Such optimism, not to mention Yanchunis' love for the sport, rubs off, says teammate Tarah Thornton.

"She always has a positive attitude," said Thornton, a junior who is swimming competitively for the first time and will team up with Yanchunis, Whitney Richter and Lindsey Walker on the 200 free and 200 medley relay teams.

"She's always ready and pumped up to go," Thornton added. "It motivates me."

Added teammate Anthony Vargas, who placed third in the 100 butterfly at districts to give the Wildcats a school-record 12 state qualifiers, "I think she's one of the best role models. I try to take after her. She's always pushing us."

Yanchunis, who does not take practice lightly, would not have it any other way.

"Even with my schoolwork, it's hard for me not to work hard, because I want to complete it to the best of my ability," said Yanchunis, who carries a 4.15 weighted grade-point average and plans to follow in her father's footsteps as a veterinarian. "I'm going to work my hardest to get my best time."

"I'll give her a workout and sometimes I'll tell her she has to take a rest," Frye said.

Yanchunis' two firsts at districts _ two minutes, 2.85 seconds in the 200 free and 57 seconds in the 100 free _ led Wesley Chapel to third place in last week's Class A, District 5 meet. That marked the highest finish in the Wildcats' three seasons.

Yanchunis also helped the 200 free relay team, which included Walker, Richter and Thornton, finish third in a school-record time of 1:54.82.

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