Strawberry Crest’s swimming and diving teams, both undefeated, will try to make states this weekend.
When the swimming and diving regular season ended Oct. 10, Celi Guzman felt she finally achieved one of her biggest goals.
“I’m not leaving Crest until we have an undefeated season,” Guzman had told her coaches.
Now, she said, she can “leave in peace.”
Strawberry Crest pulled off a double whammy this season, the first time in school history that both the boys and girls swimming teams finished undefeated. It was also the first time the girls team, now coached by Amanda Linton, was perfect and won Western Conference.
“It feels great,” Guzman, a University of Florida commit, said. “I feel like this year we had a lot more positivity on the team. Everyone was getting behind each other. Everyone was cheering each other on. It really influenced us, getting into our races and racing hard.”
Twelve Crest swimmers and divers, the highest total in program history, will head into the regional tournament today and tomorrow hoping to make the cut for next week’s state championships. Getting to this point took plenty of hard work, but the swimmers have been up for it.
“It’s a very high-level team and if you want to be able to swim, you have to work your butt off and make sure you’re the fastest,” senior Zane Richardson said. “If you’re not the fastest, you’ve got to make sure you keep working hard so that you can compete.”
The coaches and swimmers credit some new additions to the team with being the catalysts for improvement.
Linton, a second-year head coach who made her Strawberry Crest debut this season, said working with the girls was a great experience from the start.
“Seeing the camaraderie amongst these kids and how quickly they enveloped me … I had swimmers coming to my door and they’re like, ‘Hey, coach Linton,’” she said. “I was like, ‘Hi, I don’t know who you are,’ and they’re like, ‘We’re your swimmers.’ I hadn’t even worked with them yet.”
Linton credits boys head coach Paul Bonanno, who coached both teams in 2016, with bringing the girls up to their current level. Bonanno, who also oversees the school’s culinary program, said Linton’s smooth transition to Crest made his own coaching experience more productive.
“I remember after swim season last year, I was literally dead … now I feel like I’ve finally settled in,” Bonanno said. “It’s been great. It’s been a learning process for me and a growing process for all of us.”
The program also made a stronger commitment to diving in 2017. Though that part of the sport isn’t nearly as prevalent in Hillsborough County as swimming, Bonanno and Linton felt there were too many points being left on the table to not add some divers to the roster.
“There’s a lot of points attached to (diving), especially in regular meets,” Bonanno said. “When you do things like Western Conference and districts and you don’t have those dive points added, it’s almost impossible to be a contender.”
Senior Ryan Karczewski, a four-year swimmer, learned to dive in the offseason and nearly made the cut for regionals. Adrienne Flott, a freshman, has qualified for regionals and is set to compete at 2 p.m. today.
“We have our strong foundation with swim,” Bonanno said. “Now we want to get the ‘and diving’ portion of it and really be a district and regional contender.”
Expectations for the Chargers are high, especially in the individual events, but those involved with the program are confident these swimmers have what it takes to make the next cut.
“We don’t have to really push them,” Linton said. “They’re all super motivated and have the desire to be the champions that they are.”