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HURRICANES WIN SPIRITED MEET

Costumes, music and competition fend off blahs from rain as Palm Harbor boys, girls combine efforts.

The Palm Harbor University swimmers arrived at North Shore Pool before sunrise Saturday - bathing suits, goggles and Disney costumes in tow.

Once they entered the parking lot at 6 a.m. - an hour before the pool officially opened - they were greeted by other swimmers who got there way before them.

The swimmers were there for the Total Team Relay Challenge, a meet in which the races in the water were not the only ones being held.

There also was some competitiveness among the 22 teams to see which one could get a head start in building up the most spirit.

The relay challenge, started in 1990, is the first big meet of the season. But it is also popular for the disc jockey who blares music between events and the spirit/sportsmanship awards that are as coveted as the meet's first-place trophies.

Part of the spirit judging is based on costumes and themes. East Lake came as Harry Potter characters, complete with a tent decked out in medieval attire. Clearwater dressed up as old people.

And the steady rain did not dampen the enthusiasm. There was plenty of whooping and hollering and dancing.

"I think the rain actually got the kids more excited," said Northeast coach Bill Burrows, who organizes the event. "We actually had to get some of the swimmers to calm down a little."

There was also was some swimming. Palm Harbor University dominated that portion of the meet, scoring 774 combined points among its boys and girls teams to win the overall team title.

The Hurricanes easily won the girls side, scoring 418 to beat Tampa Prep by 80. And PHU finished second among the boys with 356 points, 58 behind champion Punta Gorda Charlotte. For most of the meet, the Hurricanes boys were playing catch-up after one swimmer did not show up and another was disqualified on a relay.

"We had a few mental errors, but overall I was pleased with the way we performed," PHU coach Lisa Bitting said.

Sarasota Cardinal Mooney and Tampa Prep tied for the spirit award for out-of-county teams. East Lake won the spirit award among Pinellas teams.

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