By Jeff Odom
To say the Land O’ Lakes boys and girls swim teams have had their share of wins during the last few seasons is an understatement.
The program swept the Class 2A-District 5 championships last season. The boys also extended their streak of perfect regular seasons to 12, while the girls went undefeated in dual meets for the ninth time during that same stretch.
The Gators have dominated Pasco County rivals and are showing no signs of giving up their No. 1 spot.
“It becomes contagious, because once you establish your program, then people want to be a part of it, and we have tried very hard as coaches to preach team,” said 11-year Land O’ Lakes girls coach Robin Hilgenberg.
The Gators enter this season as favorites to win 2A-5 and Sunshine Athletic Conference (SAC) crowns.
The girls have won three straight district titles, while the boys are aiming for their eighth championship in nine years.
That comes as no surprise to Robin’s son, Cam, who was the top boys swimmer last season and qualified for the 50-yard freestyle at the 2A state meet.
“It was a great experience (going to states),” said Cam, a junior. “This year, I expect (the team) to go undefeated again, just like we have for the past 12 years.”
Barbara Hayes, who has coached the boys squad for 13 years, said she has seen an increase in talent across Pasco.
“The gap has definitely closed,” Hayes said. “One of the greatest joys I’ve experienced through the years is watching the level of competitive swimming strengthen and become more widespread throughout the county. It’s exciting to see other programs grow through the hard work and dedication of so many committed coaches. Of course, it adds to our butterflies as individual contests often come down to the last few races and championship meets are always up for grabs, but there is nothing better than being involved in healthy, competitive sport.”
Sophomore Jordan Wheeler, who won the 500 freestyle district title last season, said they have the athletes to remain at the top despite increased competition.
“I think, for the most part, during dual meets it’s kind of like getting ready for the state series,” Wheeler said. “You kind of have to just think about what you’re going to do, and it’s always like looking forward to who’s next.”
Robin said one of the Gators biggest advantages is their depth.
“Especially this year, our middle of the road swimmers have stepped it up,” Robin said. “I mean, they are very, very competitive. They want to go to regionals. I think that’s where we win. … What I’m finding is not only the determination from our kids, but they know that to be a good high school swimmer you’ve got to do your homework in the summer.”
On the girls side, Krystin Demsher is aiming to better her sixth place performance at states a year ago. The junior competed in the 100 butterfly, but said she wants to add more events if possible.
“I think (making states) has really pushed me, especially in practice,” Demsher said. “It was stressful, to be honest, but it was a really good experience, especially getting a medal. It gave me a lot of self-confidence. I want to go back this year and get at least in the top four, and I’m hoping we get a relay to states this year. We were really close last year.”
Robin agrees, adding that both squads have the talent to win on every level.
The Gators will put their perfect record on the line against district rival Sunlake Sept. 19. The meet starts at 6 p.m.