LAKEWOOD RANCH — Some teams measure their success in terms of wins and losses.
Others define their seasons by district, regional and state championships.
But for The Out-of-Door Academy swim team, success isn’t measured by how many laps they swim or events they win. With only 25 swimmers on their roster, the Thunder continually find themselves struggling to fill all of the events, making it difficult to compete at larger meets.
So rather than focusing on how it fairs in competition, ODA simply gauges its overall success on individual improvement. As a result, last year coach Carolyn Keber and assistant coach Paula Kozak set individualized goals for every member of the team with the idea that they would see marked improvement by the end of the season.
“We were both brand new coaches last year, so we set benchmarks, and 100% of the kids improved,” Keber said. “Last year, we focused on personal bests in the pool. This year, again I want to see improved times. In swimming, all you can ask for are best times.”
A season ago, ODA advanced four swimmers to the regional meet for the first time in school history. Anika Pack, Violette Levy, Cayman Bone and Kendall Sompolski competed in the 200-meter freestyle and individual medley relays while Bone also advanced individually in the 100 backstroke and the 100 breaststroke.
“Last year, we actually did really well,” Pack said. “We had a lot of individual wins at some of the smaller meets and at districts we had a significant number go on to the finals. This year, we should be even better than last year because we have some new people this year that have some talent.”
Leading the way for ODA this season will be senior captains Pack, Levy, Bone and Alex Averle and junior Chris Mullan. The Thunder will open their 2009 season at the Lemon Bay Tri Meet at 3:30 p.m., Sept. 10.
“I’m really excited about the season,” Keber said. “We have a large great group of kids and I feel confident that we’ll get even more swimmers to move on to regionals.”
After sending three swimmers to the state meet last season, the Lakewood Ranch swim team entered this season with high expectations.
The Mustangs got off to a solid start Sept. 2 in their first meet of the season. The girls team, led by junior Ashley Reid, sophomore Rebekah Baker and freshman Danielle Valley, won nine events, defeating Port Charlotte 195-91.
Baker and Valley both won four events for the Lady Mustangs, including the 200 medley relay and the 200 freestyle relay. Baker also won the 100 butterfly and the 100 backstroke while Valley was victorious in the 200IM and the 500 freestyle.
“The girls team killed it,” first-year head coach Maureen Reid said. “We have a really good team this year.”
Across the pool, the boys 400 freestyle relay team of Alec Bacon, Cody Soler, Lucas Sanchez and Ryan Stasiowski held off the Pirates to defeat Port Charlotte 123-112.
Senior John Silvers led the way for the Mustangs, finishing first in the 200 freestyle, 500 freestyle and 200 freestyle relay. Jimmy Cascone won the 100 butterfly and the 200 freestyle relay and Stasiowski was also victorious in the 200IM.
A season ago, the Lady Mustangs won all five of their individual meets while the Mustangs won three of their five meets. Lakewood also won the Manatee County Championship.
“Last year, we did exceptionally well because we had a lot of upcoming freshman and sophomores from the (Sarasota) Sharks, and they definitely helped us out,” senior Lauren Branning said. “We did very well at all the meets.”
This year, Lakewood will face an entirely new district after moving down from Class 3A to Class 2A. Eleven schools will join the Mustangs in District 9, including Braden River, Booker, Southeast and Tarpon Springs.
Although Lakewood has yet to face many of the schools in their district, coach Reid is optimistic about the team’s chances this season.
“I don’t see any reason why we can’t send a boys and a girls team through to states this year,” Maureen Reid said. “Anything they want to do they can do.”
Lakewood will return to action at 10:30 a.m., Sept. 19 at the Tarpon Invitational at South County Regional Park in Palm Beach.
The Braden River High swim team is set to open its season Sept. 14 against Manatee and Bayshore, but the Pirates have yet to hold their first official practice.
But it’s not for lack of a coach or a group of swimmers eager to hit the pool. Instead, it’s the lack of a practice facility that is keeping Braden River out of the water. Last year, the team trained at the South Branch YMCA, but last month former head coach Christie Gionfriddo learned the facility didn’t have enough staff available to lease the space.
Since then, Gionfriddo has called a number of facilities across Manatee and Sarasota counties, including the Lakewood Ranch YMCA, G.T. Bray, River Wilderness and the Lakewood Ranch Athletic Center, among others.
Gionfriddo still was waiting to hear back from Harrison Ranch and River Wilderness, but as of last week, the team was still without a place to train. If the Pirates don’t find a place, then they’ll more than likely be forced to drop the program this season.
“We’ve been working very hard to secure a place for our swimmers to train,” Gionfriddo said. “Unfortunately, many pools don’t have room to accommodate us, or they aren’t willing to allow us to utilize their facilities. It saddens me to watch our program that we’ve worked hard to build come crumbling down, due solely to facility issues.
“We have several students who want to be a part of the team, many with great talent, and it’s heartbreaking to have to tell them we may not have a season,” she added. “However, we’re still holding onto hope, and we’re not giving up!”
Contact Jen Blanco at [email protected].