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Monday, Mar 30, 2015

County swimmers seek to end state drought


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Four long seasons have come and gone since the last time a swimmer from a Hernando County school advanced to states.

Since Springstead's Dan Barry and Central's Barrett Sheffield went to the Class 2A FHSAA Finals in 2008, nobody has made it back.

The last county girl to go that far was Central's Elizabeth McGeehan back in 2007.

To put that in perspective, McGeehan has come full circle, returning to local pool decks this season as head coach at Weeki Wachee.

McGeehan, though, is the only new coach among the five county programs, a surprising change of pace in a sport that has seen annual mass turnover in the coaching ranks.

Springstead has risen above the other county teams in recent years behind headman Wayne Withington, entering his third year at the helm.

He retains last year's Hernando Today Boys Swimmer of the Year, senior Morgan Kiloh, and three-time Girls Swimmer of the Year, senior Monica Surrena.

"We're looking pretty decent," said Withington, who guided both the boys and girls to 9-2 marks in 2012. "The numbers are up from last year. We've got 30 on the roster compared to 19. The talent is about the same.

"With Monica, we're trying to get her as far as possible. We're trying to get her to states in her final year, and Morgan, as well."

Surrena is the only girl from the county to advance as far as a regional championship final the past three seasons. She has gone from sixth to fifth to fourth in the 200-yard freestyle, setting a school record in regionals with a 2:01.13 last year.

Also in 2012, she went to the 500 free regional final and came in sixth (5:27.21).

Yet a trip to states continues to elude her, though she has come agonizing close multiple times.

"As far as Monica, her focus is to do the best she can her senior year," Withington said. "Not put too much pressure on whether she makes states or not, try to enjoy her last season of high school."

Kiloh is a three-time All-County pick, but truly broke out a year ago, pacing the county in the 200 free, 100 butterfly, 100 free, 500 free and 100 backstroke.

In his second regional appearance, he came in third in the 100 free (50.64) and fifth in the 200 free, making him the first county boy to reach a regional championship final in four years.

Kiloh has worked with Withington, who also coaches at the Hernando County Family YMCA, since January. Surrena, having swum under Withington previously with Tampa Bay Aquatics in New Port Richey, joined Withington at the Y over the summer.

Springstead has another returning All-County swimmer, sophomore Allyson Fielder, who was tops in the county in the 100 free (1:00.87) and made regionals.

Seniors Hunter Geisen and Matthew Sundell were both part of All-County relays last year, as was junior Sara Overa for the Lady Eagles.

The Eagles, like all county teams, are now in Class 2A, District 6 along with Fivay, Hudson, Land O' Lakes, Lecanto, Pasco, Wesley Chapel and Zephyrhills.

Being in a new district and region, along with the change of having timed finals during the state series rather than prelims and finals, creates some uncertainty.

"Successful would again being top in the county and hopefully top five in the district," Withington said.

???Most of the other county schools reported combined rosters featuring 40 swimmers or more.

McGeehan becomes the Hornets' third coach in their four years of existence. She was an integral part of a Central girls squad that dominated the county and rewrote the school's record book before her graduation in 2007.

She was a four-time All-County pick for the Lady Bears, the Girls Swimmer of the Year as a senior and a two-time state qualifier in the 100 back.

In college she did not swim - instead choosing to run cross-country. She graduated from USF in 2012 and is now working toward earning her master's degree.

Meanwhile, she's a speech pathologist within the county's school system, at Westside Elementary during 2012-13, then adding Weeki Wachee this year.

That opened the door for her to return to swimming in this new capacity.

"I've done it my entire life and I just missed it a lot," McGeehan said. "It has always been a part of my life. So I wanted to keep doing it.

"It's been really good. They're really practicing hard, getting good yardage in. We have a pretty strong boys team, good numbers. They really want to make it to regionals this year. That's their ultimate goal."

Steven James became the first Hornet of any gender to advance to regionals, doing so as a senior last year in the 100 back.

McGeehan hopes to add a girl and relay team to the list of regional qualifiers, and wants to bring some stability to the growing program.

"I'm working in the county now," McGeehan said. "I was born and raised in Spring Hill. I don't plan on leaving any time soon."

Hernando has a pair of returning All-County selections in seniors Lida Marie Steinkamp and Paisley Whitaker.

Whitaker has been the county's fastest female in the backstroke the last two years (1:12.11 in 2012), going to regionals twice in her prep career. Steinkamp led the county in breaststroke (1:25.79) and also went to regionals last season.

Senior Summer Solovitch is another key returnee for the Lady Leopards, while senior Brennan Ertl leads the boys.

"I think we're looking really good," second-year Hernando head coach Steve Francher said. "A lot of them swam over the summer to stay in shape.

"We're really hoping to have a couple of strong relays, do well at districts and go to regionals."

Nature Coast senior Crystal Burchhardt posted a 29.26 in the 50 free for the county's fastest time and an All-County spot last year.

Sophomores Taylor Rejsek for the Lady Sharks and Joe Lacy for the boys are also expected to excel this season, according to second-year head coach Robert Rasmussen.

"My biggest thing is just having the kids enjoy swimming," Rasmussen said. "We're pushing the kids a lot harder this year, trying to keep up with Wayne (at Springstead). If they want to go to regionals, they need to go 5-6,000 yards a night.

"Last year I know we didn't do well in districts. The boys will be stronger because we have more boys than girls. We just hope to do well. Do better every year, that's the big thing."

Unlike its county brethren, Central is struggling to draw swimmers, with a total of 14. One of those is senior Joey Brennan, an All-County pick in the 50 free (24.47) and regional qualifier in that race plus the 100 back.

Another senior, Addison Hillyard, has been swimming throughout the summer, according to Central's third-year head coach Sonya Burns.

"We're in the same boat we have been the past couple years with not having a whole lot of members," Burns said. "But they're working hard. They know when we come across teams with 40-50 on a team, there's no way for us to win.

"But individually, they're working on breaking their own records. We're small but mighty."

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