Things are looking up for Wharton, which has had many of its best develop at swim clubs in New Tampa.
By TERRY JONES
Published September 1, 2004
High school swimming is changing.
For the first time, swimming and diving will have a meet added between the district and state championships. In the past, top district swimmers qualified directly for the state meet.
Now, the winner plus swimmers with the 13 fastest times in each event qualify for a regional meet. In the region meets, swimmers winning each event plus the 12 next best times will earn berths at state.
Another change might be the evolution of talent in Hillsborough County. For decades in girls competition, the best teams have been led by swimmers produced by private clubs.
Those results initially turned up in Tampa and the traditional Plant success, then to Carrollwood and Town 'N' Country with Berkeley Prep, Academy of Holy Names, Chamberlain and Gaither; over to the Brandon area with great teams at Durant and Bloomingdale; and now to up-and-coming teams in New Tampa, including Wharton and Freedom.
Holy Names, Gaither, Plant, Berkeley Prep and Sickles will continue to produce the top girls teams, but Wharton is a dark horse.
The Wildcats return four top swimmers who helped them post a 4-3-1 dual record, a third-place finish in the district and 17th in the state.
"Our girls did well last year and many of the swimmers who helped us do well are back," Wharton coach Jackie Fletcher said. "Audrey Prior and Jessica White provide the senior captain leadership we need to improve this season. Justine Cox will be our junior captain.
"As much as we will count on our returning state qualifiers to help this season, the younger ones coming in will determine the depth of our success."
Senior co-captain and top backstroke specialist Prior leads the team in the pool. Last year, she placed seventh at the state meet in the 100-yard backstroke and the 200 medley and 200 freestyle relays.
Prior improved her skills in the summer with Team New Tampa at the YMCA.
Junior teammate Margie Chamberlain, another top Wharton competitor, also trained hard with TNT.
Other private swim clubs in and around north Tampa also will have younger swimmers joining the Wildcats.
Chamberlain, a freestyle and butterfly sprinter, placed third in the state last year in the 100 butterfly and fifth in the 200 freestyle.
Prior, Chamberlain and Cox, along with junior Macey Bronson, made up the successful 200 medley and freestyle relays quartet last year. The quartet is back intact with faster times and hopes to place in the top five in the state.
Fletcher says for her team to improve, it needs depth to back up the veteran swimmers. Each team is allowed to have 25 swimmers for any competition and depth in individual and relay events can add needed points.
Depth in all events has been a trademark of top programs such as Plant, Gaither, Academy, Berkeley and Jesuit.
"We have 35 swimmers on the team," Fletcher said. "They will earn a place in the top 25 by the times they swim in practice."