TRINITY — The swimming career of one of the North Suncoast’s top talents started as a way for a 10-year-old to beat the heat.
Taylor Anderson was living near Orlando on a scorching summer day, so her family took her to the YMCA to cool her off. She had never learned to swim, but it turns out her muscular physique, tall frame and long arms made her a quick learner.
“She was kind of a natural,” said her mother, Victoria.
So she kept going, earning medals and blowing past competition en route to becoming last year’s North Suncoast swimmer of the year and pushing expectations even higher for her junior year at Mitchell.
After only two high school seasons, she holds individual school records in the 50 freestyle (23.93 seconds), 100 free (53.95), 100 breaststroke (1:11.60) along with relay records in the 200 medley, 200 free and 400 free.
“She is blessed with a God-given talent,” first-year Mustangs coach Kelly Erickson said. “She has the perfect sprint swimmer build. …She’s very good at following direction and learning. You don’t have to explain things 25 times to her.”
Anderson showed that early. In one of her first races, she remembers swimming to the wall as fast as she could, then executing a solid flip turn.
There was only one problem — she was racing in the breaststroke, not freestyle. She was disqualified and left the pool in tears, but never made that mistake again.
Anderson’s natural talent kept her going initially, and the daughter of two high school athletes quickly found the pool as an outlet for her competitive drive.
“I’m all about the competition,” Anderson said. “Swimming is fun, but winning is also fun, too. You can swim and be good, but you can also swim and be good and win.”
Anderson showed that immediately in high school. She set her first school record, in the 50 free, in her first month of high school competition. She’s added all-Sunshine Athletic Conference honors in the 100 breast, 50 free and 200 medley relay.
Anderson won region championships last fall and finished third in the Class 2A state meet in the 50 free and 13th in the 100 free.
Those accolades, plus the graduation of top talents like Kansas signee Amanda Maser, have Anderson and junior Katherine Cancello in line to become the focal points of a Mustangs team that finished fifth at regionals last year.
Anderson will also be counted on to replace LSU signee Devin McCaffrey as the school’s top swimmer. She had two years to watch one of the best swimmers in Pasco County history work, and she’s adopted the laser focus McCaffrey showed in the moments before each race.
“I’ll nod my head, but I’m not really paying attention…” Anderson said. “I clear my head and make sure nothing’s interfering. When I get on the blocks, I’m ready to go.”
More intriguing swimmers/teams for 2013
Berkeley Prep: The Class A, Region 3 runnerup to Tampa Prep in 2012 could close the gap between itself and the Terrapins, with a little help from an old rival. Sophomore Anne Myers, a state qualifier in two individual events for Tampa Prep last season, joins a deep Buccaneers squad. State-qualifying divers Stephanie Punzak and Nikki Potts both return.
Class action: Count Holy Names coach Bill Shaffer among those rejoicing over the Florida High School Athletic Association’s expansion of the state series from three to four classifications. Shaffer said he likes the Jaguars’ chances of repeating as champs in 2A-8 (a Hillsborough/Polk district), adding he has no fewer than seven potential state medalists on his roster.
Alexandria Donahue, Plant: The state’s reigning 3A breaststroke champion returns, but all three of her teammates on the bronze medal-winning 200-yard free relay team graduated.
Summer Finke, Countryside: The junior comes from a family of strong distance swimmers. Last year, she was fifth at state in the 500 free. She also will be counted on for leadership on a team that graduated a lot of depth.
McKenna Harris, St. Petersburg: The senior, a state runnerup in the 100 breast last year, leads a team that returns plenty of talent.
Maddie Hess, Newsome: The Wolves junior, a three-time gold medalist at last season’s 3A state meet, should add more neckwear this fall and nudge closer to the state’s 4-year-old 100-yard backstroke record (53.82 seconds). Hess’ winning time at state last season was 55.01.
Land O’Lakes: The Gators were junior-laden last year and featured some of the North Suncoast’s top swimmers, Krystin Demsher and Jocelyn Williams. Land O’Lakes should continue to be Pasco County’s top program.
Kendall McIntosh, Palm Harbor University: The senior, a sprinting specialist, is the top returner on a team that has perhaps the most depth of any in the area.
Pickrem, East Lake: The Times’ 2012 Pinellas County swimmer of the year was the only girls swimmer from the county to win a state title last year, finishing first in the 200 individual medley. The junior came close to adding another with a second-place finish in the 100 back.
Emma Spilman, Clearwater Central Catholic: The junior, who finished fourth in the 100 fly at state last year, is one of the top swimmers at the small school level. She also is strong in the 200 individual medley.
Monica Surrena, Springstead: The senior is Hernando County’s top returner. She holds a school record in the 200 free and finished fourth at regionals last fall in her signature event.
Tampa Prep: Thanks to the Terps’ depth, a region title repeat is expected. Freestyle specialist Hannah Fredlake returns, as does Savannah Savitt, a state finals qualifier in two events (200 IM, 100 breast) as a freshman.
Michelle Turek, East Lake: After transferring from PHU last year, the junior bolstered the Eagles lineup with fourth-place finishes in the 100 and 200 free at last year’s state meet.
Wiregrass Ranch: The Bulls were young last year and led by conference swimmer of the year Athena Cimino and freshman Madison Conway. Expectations should be high under new coach Alisa Cimino.
Alexandria Wittman, Osceola: A state place winner in two events last season (200 and 500 free), the senior should improve on that in Class 2A this season.
Sept. 6-7: Total Team Challenge at North Shore
Sept. 7: City Relays at Bobby Hicks
Sept. 14: Christian school meet in Fort Lauderdale
Sept. 21: PCAC meet at Long Center
Sept. 28: FSPA meet
Oct. 4-5: Bay Conference/Tampa Bay Classic at North Shore
Oct. 11-12: City Meet at North Shore
Oct. 21-26: Class A/2A districts
Oct. 28-Nov. 2: Class 3A/4A districts
Oct. 28-Nov. 2: Class A/2A regionals
Nov. 4-9: Class 3A/4A regionals
Nov. 8-9: Class A/2A state meet
Nov. 15-16: Class 3A/4A state meet
Compiled by staff writers Matt Baker, Joey Knight and Bob Putnam.