- October 22, 2020
Ask the members of the Sarasota High boys swim team, and they'll tell you their lucky charm at the Florida High School Athletic Association Class 4A state meet was something smooth and shiny.
Sophomore Luca Simon's head.
The Sailors shaved Simon's hair away — with his permission — in a hotel room the night before the meet. Simon volunteered, in fact; the team needed someone to step up, he said, so he did. Did the boys tell any coaches or parents about the hairy situation? Of course not. An adult might have tried to dissuade the whole deal, and the Sailors couldn't have that.
Not with such an important meet dawning.
The Sailors were attempting to repeat as team state champions. Last year, though, the Sailors won the title in Class 3A. They were bumped to Class 4A this year, now competing against the biggest and best schools in the state. Sailors senior Cole Firlie said some people outside the program thought there was no way the team could win a title at the 4A level. Not without reason, either: the Sailors didn't have a single individual race winner in 2020, instead relying on the team's depth to carry the victory.
But the team believed, and they had Simon's shining head, and that gave them a chance. In the end, the Sailors did exactly what they did in 2020: They had no individual champions and won the whole thing anyway, besting Venice High 211-173. So, was Simon shaving his head worth it?
"Oh, absolutely," Simon said.
The Sailors might not have had any gold medalists, but their swimmers peppered the score sheet. Among other results, junior Evan Keogh finished third in the 200-yard individual medley (1:50.22) and sixth in the 100-yard backstroke (50.14); Firlie finished sixth in the 200-yard freestyle (1:40.25) and the 500-yard freestyle (4:31.47); junior Liam Heary finished fifth in the 100-yard breaststroke (57.39) and sixth in the 50-yard freestyle (21.09); and sophomore Casey Aten finished eighth in the 200 IM (1:52.64). The Sailors also finished second in the 200 free relay (1:25.32) and the 400 free relay (3:07.50) and fourth in the 200 medley relay (1:33.85), two big results as relays count for a lot.
The Sailors are the first team to win back-to-back state titles at different classification levels since the FHSAA went to a four-classification format in 2013.
"We don't have as many people on the team as other schools do," Firlie said. "They may have one or two good swimmers that dominate, but we've got the squad. We can all say that we had a meaningful impact. That connects us together. You love seeing your teammate step up and do well."
The Sailors were not the only local team making a splash at the Class 4A swimming championships. The Riverview High girls team also captured the team title, beating Winter Park High 275-256.5. It is the program's first team title since 2013.
The Rams finished second in the 200 medley relay (1:44.60), the 200 freestyle relay (1:35.89) and the 400 freestyle relay (3:24.81). Like the Sailors boys', the Rams girls' team score was helped by their relay performance. But unlike the Sailors, the Rams had individual winners. Sophomore Addison Sauickie won the 200 freestyle (1:47.78) and sophomore Gracie Weyant, the sister of Olympic silver medalist Emma Weyant, won the 200 individual medley (2:01.15) and the 100 breaststroke (1:01.61).
"I trusted my training," Gracie Weyant said. "I mean, there are no guarantees ever, but I feel like I can stand by the blocks and trust what I did to get there. Having a routine is the most important thing."
Weyant said she was hopeful about winning both of her individual races, but especially wanted the 200 IM since Emma Weyant won that event when she was in high school. Winning it this year was a footsteps-following moment for Gracie Weyant, who said she has learned numerous things from watching her sister swim over the years.
"I have never seen anyone work as hard as her (Emma Weyant), and I'm not saying that just because she's my sister," Gracie Weyant said. "But also watching her outside the pool, her recovering and her eating and her attitude toward the sport. She always knew what she was doing. She always knew the stroke count in she took down the pool in practice. She knew the kicks she did off the wall. She knew the times of every 50 (meters). The amount of care she put into the sport, the competitiveness, taught me a lot."
As much as the individual wins meant to Gracie Weyant, the team win meant even more. Weyant said everyone on the team did the most that they could to help earn the title, including a number of personal record times. Watching her teammates accomplish those things and sending the seniors out with a victory — something that was a goal at the beginning of the season — felt incredible, Weyant said.
To that end, the Rams' winners were not the team's only great individual performances. Rams senior Julia Brzozowski finished second in the 500 freestyle (4:50.89); senior Sarah Sensenbrenner finished fifth in both the 200 freestyle (1:51.37) and the 100 backstroke (57.07); freshman Lauren Milbaum finished fourth in the 500 freestyle (4:53.98); freshman Riley Leach finished fifth in the 100 breaststroke (1:04.48); and senior Bethany Rahn finished seventh in the 100 freestyle (51.90).