Streaks, totals, and records can all be broken, but there can only ever be one first, and the first ever teams to win the Florida High School State Championship in the new class 4A, for the state’s biggest schools, were the boys of Palm Harbor University and the girls of Sarasota – Riverview.
The Sarasota – Riverview girls had to come-from-behind to overcome East Lake in the team scoring; those two teams are quite familiar, as they’re both in the same 4A – District 6.
Top 5 Boys’ Team Finishers
- Palm Harbor University, 276
- Sarasota – Riverview, 219
- Boca Raton, 173.5
- Clearwater – Countryside, 159
- Sanford – Seminole, 118
Top 5 Girls’ Team Finishers
- Sarasota – Riverview, 209
- Tarpon Springs – East Lake, 183
- Palm Harbor University, 155
- Dr. Phillips, 151.5
- St. Thomas Aquinas, 134.5
The Palm Harbor – University High School (PHUHS) boys won their 3rd state title in the last 7 seasons. After finishing as the 3A runners-up last season, this year PHUHS had a perfect storm of seniors that led them to the crown. Out of 12 legs on 3 relays, Palm Harbor had only a single underclassmen (a junior) swim, and they won two of those three relays.
First, in the 200 medley relay, they swam a 1:33.22 in finals. By seed time, they were huge favorites coming into the meet and coming into finals, and though the gap closed a little bit in the final, it was still a relatively easy win ahead of Riverview’s 1:34.62.
The legs on the winning relay were Tristan Sanders (22.40), Garrett Hoce (27.24), Manuel Barragan (22.72), and anchor Shane VanHussteen (20.86): all four seniors.
Mid-meet, Countryside won the 200 free relay in 1:24.93. The group of Ryan Peters (20.82), Michael Lombardo (21.66), Tommy Kelly (21.81), and Cooper Hoffman (20.64) won this relay thanks to having the most depth of the entire field. Runners-up Boca Raton posted a 1:25.38, despite having faster leadoff and anchor legs. That includes a 20.33 anchor from Brody Heck, who is just a sophomore.
PHUHS was only 6th in this incredibly deep relay with a 1:26.82. That included another very good anchor from VanHussteen of 20.77, and once again was an all-senior relay.
To close the meet in the 400 free relay, PHUHS once again won, with the caveat that this time they had a sophomore on the relay. Tristan Sanders (44.70), Luis Rivadeneira (27.86), Manuel Barragan (46.36), and Taylor Uselis (46.55) made up the winning quartet, with Rivadeneira being only a junior. Sanders had the only sub-45 split of the entire field, and impressively he did it on a flat-start.
Riverview took 2nd in 3:06.61, including a 45.68 lead-off from Junior Worlds swimmer Alex Katz, who is a Michigan commit.
Individually, Countryside’s Peters began the meet with a 1:39.20 in the 200 yard free. PHUHS’ Taylor Uselis might have started his kick a bit too late: he was half-a-second faster than anyone else in this final on the last 50 yards to finish in 1:39.99.
East Lake’s sophomore Nazar Boscaino was 3rd in 1:40.25.
PHUHS got their first individual win in the next race, the 200 IM, with a 1:49.94 from Manuel Barragan. Timber Creek’s Alexander Kimpel was 2nd in 1:50.37, followed by another PHUHS senior Hoce in 1:51.35, and Ilya Evdokimov from Taravella High placed 4th in 1:52.57.
Boca Raton senior Gage Kohner won the individual 50 free in 20.54. This was a loaded race that saw Sanders go 20.64, Seminole’s Stefan Spiric swim a 20.85, and Countryside’s Hoffman go 20.88 for 4th. Compare that depth to last year’s 3A meet, which included all of these 4A teams plus another slew of tams, where there was only one swimmer under 21 seconds, and this sprint result becomes even more impressive.
Kohner would double up on the sprint events by winning the 100 free in 45.06. This time Spiric took 2nd in 45.45, and Heck tied for 3rd with Spruce Creek’s Viktor Toth in 45.80. Those two are both just sophomores.
The first underclassman win of the meet was Oviedo junior Noah Hensley in 49.27. He was followed by Barragan, winner of the 200 IM earlier, who was 49.66, and First Coast’s Caleb Tosh, who was 50.53 for 3rd place.
The men’s 500 free was without Alex Katz, one of the best junior distance swimmers in the country. Katz missed the Regional Championship meet, and thus didn’t enter any individual races at districts, regionals, or the state meet (one must advance from each meet to the next to continue qualifying in individuals), so his only option was to save his best swims for the relays.
That left Boscaino to win in 4:26.89, with Uselis taking 2nd in 4:27.92. The most impressive taper of the meet goes to Newsome’s Wes McGovern. He dropped 10 seconds from the Region meet to the State meet, and wound up 3rd in this race in 4:29.93.
Tristan Sanders picked up the win in the 100 backstroke in 47.79, which is his lifetime best swim. Ryan Peters from Countryside took 2nd in 49.82, and McGovern added a second 3rd-place finish in three events with a 51.07.
In the last individual race of the meet, Taravella’s Ilya Evdokimov won by a fingernail in 55.12, just ahead of West Broward’s Alex Morgan in 55.14.
This year’s Sarasota-Riverview team had a very different complexion from the one that won the 3A State Championship last fall.
The gap at this year’s meet was much smaller than last year’s runaway victory, but they still got the job done.
Riverview’s title quest was not off to a good start after their 200 medley was DQ’ed in prelims when their butterflier did went past 15 meters underwater.
They were unlikely to win that relay, but did still cost themselves most of their margin-of-error right from the get-go.
The winners of East Lake High School got a win on a gutsy come-from-behind swim from junior anchor Michelle Turek as they won in 1:47.03. The entire foursome was Sydney Pickrem (26.88), Annika Smith (31.30),Alexandra Aitchison (25.22), and Turek (23.63). They had a slight deficit to Dr. Phillips (1:47.19) and Tampa – Plant (1:47.34) before Turek’s anchor brought them back.
East Lake will be very good next season, as their relay was comprised of four juniors.
The 200 yard free results would leave the Riverview girls in a relatively-unfamiliar huge early deficit as well. East Lake’s Aitchison won in 1:47.52. She dropped her best time by three seconds this championship season, and by five over the entirety of the high school season, despite its relative brevity.
East Lake went 1-2 in the race, as Michell Turek took 2nd in 1:49.18. Riverview’s top finisher was Spencer Atkins in 3rd in 1:49.50. She was the only Riverview swimmer in the top 12 of this event, as compared to last season where they had three of the top six finishers at the 3A State Championship.
Riverview’s fight back to the top began in the 200 IM. In that race, junior Nancy Hu won in 2:02.75 thanks to a very good breaststroke leg. She beat Hagerty High freshman Ashley Boddiford, who was 2nd in 2:04.17, and Wharton junior Dee Sopapong, who was 3rd in 2:04.57.
East Lake didn’t score any points in the 200 IM (they didn’t even qualify anyone for state in the event) which allowed Riverview to pull within 25 points.
Plant’s Alex Donahue won the girls’ 50 free in 23.60, followed by Palm Harbor senior Kendall McIntosh in 23.92. Neither of the eventual top two teams scored in that race, but East Lake failed to score in the next swimming event, the 100 fly, as well they lost some momentum from their electric start.
Reagan Doral’s Isabella Paez won that 100 fly in 54.70, with Hu taking 2nd in 55.44 and Davie – Nova’s Amanda Tipton touching 3rd in 56.21. Riverside jumped into the lead with two swimmers in the top six – Laura Toth, who was the swimmer DQ’ed in prelims of the 200 medley, took 6th in 56.80.
Newsom’e Madeline Hess won the girls’ 100 free in 50.35. She swam the two best times of her career in Stuart as a good springboard into her senior season. East Lake’s Michelle Turek took 2nd in 51.41, with Bucholz’s Rachel McKivigan was 3rd in 51.57.
Turek’s big score pushed East Lake back into the lead – the last time anyone would hold that spot ahead of Riverview in this meet.
Newsome won the girls’ 200 free relay in a 1:35.48. That team featured 100 champion Hess (23.25), Sarah Neely (24.46), Lauren Harper (24.16), and Allison Greenwood (23.61). Oviedo was 2nd in 1:36.09, and Riverview was 3rd in 1:36.79. East Lake didn’t have the depth of Riverview, which resulted in just a 10th-place finish.
Hess won her 3rd race out of 4 scheduled by taking the girls’ 100 back in 54.38, in what wound up being a very impressive run for the Newsome junior. She didn’t start her meet until after the diving break, but still had the focus to win both of her individual events and have the fastest relay splits of the field in both of her relay events as well.
Cindy Cheng from Dr. Phillips High School, who had the fastest backstroke split in the medley relay, took 2nd in the individual in 56.75, and Nova’s Amanda Tipton took 3rd in 57.31.
Alex Donahue won her second event of the day with a runaway 1:02.50 in the 100 breaststroke. She was out very fast in that race (29.29), and didn’t let up at all on the back-half as he won by nearly two seconds.
Though her position was not much in question, the fight for 2nd was. Wharton’s Dee Sopapong took that spot in 1:04.40, followed by St. Petersburg’s McKenna Harris in 1:04.41. Jupiter’s Chase Harris placed 4th in 1:04.59, and Jupiter’s Kelly Fertel was 5th in 1:04.98.
For all practical purposes, the meet was sealed by Riverview headed into the last relay, so long as they had safe exchanges. Their exchanges were visibly quite safe, and though that may have cost them the event, it sealed them the meet.
East Lake won the relay in 3:27.56, with the group of Alexandra Aitchison (50.85), Madison Kennedy (54.57), Sydney Pickrem (50.95), and Michelle Turek (51.19). Riverview took 2nd in 3:27.98, and Newsome was 3rd in 3:31.10, thanks in part to a 50.55 from Hess.
Pickrem, who probably could have won two individual events at this meet, missed both the District and Regional Championships, and so she, like Katz in the boys’ meet, was a three-relay swimmer only.