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By JOHN SCHWARB
© St. Petersburg Times, published December 6, 2000
Stephanie Margalis had everything laid out perfectly for her junior year.
Swimming was going to be a major part of her life. But no more important than being a student, roaming the halls at Clearwater High while being a part of everything from the yearbook staff to student government.
Winning a few races during the season would be a given, though not anything to get too wrapped up in. But then a funny thing happened.
Margalis kept winning, and winning, and winning some more at dual meets and invitationals. Then, the priorities changed.
"At first I was thinking more along the lines of school, but then I started getting more focused on swimming at the end, when we had to taper," Margalis said. "I was getting focused because I knew my competition and I really wanted to win."
At the end of the taper was a bounty for the 6-foot-1 torpedo -- district titles in the 200-yard and 500-yard freestyle, a third-place state finish in the 200 and, best of all, the Class 2A state championship in the 500.
"Yeah, it turned out better than I thought," Margalis said.
Indeed. In a county loaded with swimming talent, Margalis excelled in arguably the area's two deepest events. All season in the 200 and 500 she competed against East Lake senior Jessica Schrock, the 1999 Class 3A champion in both events, and won each head-to-head meeting prior to state.
In Orlando, Schrock won the 200, finishing in a swift 1:48.87 to best Margalis by 21/2 seconds, but Margalis prevailed in the 500 after a lightning-fast start.
"My start was so good that I just had to take it out, so I went for it and got really far ahead," Margalis said. "I was very worried at the end, I was expecting Jessica to come on really strong at the end and she did, but I guess I had a little heart left to pull through at the end."
That end was a time of 4:53.26, her best ever.
The title was the first for Margalis and the third overall for her family. Brother and local legend, Robert, won state titles in both the 100 butterfly and 100 breaststroke in 1998 -- without a taper.
For Stephanie, wins have never come quite so easily. But she has come around to seeing the benefits of hard work, and this year the hours in the pool -- and 5:15 a.m. practices with her St. Petersburg Aquatics club team -- made all the difference in terms of not only ability but also self-confidence.
"I saw an improved attitude, and that will help you perform better," Clearwater coach Dick Smith said. "(Stephanie) used to say, "I can't beat this girl; that girl can beat me,' and I tried to convince her that she was the best and could beat those certain girls.
"It was just a matter of gaining confidence."
That confidence is not likely to disappear, and unfortunately for the competition, neither will Margalis, who will return for her senior year as the swimmer to beat in the 200 and 500.
"In swimming, lots of kids will have their best years as a junior, I don't think that will be Stephanie," Smith said. "If she doesn't want to coast, she's got some exciting possibilities."