These swimmers are off the deep end.
For competitive swimming, that is.
The Florida Elite Warriors swimming team, based out of the pool complex at Land O’ Lakes Recreation Center, has, for years, been producing some of the top swimmers in the area — with athletes being locally and nationally ranked.
It looks to continue doing just that, especially with Guerby Ruuska, the team’s second-year head coach.
“We always talk about quality over quantity,” Ruuska said. “There’s a place for kicking kids’ butts — but what they need to do here, and what we try to do, is really focus on technique. … We have a lot of kids who come from other clubs and say the same thing — they didn’t get the teaching techniques they get here, and we, and they, just want (the team) culture to be really fun and light.
“On deck, coaches won’t be screaming at kids, so our lessons work, because they’re on how to swim and how to be good people out of the pool.
“They don’t get that somewhere else.”
Ruuska, while a relatively young coach, brings a wealth of experience and expertise to the pool deck.
Originally from Haiti, he swam for Manchester University in Indiana and was even slated to swim for his home country in the Tokyo Olympic Games in 2020 before those were postponed by COVID.
“After that, I put my suit and goggles away and started coaching,” Ruuska said. “I mean, yeah, I still get in, but the kids are kicking my butt now.”
Ruuska also coaches at Sunlake High, which is a perfect transition for both him as a coach and the swimmers. Florida Elite works as a “feeder system” to local high schools, such as Sunlake, Land O’ Lakes, Wiregrass Ranch and Cypress Creek.
Florida Elite has been doing this for years, and its swimmers are very competitive for both the club and their schools.
“We’ve kind of become the aquatic hub for Pasco County, so we just want to provide something for all the kids in the area,” Ruuska said. “We also want to be the competitive place for the swimmers who want to take it to the next level.
“We just want to be a home for all the swimmers, wherever they come from and wherever they want to go,” he added. “Of course, we get all the locals and national-level kids. So, for us, when the swimmers are here, high school is seen as the cherry on top.
“It may be a big goal, but it’s not the end goal for this club.”
The Warriors compete in swimming events and competitions consistently — they also have a synchronized swimming team — but they also can start a new swimmer from the kiddie pool. The team doesn’t just take already polished swimmers — it develops the new, young talent as soon as they dive on in.
It’s why the athletes come to Florida Elite in the first place — for proven results.
“There’s not a team like this anywhere,” said Owen Kerrigan, an incoming freshman at Land O’ Lakes High that excels in the 50-meter freestyle. “The coaches are awesome, the swimmers are fabulous, and we work a lot on technique and don’t just jump in the pool and count strokes.
“I’ve been with other teams, and this one is just better. … The last place I was at, he was an Olympic swimmer, but he didn’t even really swim and wasn’t really paying attention to detail.
“Here, I’m dropping time and that’s huge.”
Warriors teammate Hisrusha Idippili-Pathiranage, who returned to the team three years ago and excels in the 50-meter butterfly, agrees.
“(My old) team wasn’t really fixing my technique,” she said. “They thought I was fine, but I came back here, and (Elite) fixed it, and I got better. I saw that as soon as I got back here. They knew exactly what I needed to do, what drills I needed, and I see improvement here.”
Idippili-Pathiranage added that swimming also helps her with other sports, which is a bonus, as she looks to expand her athletic portfolio.
“The more we work together, the more it pays off,” she said. “(Swimming here) gives me improvement, but it also helps me with other sports, because I’m probably going to do track. That’s a lot of running, so here swimming (at Elite) is going to help me with that, too.”
Florida Elite Swimming
Where: Land O’ Lakes Swimming Pool, 3032 Collier Parkway, in Land O’ Lakes
Details: Florida Elite Aquatics is an inclusive, fun and instructive aquatics program that teaches its members to love aquatic sports from lessons to national level competition, with both a swimming team and a synchro team. The club strives to show the value of hard work, dedication and determination in and out of the water by providing a safe, healthy and positive environment.
Published July 12, 2023