The Hurricanes have fended off all challenges and stayed atop the county this season.
By CHRIS GIRANDOLA
Published November 2, 2005
The gap was supposed to get closer this year.
Though Class 3A, District 5 lost one of its strongest programs in Seminole, Palm Harbor U. faced stiff competition from St. Petersburg, which returned seasoned veterans in Kevin Nardozzi, Andy Stoddard and Brent Sunnucks. The Green Devils also had more depth than the Hurricanes (33 swimmers to 32).
In addition, the Hurricanes lost three of their best swimmers to graduation - Peter Wellings, Graham Sheldon and Nick Brown.
But, PHU breezed through the season undefeated, then dominated in both the Pinellas County Athletic Championships and the district meet.
The Hurricanes took the PCAC over the Green Devils, 484-262. They placed 12 swimmers in the finals, far more than last year's PCAC (seven). PHU won the 200 medley and 400 freestyle relays and finished second in the 200 free relay. There were at least two Hurricanes in each final with three in 50 free, 100 free, and the 200 individual medley.
The Hurricanes were led by Aaron Haas, who was first in the 50 free and fifth in the 100 free. Eight teammates swam in two finals each: Graham Steele (200 and 500 free), Aaron Brecher (200 and 500 free), Andrew Mertens (200 IM, 100 breaststroke), Chris Mertens (200 IM, 100 free), Ramon Banacki (50 free, 100 butterfly), Jasim Alidina (50 and 100 free), Alex Glover (200 IM, 100 fly), and Levi Curnutte (100 free, 100 backstroke). John Allbritton (100 breast) and Tyler Reed (100 back) also made the finals.
In the districts, it was more of the same as Hurricanes again easily outpaced the Devils by 236 points. Curnutte led, winning the 100 free and helping two Hurricanes relay teams wins their events. The Hurricanes also swept the top four in the 100 breast and relied on its depth, placing swimmers in each final.
"We just kind of did the same old thing," said coach Lisa Bitting, who has coached PHU to a boys or girls district title (or both) in each of the past seven years. "With our depth and everyone getting the job done, I couldn't be happier."
The only thing that has slowed the Hurricanes is waiting for their region meet in Sarasota, which were supposed to have been this past weekend.
"Not only has it been difficult as far as physical preparation goes, but also the mental preparation," Bitting said. "The swimmers get so mentally ready it's tough for them to gear up again."
While PHU's girls weren't as dominant as the boys this year, depth made a difference. In the PCAC, the 'Canes beat Seminole by 44 points; then in the district, PHU slid by East Lake, 453-424.
Candace Thornburg led the Hurricanes, breaking a record in the 100 fly at the PCAC meet and winning at districts. Five PHU swimmers made at least two PCAC finals: Thornburg (200 free, 100 fly), Myah Farrington (200 and 500 free), Kariann Stevens (200 IM, 100 free), Jill McSpadden (200 IM, 100 fly), and Colleen Bauza (50 free, 100 back).