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Four Cougars, one team

Countryside's Stephanie Widmer, Ashley Messmore, Kim Iaquinto and Cindy Rosal put together outstanding individual performances to share a state title.

By JOHN SCHWARB, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published December 15, 2002

In an individual sport, it is an individual event in disguise. A swimming relay contains four swimmers, but each one is alone in the water.

Save cheering during a race, there is little one relay mate can do for another. There is not even a physical "tag" when one swimmer follows another. It is a race of four individual efforts.

But don't try telling Countryside's 200-yard medley foursome it is not a team. Not after this season.

By themselves, Stephanie Widmer, Ashley Messmore, Kim Iaquinto and Cindy Rosal were not among the best of Class 2A. Only Messmore advanced to championship finals in individual events.

Together, they were unbeatable.

At last month's state meet in Fort Lauderdale, the Cougars won the 200 medley relay title with a time of 1 minute, 52.07 seconds, tying Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas for first. It was a triumphant effort, the product of a season of work and optimism, the product of a team.

"We've all swam club together, we've known each other for a long time," Messmore said. "It is more of a team thing, you just want to give everything you've got to help them out."

The Times All-County Swimmers of the Year could not have pictured such an ending to the season when it began.

Countryside coach Diana Jones knew how some of the parts to her medley relay would fit, with Messmore taking the second-leg breaststroke, Iaquinto likely the butterfly, certainly ace anchor Cindy Rosal with the ending freestyle.

The backstroke remained a question mark until a freshman clocked under 31 seconds for the 50 yards. Welcome to the relay, Stephanie Widmer.

"I never imagined I'd have this opportunity," said Widmer, the shortest on the relay at 5-foot-2. "I was nervous, I'm not exactly a backstroker."

Her anxiety continued on the chilly Saturday November night at the Hall of Fame Aquatic Complex, as she knew in the championship final there would be seven other teams likely putting backstroke specialists in the water.

Yet Widmer went out in 29.35, a personal best and fourth among the relay teams. The race was on.

Messmore, a skilled breaststroker, followed, and like Widmer, swam a personal-best 30.57. Then Iaquinto did too, completing the fly leg in 27.36.

For all the top efforts, though, Rosal entered the water in third place. Another personal best was going to be mandatory to secure first.

With a blazing 24.81 (phenomenal for a distance freestyler), Rosal passed Satellite High and caught St. Thomas Aquinas at the wall for first.

Four incredible individual efforts had added up to a state title.

"It's definitely something you're going to remember," Messmore said.

"It's even better when you have four girls who all get along, who are all together."

Like a team.

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