CLEARWATER — For the third straight year, Plant and Sarasota Riverview locked horns in pursuit of the girls Class 4A, Region 2 championship.
Last year, the Tampa-based Panthers wrestled the title away from the Rams, but after a three-hour battle at the Long Center on Saturday night, Riverview's depth prevailed to retake the crown with 376 points. Plant ended up with 350.5 points.
"Riverview is a powerhouse team, but Plant is no pushover either. We were the state runnerup last year," said Panthers head coach Gil Gonzalez.
Plant won more battles, taking five events to Riverview's two, but consistent scoring lifted the Rams to the title.
"I think we came out of this meet with enough placers to give Riverview a run for its money," Gonzalez said. "With us two, Oviedo and Buchholz (out of Gainesville), it'll be an interesting state meet."
On the boys side, Riverview rolled to the meet title for the fifth straight year despite having just one individual titlist (Jason Brzozowski in the 500-yard freestyle).
The Rams (327 points) beat out Palm Harbor University (255 points) and Newsome (208).
No sophomore slump
Underclassmen made it virtually impossible for the senior class to enjoy success in their final region meet. Only Lakewood Ranch's Sebastian Aguirre (100 butterfly) and Luke Carey of Orlando Olympia (50 free) could break through the logjam and win.
Sophomores Lexie Mulvihill of Steinbrenner and Plant's Ella Bathurst ruled the pool, each coming away with a pair of individual victories.
"There's a lot of good sophomores," said Mulvihill, who won in the 50 free (23.02 seconds) and 100 fly (55.59). "I race them through club meets, too, I go against them all year long. I make new friends and it's fun, but once it's time to race, we just go out and try to beat each other."
Bathurst, whose Panther squad is loaded with sophomore talent, concurred.
"I knew we were going to do super good because we've all been training super-hard, we've been working together to push each other," said the winner of the 200 free (one minute, 48.58 seconds) and 100 breaststroke (1:01.75). "I just knew we were all going to do well and I'm happy for everyone."
Classmates Reagan Flynn and Ella Marlow helped Bathurst and Plant take home wins in all three relays.
With changes in training, replacing weightlifting and dry land workouts with specialized race training and extra rest, several local athletes are seeing the benefits of tapering.
One prime example was the effort from Newsome junior Garrett McGovern.
Entering the 200 individual medley as the fourth seed, McGovern blazed to a first-place finish in 1:53.36, beating the field by 1.03 seconds and his seed time by almost six seconds. McGovern also carved over 14 seconds off of his eighth-best time in the 500 free to finish fourth.
"Last week, I came down on my yardage, controlled my tapering, and when I do that, my times go down," McGovern said. "I gain confidence, and with the support of everyone on the team, I get faster and faster."
Countryside sophomore Joey Burns was seeded fourth in the 100 free and fifth in the 50 free but surged to place second in both events to qualify for States.
"I tried to work hard on little points last week," Burns said. "My start was a problem, I fell back on my turns a little last week so I worked on them. I'm just trying to not overthink it (during races), just trying to get the race done."
After a strong district meet, St. Petersburg's Lukas Cote repeated his success as he again won the 200 free (1:42.44) and 100 back (52.47), the lone double winner in boys competition.
Cote led a successful day for the class of 2020 boys, winning four events.
Other local winners were Freedom sophomore Leah Gentry-Tuney (100 free, 52.34), Durant junior Morgan Shinault (winning the 100 back as third seed in 56.71) and sophomore Ryan Warmbier (100 free, 46.67).
The top two individual region placers in each event and winning relay teams automatically qualify for the Class 4A state meet next weekend in Stuart.
Top remaining statewide times from the four regions will fill the rest of the 24-individual and 16-team relay fields.