The Land O’ Lakes High varsity football team upending Sunlake High in the 12th annual Butter Bowl wasn’t the only long-running sports streak broken between the two rival schools.
The other came in girls swimming and diving — with Sunlake finally getting the upper hand against its crosstown foe.
The Seahawks girls defeated the Gators in a dual meet 108-78, on Sept. 19 at the Land O’ Lakes Recreation Complex Pool.
It marks the first time Sunlake has defeated Land O’ Lakes in a head-to-head competition.
Further, it’s just the third time that Land O’ Lakes has lost a dual meet since 2004.
The Gators entered the season with a 144-2 streak in this type of meet, according to longtime Gators head coach Robin Hilgenberg.
Sunlake head coach Lorin Macdonald said the momentous win — plus the sizable point margin — is “a big confidence builder” as the team enters its conference and state series meets later this month.
“We ended up beating (Land O’ Lakes) by a lot more points that I was anticipating,” she said, noting the scores are usually much closer between the two schools.
Sunlake’s rare victory against one of the state’s perennial swim programs is no fluke.
Last year, the Seahawks girls team were regional champions in the Class 3A-Region 3 meet.
They followed that performance with a fourth-place finish (out of 48 schools) at the Class 3A state finals, shattering numerous school records along the way.
This year’s squad, however, may be even better.
It’s certainly deeper and more experienced.
Just about every key contributor returns from last season.
That includes junior Chloe Grimme, who at last year’s state meet won the 50 free (23.11) and placed second in the 100 free (51.18), earning All-American honors.
She was also part of the 200 free relay and 200 medley relay that placed first and third at states, respectively.
Other Sunlake standouts include future Division I talents in seniors Elise Ballash (verbal commit to University of North Florida) and Hanna Barton (verbal commit to University of South Carolina), along with Tori Eurell, Audrey Ballash and Alex Sprague.
With a roster of 31 swimmers, the Seahawks also have added depth, buoyed by a formidable freshman class paced by Amber Ewald and Leah Fonnotto.
“We have a really, really strong team this year,” Macdonald said. “There’s a lot more drive, especially behind our girls who went to states last year. They have a lot of drive and they have a lot of hunger to do very well this year.”
Barton, a team captain, put it like this: “We definitely are stronger (this year). “I think we are closer because we won last year and so we were all like really proud of each other. I think it’s even more close-knit this year. We all definitely are a lot more motivated and realize what we’re capable of doing.”
Fellow team captain Elise Ballash added: “We are the strongest, most positive and close-knit that I think we’ve been in the past four years. I’m really looking forward to this season.”
Grimme’s presence felt
There’s no question what Grimme’s impact means to the team — as an individual state
champion and the 2017 Sunshine Athletic Conference East Swimmer of the Year.
Aside from her swimming ability, Grimme’s everyday drive has also set the tone for the team.
As a freshman, she earned the nickname, ‘Beast Mode.’
When Grimme hits the water, Macdonald said she’s “like a machine.”
“The amount of focus that she has is crazy,” Macdonald said. “She just goes for it. There’s no turning back when she’s got her mindset on it.”
Such presence and determination serves as a motivator for everyone else, teammates say.
“She’s a good teammate,” Ballash said. “She like amps up the training atmosphere and the standard of training that we have here, too.”
“We want to be able to contribute as much as Chloe does and do what Chloe can do,” said Barton, “so it definitely pushes all of us, and it also just gets us more excited for each other because we know that with her, we are capable of doing some pretty cool things.”
Grimme, surprisingly, didn’t begin swimming until middle school.
She had played just about every sport until deciding to give competitive swimming a shot.
Her initial feelings toward the water-based sport: “Well, let’s see how it goes.”
The star swimmer admitted she “didn’t really know how to do anything” when she first hopped into a pool.
She was immediately drawn to the 50 freestyle, because it was the shortest event.
Fair to say, it became a natural fit.
“The more I worked on it, the speed of my stroke (improved), so I really tapped into the 50,” she said.
This year, Grimme hopes to repeat as 50 free state champion and win a state title in the 100 free.
She’s also striving to break her own records.
“I’ve always wanted to be the best at what I do. I want to reach my full potential,” she said.
In the meantime, Sunlake’s coaching staff is focused on keeping the team grounded and supportive of one another in advance of the Sunshine Athletic Conference meet, on Oct. 13 at the New Port Richey Recreation and Aquatic Center.
It’s another event — like the dual meet — Sunlake hopes to capture from Land O’ Lakes, which has won every year since 2009.
“Even though we have such a strong team, I don’t want us banking on the fact that we have a strong team and going in overly confident,” Macdonald said. “If we go in overly confident then there’s that chance we take a misstep.”
Published October 3, 2018