Central High School
By Chris Bernhardt Jr. | Hernando TodayFour years ago, it could be called the Michael Phelps Effect.
Published: September 8, 2012
Published: September 8, 2012
County swim coaches, usually desperate to fill out a roster, suddenly experienced an upturn in numbers back in 2008 – just a few weeks after Phelps won eight gold medals in Beijing.
Now, whether it's the influence of Phelps, Ryan Lochte, Missy Franklin, or any other swimmer who took center stage in London, suddenly more kids want to compete on the local prep level.
Nature Coast leads the way with 60 swimmers. Hernando has 36; Weeki Wachee sits at 35. Reigning boys and girls county champion Springstead is at 30, while Central lists 18.
That's a huge boost in participation across the board.
Still, the questions remains can anyone on the county's five squads break the three-year streak of sending no one to states?
The logical answer to that is Springstead junior Monica Surrena. No other local competitor has even had a chance to advance to that point the past two seasons.
Surrena was the only one to reach a regional championship final in 2010 and 2011. Both times she has done so in the 200-yard freestyle.
However, in each instance the two-time Hernando Today Swimmer of the Year has fallen agonizingly short of a berth in the FHSAA Finals.
Sixth place at regionals as a freshman with a 2:05.30, she improved to a fifth-place 2:04.05 as a sophomore, but failed to match a season-best 2:03.07.
"She's not going to give up," Springstead head coach Wayne Withington said. "She's got another year after this. She'll keep pushing for (states). I've known her a long time. She's pushing to do the best she can."
Withington, the husband of longtime Central head coach Julie Withington, came on board with the Eagles just prior to last season.
Having previously coached Surrena with Tampa Bay Aquatics (TBAY) in New Port Richey, his work with the rest of the Springstead swimmers was equally impressive.
Both the boys and girls squads went undefeated in the county, and sent four boys, two girls and a pair of relays from each team to regionals.
Graduation cost the Lady Eagles two-time All-County sprinter Caitlyn Hall, while the boys lost their repeat All-County sprinter Taylor Clary, along with three-time All-County breaststroke specialist Evan Monahan.
Yet there is still Surrena, plus boys All-County picks and regional qualifiers Morgan Kiloh and Charlie Watson.
Other returnees, such as Jake Gregory and Hunter Geisen for the boys and Rebecca Glidden for the girls, along with newcomers like Elizabeth Acevedo and Allyson Fielder means Springstead isn't suddenly devoid of talent.
"It's looking pretty good," Withington said. "I'm pretty excited about the kids coming back and the newcomers, along with a lot of freshmen. It's a larger team, so the outlook is pretty good.
"We're hoping to accomplish the same if not better (than last year)."
There is one critical missing component, though. Last year's Hernando Today Boys Swimmer of the Year, junior Jese Guardado, is academically ineligible.
He is still practicing with the team, and could return at some point in the season. He must compete in four regular-season meets in order to swim at districts.
In 2011, Guardado went to regionals in the 200 and 500 frees, plus the 200-medley and 400-free relays.
"It was devastating when we found out about it," Withington said. "It definitely hurts the boys relays, that's for sure.
"Obviously he was Swimmer of the Year last year. He's been working hard over the summer with our other boys."
Once again Springstead resides in Class 2A, District 5 along with Central, Hernando and Nature Coast. Weeki Wachee swims in 2A-4.
All five county schools compete within 2A-Region II.
Among the rest of the local programs, the trend of unrest among the coaching ranks continues.
Only Central's Sonya Burns is back for a second year, though she will no longer be assisted by Julie Withington.
Despite retiring as head coach following the 2010 season, Withington returned to help Burns last year.
The Lady Bears lost their lone regional qualifier, Frankie Reese, to graduation. In fact, Reese was the only non-Springstead swimmer locally to make it out of the district.
Yet the larger roster will certainly help a Central team that couldn't muster a complete lineup the previous year.
"I'm glad we have a bigger team than last year. It'll be better competition because we can do more events," Burns said.
"The girls are much stronger than last year. The boys are, too, as far as depth. I think we're going to be a lot more competitive than last year."
Nature Coast's numbers are staggering under first-year mentor Robert Rasmussen, who assisted Mettina Couet in 2011.
Rasmussen, also a wrestling assistant for the Sharks, has experience coaching swimming at the club level and served as an assistant coach for the local YMCA team for 2 1/2 years.
Senior Mycah Dalgarn was an All-County pick and regional qualifier two years ago, making him the most accomplished swimmer on the Nature Coast roster.
However, freshmen Joe Lacy for the boys and Taylor Rejsck for the girls have club experience.
"My thing right now, I know the toughest team will be Springstead. Wayne has got a pretty good team," Rasmussen said. "I'm not saying the other teams won't be tough. You never know.
"My team is young. Out of 60 kids, there are only maybe 10 that are seniors. I have a lot of freshmen. The thing is, build for the next 2-3 years."
Steve Francher, the new Hernando headman, will be aided by veteran assistant coach Mike Bainum.
Junior Paisley Whitaker has made a name for herself in backstroke the past two years, earning an All-County nod as a sophomore and a regional berth as a freshman.
Other returnees such as senior Autumn Smith and junior Brennan Ertl figure to help guide the Leopard fortunes.
"We're excited," Francher said. "The new swimmers are gaining a lot of ground and doing really good. We're optimistic. We think the kids will do really well."
Low numbers have kept Weeki Wachee from gaining much traction in its first two seasons of existence. No Hornet has made it to regionals.
New coach Brandon Sedgley has been involved in aquatics the past 10 years, most recently teaching lessons while in Gainesville. He's a University of Florida alum.
Junior Jake Bence, a freestyle swimmer, could be the top candidate among the Hornets to finally breakthrough in the state series.
"I think we're going to do really well," Sedgley said. "We've got a huge team. And we have a lot of strong, fast and dedicated kids. Each week that goes by, they're getting better and better."
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