Gateway, OHS win in thrillers
News-Gazette Photo/Andrew Sullivan
St. Cloud’s Ava Piana leads Osceola’s Valeria Torres-Perez (top) and the Lady Kowboys’ Fabiola Torres-Perez (bottom) during the second heat of the 100 butterfly during the Orange Belt Conference meet Tuesday at the Makinson Aquatic Center. Piana won two events at the OBC meet, and Osceola edged Harmony to win the girls team championship for the third time in four years. Gateway’s boys won their first conference crown.
Boys, girls meets come down to the final event
By Rick Pedone
In the most exciting Orange Belt Conference swimming meet in history, Gateway’s boys nipped defending champion Harmony by two points, and the Osceola girls edged the Lady Longhorns by three points at the Makinson Aquatic Center Tuesday.
Both results weren’t decided until the meet’s final race, the 400 meters relay.
Gateway and Harmony swam to a dead heat in a thrilling boys 400 relay that saw the four swimmers from each team no more than a body length apart throughout the race. Fittingly, for such a hotly-contested race, the Panthers’ anchor, Walker Brooks, and Harmony’s Luke Roberts touched at exactly the same time (3:26.60).
“No, I’ve never had that happen,” Brooks, a sophomore who won four events Tuesday, said. “I just knew I had to go as fast as I could. That’s what I told all the guys before the race, that we had to go as hard as we could. I wasn’t sure who won. First I heard Harmony cheer, so I thought they won; then I heard Gateway cheer, so then I wasn’t sure what happened.”
The girl’s meet was just as close as Osceola reclaimed the OBC title it won in 2010 and 2011 thanks in part to great swims from St. Cloud’s 400 relay team, which set a school record (3:59.90) in winning the event. Harmony, the defending champ, was second, (4:01.23) and Osceola (4:01.87) was third, just good enough for the championship, Coach Krystle Singleton said.
“I didn’t know all day what the score was; I didn’t want to look. I knew it was close,” she said. “I knew if Harmony won, we had to finish second to win it. We were third, but St. Cloud had a phenomenal swim in the relay to win, and that was good enough for us to do it. We won in the middle; lots of fourths and fifths and sixths. That’s the way we always have to do it. It was a total team effort.”
It was the first time Gateway’s boys (168) won the OBC championship, snapping Harmony’s (166) unprecedented seven-year reign. Osceola (84), St. Cloud (76), Celebration (29) and Liberty (12), competing for the first time, completed the boys standings.
In the girl’s meet, after Osceola (147) and Harmony (144) came St. Cloud (132), Gateway (49), Celebration (47) and Liberty (12).
Gateway Coach Vonnie Kochensparger said her boys’ first conference championship came 10 years after the girls won, in 2003.
“This group has been amazing all year. I can’t count how many PRs these kids have had. They just work and work, and they’re a pleasure to be with,” Kochensparger said. “As we got into the season, I could see that we were getting better and better; we were ahead of where I thought we’d be, so I knew then we had a chance.”
Harmony Coach Terry Brown, though disappointed to see the boys and girls teams nipped for the championships, nonetheless said that he couldn’t have asked for more from any of Harmony’s swimmers.
“It’s unbelievable how much time we dropped today. We shaved 10 or 12 seconds off our relay times,” Brown said. “The kids have been working hard. They knew how close it was going to be, that they were going to be underdogs, so they came in and went as fast as they could. Give all the credit to the kids at Gateway, those kids swam great today and they had great times. And, it was the same with the girls, it was an exciting meet and there were a lot of kids who swam great. Good for them.”
Gateway’s Brooks joined teammates Nick Moran, Nico Olarte and Josh Longfield on the 400 meters team. Harmony’s Roberts was joined by Daniel Schlumbohm, Austin Kennedy and Sam Steele.
Brooks, Longfield, Olarte and Nathan Colonna won the 200 relay (1:47.2) for the Panthers.
Brooks won the 100 free (48.2) and the 100 breast (1:03.75) for Gateway, and Longfield, the other major player for the Panthers, won the 200 IM (2:10.85) and 100 back (58.77).
Kochensparger said her young divers played key roles by picking up fourth (Donovan Evans, 196.95) and fifth place (Brandon Joseph, 189.0) for the Panthers.
“We wouldn’t have won it without that,” she said. “They were fantastic.”
Kochensparger said it is especially rewarding to win the championship against the Longhorns, who have been the gold standard in county swimming for much of the past decade.
“You want to beat them when they are at their best, and they swam some tremendous times. Sam Steele had an amazing meet. Harmony is a very, very good team, and it is going to be interesting going forward to see how the teams from this county do at the district and regional levels,” Kochensparger said. “I think this is a very strong year for all of the teams in our county in swimming.”
Harmony won the 200 free relay (1:36.56) with Aaron Gokee, Josh Saute, Schlumbohm and Roberts.
Roberts won the 50 free (22.61) and Steele (56.78) took the 100 butterfly.
Osceola’s Josh Cancel had an exceptional meet, winning the 200 free (1:53.51) and 500 free (5:11.89). The Kowboys’ Josue Herrera repeated as the diving champion with a score of (292.15).
“Josh had great swims all day, and Josue was so good, like he always is. I can’t believe my boys were third,” Singleton said. “When you look at the teams they are swimming against, it looks like men against boys, and that’s what it is. We are so young. I have two swimmers who swim year round.”
Osceola’s girls were led by Kendall Castillow, who won the 100 breast (1:16.30), and Allison Lear (1:10.56), who took the 100 backstroke. They joined sisters Fabiola Torres-Perez and Valeria Torres-Perez to win the 200 medley relay (2:04.77).
Jordan Parrish (285.05) won her third conference diving championship for the Lady Kowboys.
“It’s great for the team to win it again, like we did when I was a sophomore and a freshman. It’s the way you want to go out as a senior, with the championship,” she said.
Singleton said, “What happened this season is that we have the hardest-working group of seniors we’ve ever had here, and the freshmen came in and picked that up from them, and that is how we did this. They don’t mind, some of them, coming in for nine practices a week. That is how hard they want to work.”
Former Swimmer of the Year Katy Davis won the 200 free (2:05.37) and 500 free (5:40.65) for the Lady Longhorns, and she was on the 200 free relay champion (1:49.66) with teammates Stephanie Leach, Kylie Joachim and Emily Walker.
Walker (1:00.61) won the 100 free.
St. Cloud’s girls won the 400 free relay with Marrisa Leaton, Sophia Leaton, Ava Piana and Lauren Merrell.
Piana also won the 200 IM (2:25.21) and 100 fly (1:05.93), and Marrisa Leaton set the school record (26.5) in the 50 free.
Coaches Trish Abell and Kari Ewalt said it was an exceptional performance for the Lady Bulldogs.
“The 400 relay set a new school record. Devin Willoughby set a personal record (205 points) and was third in diving, and Lexi Waechter (231.15) was second in diving and she’s only a freshman. It is a very talented and very hard working group of kids with a great attitude,” Abell said.
Singleton said it will be difficult for her team to repeat as the conference champion next year because St. Cloud.
“They have a group of really good freshmen who have come in and picked up that program. They are going to be so good,” Singleton said.
The teams will compete at the district tournaments in early November.
“I’ve already told our boys that they have to be at least runner-up at district. That’s what the girls did when they won conference in 2003,” Kochensparger said.
“We have Dr. Phillips in our district (4A-2), and they are a very talented team, probably one of the best in the state, but they are very good to swim against. It’s always fun.”
Osceola and St. Cloud also will be at the 4A-2 meet on Nov. 1 at the Orlando YMCA Aquatic Center.
Harmony, Celebration and Liberty go to the North County Aquatic Center at Sebastian Nov. 2 for the 3A-5 district meet.