In the end, Gulf just didn't have enough boys.While Land O' Lakes entered 20 boys in Friday's Sunshine Athletic Conference swim meet and Sunlake had 26, the Buccaneers came in with only 10. But Gulf made the most of what it had.
Leading Land O' Lakes by 23 points heading into the last three events, the Bucs didn't have any swimmers entered in the 100 backstroke or the 100 breaststroke, and by the time the 400 freestyle relay came around, Gulf had fallen behind the Gators 284.5-239.5.
And with the Sunlake 400 free relay of Nick Keach, Devin Anderson, Kyle Shaffer and Austin VanVliet setting a conference record with a time of 3:27.72, the Seahawks moved ahead of Gulf for second place.
"We could not have swum any better," Gulf coach Casey Claflin said. "They came in with a great attitude and swam their hearts out. They came to win. We've talked all year that, even with 10 boys, we had chance to win conference."
Land O' Lakes finished with 314.5 points, despite losing valuable points when its 200 freestyle relay was disqualified for an early take-off. It's the eighth SAC team title for the Gators since Barbara Hayes became coach in 2000.
"Coming into this meet, I felt there were five teams that could win," Hayes said. "I thought it was going to come down to diving."
The Gators earned 17 points from diving, while Sunlake scored 29 and Gulf has no divers.
"We had some great swims," Hayes said. "Today was an amazing team effort."
Individually, Hunter Swartsel of Gulf (50 free, 100 free), Devin McCaffrey of Mitchell (200 individual medley, 100 butterfly) and Joe Geschke of Ridgewood (200 free, 100 back) were double winners. The only other conference record was set by the Mitchell's boys 200 medley relay of Gavin Hunt, Ian Ondrejka, McCaffrey and Anthony Chang.
In the girls meet, Land O' Lakes only had one individual winner - Kristin Demsher in the 500 free - but scored 32 points in diving to outdistance Sunlake 421-372. Wiregrass Ranch, which has no divers, was third with 281.
"We overcame obstacles and we won," Gators girls coach Robin Hilgenberg said. "We had a relay disqualified (200 free relay) but our breaststrokers really turned it on."
Last week, Hilgenberg learned junior Alexandra Pierovich is out for the season with a stress fracture in her back. Pierovich was The Pasco Tribune's Girls Swimmer of the Year last season. She probably would have been entered in the breaststroke. But without her, the Gators scored 58 points in the event. Haley Long finished second, Elise Herbert was third, Savannah Oliver was fifth and Daniela Monteiro was eighth.
There were no girls conference records broken and Mitchell's Mazie Siddens (200 I.M., 100 fly) was the only girls double winner.