Swimming team seeking playoffs with new leaders
By Kyle LoJacono
Neither Leah Zachewicz nor Tanner Schmitz had ever coached high school swimming before this season, but the two have combined their experiences to prepare the Wiregrass Ranch High squads like never before.
Zachewicz, girls coach, swam in high school and college and spent some time as a professional ballet dancer. Schmitz, boys coach, played high school football and was a coach as well.
“It’s been great coaching the team,” said Zachewicz, who teaches English and Advanced Placement literature. “Schmitz and I have very different styles of coaching and we use that to make the best practices for the swimmers. I have the experience with swimming and he as the experience coaching, so we use those things together.”
Those practices include about 40 minute of dry-land training to work on the student-athletes’ core, legs and arms.
“The workouts are really tough and really make our abs tired every time,” said senior and team captain Toni Tomei. “We’ve never really done land training before, but it really helps us get faster. We also do yoga to work on our breathing and it helps us stay calm and focused.”
While the two coaches are working together to lead the boys and girls teams, their styles are very different.
“They are complete opposites,” Tomei said. “Coach Zachewicz is very calm all the time and Schmitz is very demanding of us, but in an encouraging way. They work well to get the best out of us.”
Senior and team captain Makayla Strickland said of have having dual coaches, “They’ve been great. Actually a lot better than what we’ve had in the past. Now we have two coaches to go to if we need something.”
Schmitz said he knew how to make the teams stronger, the trick was learning how to relate workouts to swimmers.
“In football the best way to motivate people is with competition, which is one of the reasons we embrace the idea of training together as one team,” said Schmitz, who teaches history at Wiregrass Ranch. “There isn’t a gender gap here. The girls beat the boys and the boys beat the girls at times in practice. It helps motivate them, but it also brings them closer together.”
That togetherness seems to be materializing.
“We had some drama on the team in past years, but we don’t have drama anymore,” Tomei said. “We have really good friendships among the seniors, but we also let the freshmen in. Basically we all love being around each other.”
Both teams return most of their top swimmers from last year and have nine seniors apiece. The boys have seven freshmen while
the girls have five.
“The seniors have kind of decided to do as much to help the freshmen as we can,” said senior and team captain Zac Serota. “This is our last year and we want to go out on top, but we also want to help the freshmen so the team stays strong when we leave.”
Both the boys and girls teams have started the season 3-2. While they are around .500, the start is more impressive because the Bulls do not have a storied tradition in swimming. The girls last won a district championship two years ago and the boys are still seeking their first.
“Things are a lot more organized then in the past and our goal is clear,” Serota said. “The goal is to make regionals. Our relay team did last year, but we all want to get there together this year.”
That relay team includes Matt Menedez, Brandan Hubert Leroche, Michael Hernandez and Serota.
“When people talk about swimming in Pasco County it’s usually about Land O’ Lakes, Mitchell or Sunlake,” Schmitz said. “We’re working to get into that discussion. I’m seeing the swimmers really receptive to the hard workouts we’re putting them through and they’re seeing the benefit in the pool. Hopefully this season can be the start of great things for us.”