With visions of podium trips (top three) and top-eight finishes across the board, Niceville coach Kathy Ritacco has set the bar high for her Eagles headed into Today’s 2A FHSAA Swimming and Diving Finals.
And Ritacco, who brings seven swimmers spread across eight events to Orlando, doesn’t set unattainable goals.
“Out goals at state are to hopefully for everyone to finish top eight,” said Ritacco, who pointed out that this is the most swimmers she’s ever taken to state, including last year when she took four girls. “To have some of our swimmers on the podium would be great, too, but if not we’re just hoping for all of them to improve their times.”
Based on qualifying times, the Eagles are certainly capable of making some noise on the sport’s biggest stage. The lofty expectations start with junior Caitlyn Myers, who shined in the 50- and 100-yard freestyle events last week in the Region 1-2A tournament.
Qualifying her third in the 100 freestyle, Myers’ time of 52.33 seconds is just 1.23 seconds off the pace of the top qualifier, Gulf Breeze’s Victoria Bindi. Bindi was also the top finisher in the 50 freestyle and .76 seconds ahead of a fifth-place Myers, who is only .21 seconds off the pace of third.
“With Myers, I know she’d love to be the top finisher,” Ritacco said. “But top three would be great, too. It just depends on who feels the best that day.”
Myers is also apart of the 200 freestyle relay team, a record-breaking crew that includes Milbrey Parke, Kalanne Krause and Jessica Tibaduiza.
With a 1:41.40 finish at regionals, the quartet not only qualified in third place – 1.45 seconds behind first – but broke a county record that had stood for more than 10 years. And Ritacco believes they can build on the momentum.
“If the relay team has its best swim of the season, they can finish at least top three,” she said.
Like Myers, Krause and Parke will also get their moments to shine in individual events.
Krause, a freshman who qualified in 11th in the 200 individual medley, is just .31 seconds off the pace of eighth but 4.48 seconds off the pace of third. Meanwhile, Parke, a junior who qualified in 13th in the 100 butterfly in 59.63, is .81 seconds off the pace of eighth and 1.67 seconds behind third.
On the boys’ side, Niceville has three swimmers making the trek – Matt Markwardt’s 1:01.98 finish in the 100 breaststroke qualified him 14th; Chaz Brechler’s 1:48.15 in the 200 freestyle qualified him 21st; and Wyatt Kartvedt’s 1:03.34 in the 100 breaststroke qualified him 23rd.
In preparation for state, Ritacco noted that she has decreased the volume of practice time to have her swimmers well rested for today.
While they may not have anyone contending for a spot on the podium based on qualifying times, Choctaw will nonetheless be well represented at state.
Leading the charge for the Indians, who are taking five swimmers spread across five events, is Emma Strom.
The sophomore qualified 12th in the 500 freestyle in 5:10.05 and 13th in the 100 backstroke in 59.99. She’s also a part of the 200 medley relay team, which includes Amelia Strom, Jaide Lewis and Rachel Hidalgo and qualified in 14th with a 1:55.59 finish.
Amelia Strom, a junior, will take her talents to the 200 individual medley, which she qualified in 20th with a 2:16.36 showing.
Justin Lewis, the lone male representative for the boys, qualified in 17th in the 200 freestyle with a 1:47.66 finish.
Fort Walton Beach
The only Viking to make the trip to state, Levi Wilke qualified in 23rd in the 500 freestyle with a 4:55.27 finish.
The only diver in the area to make it to state, Andrew Berteau was the last diver to qualify at regionals with a 1-meter diving score of 306.15.