Graduation hit the area hard, but one male athlete returns who could overshadow the losses: Mitchell’s Devin McCaffrey. After being named the North Suncoast Swimmer of the Year last year, McCaffrey’s burden will be heavier this season with three senior teammates gone, leaving him as the Mustangs' unquestioned leader in the pool. The purge of seniors should lead to an influx of young talent that will come to the forefront on both the boys and girls sides.
Five boys to watch
Devin McCaffrey, Jr., Mitchell: As a sophomore, he was the state champion in the 100 breast in a stellar 58.70 seconds and placed third in the 100 fly. He is the only returning member of the relay teams that placed sixth in the 200 free and eighth in the 200 medley.
Hunter Swartsel, Sr., Gulf: Going into his final season, Swartsel will be as motivated as ever after coming in 12th at state in the 100 free. He also finished 13th in the 50 free, just outside of making the final.
Austin Van Vliet, Sr., Sunlake: Seahawks’ anchor could break through this season. Like McCaffrey, he is the only returner on his relay teams that finished eighth at state in the 200 free and 16th in the 400 free. He was also fifth in the 100 free at regionals.
Matthew Menendez, So., Wiregrass Ranch: One of only a handful of swimmers to finish in the top 10 in two events at regionals (ninth in 200 free and 100 fly). His learning curve brings some big expectations this season.
Alexey Kovalenko, Jr., Wiregrass Ranch: With his 10th-place finish in the 100 fly at regional, Kovalenko has shown he is on the cusp of state contention.
Boys teams to watch
Wiregrass Ranch: Tanner Schmitz is entering his second season as coach, but seemed to pick up the sport quickly. The Bulls have youth and depth, and will be a force in the district and conference if they stay focused.
Sunlake: Seahawks were the highest-placing North Suncoast program in the state last season behind fourth-year coach Glenna Chamberlin. After years in the shadow of Land O’Lakes, their performances at regionals and state showed the team is taking strides toward long-term goals.
Land O’Lakes: In her 12th season leading the Gators, Barbara Hayes has known little but success. Her team won yet another Sunshine Athletic Conference title, but the going will be a little tougher this season. Hayes has always found a way to round her lineup into contention.
Mitchell: With McCaffrey at the top, the Mustangs are always dangerous and if he boosts those around him, it will cement their dark horse status. Scott Hernon is the school’s fifth coach in five seasons, but that hasn’t slowed them from being strong in the past.
Girls to watch
Mazie Siddens, Sr., Mitchell: Placed 12th at state in the 100 fly after coming in second in regionals. She also was 15th in the 200 individual medley. The Mustangs’ leader is aiming much higher this year.
Carigan Albert, So., Sunlake: Most successful of the corps trio for the Seahawks, Albert was scary good as a freshman. She was fourth at regionals in the 200 free and sixth in the 100 fly.
Jocelyn Williams, So., Land O’Lakes: As a freshman, she qualified for two events at state after placing fifth in the 200 IM and 100 breast at regionals.
Nicole Harder, Jr., Sunlake: Much like Albert and teammate Courtney Meyer, Harder had success in the postseason in 2010. She placed eighth at regionals in the 200 free and seventh in the 500 free. She will be a valuable cog this season.
Monica Surrena, So., Springstead: The only Hernando County swimmer on the list broke through as a freshman. Surrena placed in the top 10 at regionals in the 200 (sixth) and 500 free (10th) and is poised to qualify for state.
Girls teams to watch
Land O’Lakes: Like her counterpart Hayes, Robin Hilgenberg is the dean of girls coaches, entering her 10th season. The experience has been beneficial all around as her Gators won yet another SAC crown last season. With the return of Williams, she has to like her program’s chances this season, too.
Sunlake: Val Moehle enters her second season as coach and inherits a bunch of young talent. Albert, Harder and Meyer all were successful as underclassmen, boding well for their potential to get even better over the next couple of seasons. This program should give Land O’Lakes a run for the SAC title.
Wiregrass Ranch: After coming in third in the conference with Schmitz last season, the Bulls showed they were behind their new mentor. With junior Chelsea Hernandez returning as their top freestyle sprinter, the program is looking up.
Mitchell: Much like the boys team, the Mustang girls have one solid leader in the pool, Siddens. Hernon will also coach the girls, but the most important thing will be team chemistry.
Sept. 7: Land O’Lakes at Wiregrass Ranch
Sept. 14: Sunlake at Wiregrass Ranch
Sept. 21: Land O’Lakes at Sunlake
Oct. 5: Wiregrass Ranch at Mitchell
Oct. 12: Land O’Lakes at Mitchell
Oct. 24-29: District meets
Nov. 5: Class 2A, Region 2 meet in Titusville
Nov. 12: Class 2A state meet in Orlando