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FORT LAUDERDALE - Central junior Rae-Lynn Sheffield and Lecanto junior Taylor Cooke led the North Suncoast contingent Saturday as the only swimmers from Citrus, Hernando and Pasco counties to advance to the state finals.
Sheffield, a three-time state qualifier, swam slower than expected, but still finished tied for seventh with Seminole's Alexandra Smith in the 100 breaststroke 1 minute, 11.26 seconds.
"The meet didn't go how I planned," said Sheffield, who has finished fifth in various state events the past two years. "I added time in both of my swims."
Sheffield said it was more difficult to train with a two-week gap between the region and state competition. Hurricane Wilma caused the championship meet to be delayed.
Traditionally swimmers "taper" by decreasing their swim workouts to prepare for important competitions. With the time gap, Sheffield said she had to increase her workout load after tapering for regionals, then re-taper again, which hurt her.
"It was kind of like going in blindfolded," said Sheffield, who failed to advance to the finals in the 200-yard individual medley. "I didn't really know what would happen."
After not competing at state last year, Cooke was thrilled with her eighth-place finish in the 200-yard freestyle (1:57.50) and said she was just glad to be in the finals. Cooke, a two-time state qualifier, had to choose last year between participating in the swimming or cross country regionals, which were held on the same day. She chose cross country and consequently did not have an opportunity to swim at state. She competed in both state events this year, but failed to advance in the 500 free on Saturday.
"We knew she worked her little butt off," Lecanto coach Kelli Abrams joked.
Other North Suncoasters didn't fare as well, failing to qualify in the top eight during Friday's preliminaries. Springstead's Dan Barry finished 14th in the 200-yard individual medley (2:05.35). No one from Pasco County advanced to Saturday's finals. Land O'Lakes junior Tim Olson, a three-time state qualifier, finished 10th in 100 backstroke (57.18) and 100 butterfly (54.79). Land O'Lakes senior diver Dennis Diaz finished 10th with a 233.05 score on Friday. River Ridge's 400 free relay team of Dimitri Arnaoutis, Mike Donato, John Van Hall and Matt Sutton finished 13th in the preliminaries in 3:29.58. Arnaoutis finished 16th in the 100-yard free.