As a freshman, Tara Hyer helped Academy of the Holy Names by swimming in competition, even though diving had always been her specialty.
The senior no longer has to help her team in swimming events because the Jaguars are loaded with young talent.
This weekend, Hyer will lead a strong, energetic team in the Class A state meet, arguably the toughest classification for swimming and diving. Her part will be on the springboard, diving against competitors with dreams of reaching the Olympics.
"She often does sets with us at 6 a.m. when we practice," Holy Names coach Mara Toole said. "Diving is her sport and she is very much a major part of this team. Now that our numbers are up, she doesn't have to help us swim, but she always gives us winning points as a diver. She is also the best cheerleader for the swimmers."
When the Jaguars competed in the state meet last year, Toole said it was a new experience and her team should have fun. Except for Hyer, who went to win and left a mark, finishing third.
"Last year we were happy just to make state," Toole said. "This year, we have a plan. We are shooting for second swims (top 16 individuals in each event) and maybe place in the top eight. In addition to Jacksonville Bolles, there are two or three other Class A teams that are nationally competitive. Fifth would be nice, but top may be realistic. Tara could win. She is that good."
In her three years as Holy Names' coach, Toole has turned the program into a competitive one, and the team is still young.
Freshman Kelly Hug qualified for the 100-yard butterfly and 100 backstroke as an individual and will swim the 200 medley and 400 freestyle relays. Eighth-grader Elisa Pineda qualified for the 200 individual medley and 100 breaststroke and will join Hug on the relays.
Sophomore Stephanie DeRito will swim the freestyle leg of the medley relay and eighth-grader Gail Carter will swim the backstroke leg.
Senior Kristin Zwolak and eighth-grader Elizabeth Dowdle will also compete in the relays and senior Stephanie Tarr is the alternate.
RETURNING CHAMPS: Christine Anseeuw, a four-time state champion from Plant and Clemson signee, should repeat in the 50 and 100 freestyle events.
Anseeuw will also swim the freestyle relays for the Panthers.
Chris Colwill, also a multiple champion at the state level, will compete for another diving title.
The Tampa Prep senior had a productive summer as a member of the USA Men's Diving Team.
POTENTIAL CHAMPS: Grant Nelson is one of the top freestyle distance swimmers in the state and could bring back his first title. The Chamberlain junior swims the 200 and 500 free.
Pushing Nelson hard is Tampa Bay Tech freshman Chris Olinger. The young Titan has a better time than Nelson in the 200 free and is stiff competition in the 500.
Sickles' Becky Bird, Amanda Cook, Katrina Cooke, Tyler Epperson, Adam Bernstein, John Libnock, Brad Moore and Chris Smith should challenge in 2A individual and relay events.
In the 3A girls competition, Gaither's Meredith Lynch, Valerie Crovo, Carly Cavalieri and Natalie Davis are fast enough in individual and relay events to help the Cowboys challenge for respectability.