By Steve Lee
LAND O’ LAKES — No fall sport unites high school athletes like Sunshine Athletic Conference swimming, which features boys and girls from 12 Pasco County schools at one pool.
Actually, two pools with swimming taking place at the New Tampa YMCA and diving at the New Port Richey Aquatics Complex.
A county-record was extended in the boys meet with Land O’ Lakes claiming a ninth consecutive SAC crown. In the girls meet, Land O’ Lakes made it a clean sweep by halting a two-year SAC championship run by Wiregrass Ranch.
That marked the second time in school history for a Land O’ Lakes sweep. The Gators also won SAC boys and girls titles in 2006.
Perhaps even more impressive is that both Land O’ Lakes squads won despite not being part of seven conference records set at this year’s SAC championships.
“We’re doing pretty good,” Land O’ Lakes coach Robin Hilgenberg said. “Once again, we don’t have that top-of-the-line swimmer, but our depth always carries us through.”
Land O’ Lakes coaches Barbara Hayes (boys) and Hilgenberg (girls) have coached numerous teams to conference and district championships. Both like where the boys and girls teams are headed.
“I think we have a chance to get a relay team to state this year,” Hilgenberg said.
Rounding out the top three boys teams at conference were Mitchell and Gulf, while the girls top three included runner-up Sunlake and Mitchell.
Zephyrhills placed fourth and Wiregrass Ranch sixth in both divisions. Part of the Bulls’ fall from first last year to sixth in the girls competition was the loss of Rebecca Pindral, who was out with a broken nose.
In diving, Zephyrhills’ Ken Betancourt-Reyes and Land O’ Lakes’ Meredith Diamond won SAC titles.
Betancourt-Reyes, who placed eighth in last year’s conference meet, ended a three-year stranglehold by 2009 Land O’ Lakes graduate Kody Kuhl. The Zephyrhills senior finished ahead of runner-up Austin Wachsman, of Sunlake.
The girls swimming competition featured a trio of dual-event winners. That group included Zephyrhills teammates Lindsay Gorgen (100-yard freestyle, 100 backstroke) and Nicolette Clark (200 free, 500 free), along with Land O’ Lakes’ Alex Pierovich (100 breaststroke, 200 individual medley).
“Club swimming’s been the key,” Hilgenberg said of Pierovich’s success. “She feels the water, so a lot of her strokes come naturally.”
Gorgen, a junior and the Bulldogs’ top swimmer, is aiming to qualify for state for the third time.
As for the boys, Mitchell freshman Devin McCaffrey was part of four SAC records. He swam the 100 butterfly and 100 breaststroke in record time, and joined teammates Gavin Hunt, Ian Ondrejka and Alex Wegener on two record-breaking relay foursomes (200 free, 200 medley).
The other record setters were Gulf’s Hunter Swartsel (50 free, 100 free) and Ridgeweood’s Joe Geschke (200 free, 500 free).
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