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Freshman exceeds expectations

Rae-Lynn Sheffield only hoped to advance to the 100-yard backstroke and 200 individual medley finals in her first trip to the state meet.

She never imagined she would outscore more than 27 teams Thursday at the North County Aquatic Center in Sebastian.

Sheffield, Central's only girls qualifier, placed fifth in the backstroke and ninth in the IM to give the Bears 23 points, good enough for 29th among the 56 teams that scored in the Class 2A meet.

"We didn't have a relay, all we had was Rae-Lynn," said Sheffield's father, Doug, a Central assistant. "I thought, "My gosh, that's pretty darn good.' "

Remarkable, actually, considering Sheffield is a freshman.

She capped a season in which she set seven school and two conference records by becoming what is believed to be the first county girl to advance to a state swimming final.

After making the backstroke final with a preliminary time of 1 minute, 1.51 seconds, Sheffield swam 1:00.61 to earn her first state medal.

She won the consolation final in the IM in 2:10.75. The eight swimmers who placed ahead of her were juniors or seniors.

Sparked by an afternoon nap, Sheffield swam nearly five seconds faster than in preliminaries (2:15.01) and just missed the time (2:09.30) needed for High School All-America consideration.

"Her from morning to night was just so different," Doug Sheffield said. "If she had done 2:10 in the morning, she would have made the finals in a second. But she did better at night."

Central teammate Mark Warren had a couple of strong swims but did not advance beyond the preliminary rounds. The senior was 23rd in the 100 backstroke with a time of 1:00.15 and 26th in the 50 free in 23.83.

Springstead did not score despite advancing four girls and a boy, but coach Brian Hengesbach was pleased most of his swimmers established personal bests.

"We were pretty focused," Hengesbach said. "We went down with the attitude, "We're going to have some fun and try to improve our times,' and we did."

Sarah Barry was the Eagles' top finisher with an 18th-place showing in the 200 IM (2:16.33) and 25th in the 100 free (56.55). Bobbie Brice was 39th in the 100 butterfly (1:09.47).

Springstead's 200 medley relay team of Brice, Ashley Martin, Barry and Sarah Siegel was 26th (2:02.40). The 400 free relay team of Brice, Martin, Barry and Siegel finished 31st (4:04.26).

Barry's brother, Matt, qualified in the 100 free and 200 IM but did not attend the meet.

"He's a senior focusing on his grades and trying to work for some academic scholarships," Hengesbach said. "I respect his decision."

Central's Sheffield likely will take a week off to enjoy her accomplishments before returning to the pool for the Tampa Bay Aquatics club program in Tampa or Hudson.

After that, anything is possible.

"It was a tremendous meet for Rae-Lynn," Doug Sheffield said. "When I just thought she couldn't do any better, all of a sudden she did."

_ Frank Pastor can be reached at (800) 333-7505, ext. 1430. Send e-mail to pastorsptimes.com.

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