When Ian Brann turned for home in the final leg of the boys’ 400-yard freestyle relay Friday night at the FHSAA Class 3A Swimming and Diving Championships, he barely had a body length lead. If he could keep that slim advantage, Venice High would win its first swimming state championship in school history.
The Indians’ boys scored 230 points to edge out Bartram Trail’s (St. Johns) 202 at the Sailfish Splashpark Aquatic Athletics Center in Stuart. Creekside (St. Johns) took the bronze in the team event with 195. Another local squad, Charlotte, finished in 8th place with 92 points.
Dylan Hacker carried his team’s banner high as he won gold in the 100-yard breaststroke. He edged out Andy Rogatinsky of South Broward by .04 seconds.
The Venice girls also had a strong meet as they finished fourth with 208 points. Creekside took the girls title with 241 while Bartram Trail (237) and Chiles (Tallahassee) were second and third respectively.
“I can barely think right now, I’m so proud of these guys,” said a jubilant Indians’ head coach Jana Minorini. “It’s a really hard day to swim in the morning and then come back and improve your times at night, and these kids did it. Wow. I’m so excited.
“I wasn’t really thinking whether or not we could do this at the beginning of the season, but a lot of the guys said they thought they could bring enough to state to compete for the title. They worked for it and made it come true,” she added.
The boys’ effort was led by Wesley Kephart, Arik Katz and the 400-yard freestyle relay team. All of them came home with individual-event gold medals. Kephart was tops in the 50-yard freestyle while Katz came home fastest in the 500 free. The relay team consisted of Chasen Dubs, Rene Strezenicky, Kephart and Brann.
Brann also picked up a bronze medal in the 100 back.
“I definitely knew I could win, I just had to put it all together,” said Kephart after stepping off the podium after the 50 free. “It’s such a fast race, one little mistake can cost you everything. But I had a really good swim.”
Less than a half hour after earning the gold, he was in the pool again swimming the 100 free. He earned 4th place in the longer event while Strezenicky was just behind him in 5th. Brann touched 6th in the 50.
Another individual highlight for the Indians’ boys was a second-place tie between juniors Katz and Strezenicky in the boys’ 200 free.
“I was pretty worried,” said Katz after his gold-medal swim in the 500 free. “After a tough 200 it’s pretty tough to get right back in the pool for the 500. I just relaxed and kept hydrated in between events, so I was as fresh as I could be for the 500.”
Indians’ senior Kristen Nutter, who was the defending state champion in the 100-yard backstroke, came up a little shy in her bid to repeat. But she had a strong meet nonetheless.
She opened her meet with a runner-up finish in the 100-yard butterfly. She later collected a bronze in the 100 back while teammate Sarah Sensenbrenner was 6th.
“It’s a little disappointing not being able to repeat in the back, but it was still a good meet and there are always more swims,” said Nutter who has committed to Vanderbilt and will soon be attending winter junior nationals in Cary, North Carolina. “It’s sad that it’s over now for Venice, but I have so much to look forward to now too.”
Nutter also helped Venice to a fourth place in the 200-individual medley relay with teammates Sensenbrenner, Sarah Koenig and Ashley Kephart. She swam the 400 free relay also.
Koenig, a freshman, finished in sixth place in the 200-yard individual medley.