ST. PETERSBURG — Throughout Morgan Tankersley's high school career, Plant's swim team has made steady progress at the Class 4A, Region 2 girls meet, considered one of the strongest — and fastest — in the state.
The Panthers went from sixth place three years ago to second last year.
This year, they were considered the favorite to knock off two-time defending region champion Sarasota Riverview.
Those prognostications were not due solely with the return of Tankersley, a Stanford recruit who was named the national swimmer of the year by Swimming World after setting three state records at last year's state meet.
It also stemmed from the addition of several talented freshmen who added the depth — and the points — needed to vault to the top of the standings.
Plant's strength in numbers were the difference. The Panthers scored 452 points, beating the Rams by 159.
"We had a few misfires, but for the most part everything went according to plan," Plant coach Gil Gonzalez said. "Morgan is Morgan. She got through and will give everything she has next week in her final state meet. But the freshmen have also have played a really big role in getting us a lot of points.
"We're pretty much set up for the next four years."
The Panthers placed in the top three in all but two individual events and swept the relays. Tankersley did her part, taking first in the 200 free (1:50.78) and finishing second in the 500 free (4:58.12). She also was on the winning 200 free (1:36.09) and the 400 free (3:28.62) relay teams.
Freshmen Ella Bathurst and Ella Marlow both stood out. Bathurst won the 100 free (51.74) and was second in the 50 free (24.0). Marlow was first in the 100 fly (56.20) and third in the 50 free (24.05). They both teamed with Tankersley on the 200 and 400 free relays.
Another freshman, Reagan Flynn, was on Plant's winning 200 medley relay (1:48.29).
The region victory gives the Panthers confidence they can contend for a state team title, something no Hillsborough County girls team has done.
"Judging from the results at this meet, we should have enough get through to be right there in the mix," Gonzalez said.
The other area girls champions were Steinbrenner's Lexie Mulvihill in the 50 free (23.30) and Strawberry Crest's Celi Guzman in the 100 back (56.20).
On the boys side, three-time defending state champion Sarasota Riverview beat Countryside 455.5-259 for the team title.
The Cougars' Robert Finke again was dominant in his events, winning the 500 free (4:33.89) and the 200 IM (1:52.79) by comfortable margins. Teammate Joey Licht won the 100 back (51.0).
The other area champions were Strawberry Crest's Zane Richardson in the 100 free (46.99) and Plant's Tommy Nagle in the 100 breast (58.99).