Ash Preston remembers the good old days.
Two years ago as a sophomore, Preston earned four firsts at the district meet: 200-yard individual medley, 100 breaststroke and 200 medley relay and 400 free relay. He also qualified both as an individual and relay member as a freshman.
After Friday's Class A, District 2 meet in Jacksonville, Preston will be swimming only in one relay event, even though his times were better than some swimmers who will be competing.
"It was easier in our old district," Preston said. "I'm sure there were other people in the state looking at our times and saying "Oh, i'm faster than that person and I'm not at state.' Now we just got the other end of the stick."
There is a big reason more Pirates will not be swimming at the Class A state meet Friday in Fort Lauderdale. That would be district opponent and state power Jacksonville Bolles, which has representation in all six relays and took 60 individual spots.
Pirates coach Tim Holme said since the switch last year, the Pirates usually have to rely on wild card entries, from places 4-6.
"Bolles automatically was going to take four spots and between Bolles and (Jacksonville) Episcopal they took four or five spots in every individual event," Holme said. "We had kids finish seventh with times fast enough to go to state but they were seventh and not sixth."
Even so, the Pirates are the only county team competing at state, sending one boys relay team and two divers.
Crystal River's 400 freestyle relay earned that right by finishing third behind, you guessed it, Bolles and Episcopal.
The foursome of Matt Washington, Nick Manzoli, Keith Martin and Preston posted a time of 3 minutes, 36.96 seconds, 26th among qualifiers.
Preston was on the 400 freestyle team that finished 19th in the preliminaries at last year's state meet. A season ago, he joined Martin on the the 200 medley relay that took 29th in the prelims.
"It's really just for us to get our personal bests, it's not like we're going to get first place or anything, but we're in reach of the school record (3:31.94)," Manzoli said.
Diver Aaron Washington finished 16th at state last year with a 232.50, and took fourth out of four divers at this year's districts. His 327.55 is the 15th-best going in.
The junior said competing against the top two divers from Bolles, who both scored in the 500s, was a good experience.
"I wish we were better than we were so when we compete against them we wouldn't look so bad," he joked.
"Actually, I enjoy it, I think it's pretty fun to watch them. I learned a lot how good you can be."
On the girls side, diver Courtney Chandler took second with a 346.60, and enters state with the 28th-best score.
"The divers did just great, even the two girls who didn't make it to state," Holme said.
Sophomore Sayward Rutledge had a 258.45, good for fourth place, but missed the state qualifying mark of 285.35. Freshman Melissa Head finished fifth at 219.65.
Sophomore Chelsea Newberry, who qualified for last year's state meet in the 100 backstroke, finished 10th in the event at this year's districts with 1:08.59.
She did not even make the championship final, but that time was still better than three swimmers who will be competing at state.
"She'll work harder next year," Holme said. "It's an incentive for everybody to work."
Even though they did not qualify individual events, many Pirates swam well. Eleven set personal bests, including sophomore Matt Washington, who dropped 21.64 seconds from his time in the 500 free.
The Pirates also kept their streak alive of qualifying for state every year since 1995. But facing such competition at the district level can be daunting, Preston said.
The boys had won five district titles in a row before the switch last year and the girls had two championships overall. This year, the boys were fifth and the girls sixth in the district.
"It's kind of hard to motivate yourself," Preston said.
Kristen Leigh Porter can be reached at portersptimes.com or 564-3628.
Crystal River Pirates whose times in the Class A, District 2 finals were as good as or better than the performances of swimmers from other districts who qualified for the state meet:
Chelsea Newberry (200-yard freestyle, 100 backstroke).
Andy Lanier (100 back).
Nick Manzoli (100 free).
Keith Martin (100 free, 100 back).
Ash Preston (100 breaststroke).
Aaron Washington (100 butterfly).
Matt Washington (200 individual medley, 500 free).
Boys 200 medley.
Boys 200 free.
Girls 400 free.
_ KRISTEN LEIGH PORTER