They rule the pool

Gainesville Sun swimming honors go to Eastside's Cory Smith, from left, Buchholz's Zeina Shanata, and Gainesville's Julie Carusone.

DAVID MASSEY/The Gainesville Sun
Published: Sunday, January 2, 2005 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, January 2, 2005 at 12:58 a.m.


Coach of the Year

  • ROB RAMIREZ, GAINESVILLE HIGH Rob Ramirez coached the Hurricanes to city and district titles, as well as a second-place finish at state for the girls. But the longtime area coach is the first to divert the credit to the athletes for their year-round dedication, and to the local club coaches, who are promoting competitive swimming to kids from a younger age.
    "The coaches are breeding a nucleus of age-group swimmers, which feeds the local high schools and eventually the college ranks," he said. "It's been nice to see this develop over the past 18 years."
    Ramirez is also grateful for the opportunity to have a standout team like Buchholz right down the road because the Bobcats, who swim in the larger Class 3A, push the Hurricanes to keep up or get blown out of the water at the annual city championship.
    "Our whole goal is to be competitive and earn a little respect in the city, which would carry over across the board and help us down the line," he said. "I was thrilled with both the boys and girls teams this year. We had a few people step up and swim really well, while the talented newcomers brought it together for a great team effort."
    With the club-level programs continuing to turn out seasoned and experienced young talent, Ramirez can expect more success from his team in the future, as well as a rise in the local competition level as the talent spreads out.
    "Our goals next year will be the same as always," Ramirez said. "We want to win city, win district and finish in the top three at state."

  • A slew of hurricanes may have shortened the high school swimming season, but the 2004 Gainesville Sun swimmers of the year did not let the weather dampen their spirits or their championship efforts.
    Buchholz's Zeina Shanata, Gainesville's Julie Carusone and Eastside's Cory Smith were already at their best, thanks to year-round training, and each enjoyed the team aspect and camaraderie that define the high school swimming experience.
    Shanata swam her way back to the winner's circle, claiming the second individual state title of her career, while Carusone helped lead the Hurricanes to state glory with a win in the 400-yard freestyle relay. Smith had a solid season as well, picking up wins at the city, district and regional meets, before being slowed by illness at the state event.
    Because of hurricane damage in Sebastian, the original site for the state meet, the championship event landed right here in Gainesville, but the area's elite remained unfazed by the pressures of swimming in front of a hometown crowd.
    Even the addition of a regional meet for the first time since 1976 didn't affect the trio, who battled through three straight weeks of postseason competition and finished among the best in the state.
    Each swimmer exemplified the role of the student-athlete, succeeding in the classroom and in the pool, while stepping up to lead their teams emotionally and in the water.
    Here's a look at each:
  • ZEINA SHANATA, BUCHHOLZ Though she's just a junior, Zeina Shanata is loaded with experience and expanded her responsibilities this year to include team captain.
    As a freshman, Shanata earned an individual state title in the 100-yard freestyle event, and contributed to wins in the 200 and 400-yard freestyle relays, catapulting the Bobcats to the Class 3A team state title.
    Her sophomore campaign was less satisfying but did result to a fourth consecutive top-five state finish for Buchholz, and Sun swimmer of the year honors for Shanata.
    With her titleless season as motivation, Shanata returned for her junior year focused on state from the start, knowing how good it felt to be a state champion, and exactly what it would take to get that feeling back.
    "My freshman year was nice because I won, but my sophomore year was a little disappointing," Shanata said. "I wanted to do everything I could to win another title, and really started focusing on state from the beginning of the year."
    Shanata used her experience and knowledge to motivate a young team, just as a talented senior class had done for her two years earlier.
    Convinced by Shanata that they had the talent to succeed on the state stage, the Bobcats cruised to district and regional titles.
    Despite Shanata's individual state win in the 200-yard freestyle event and third-place effort in the 100 free, Buchholz fell just short of another team championship, earning its fifth straight top-five finish, finishing second overall behind Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas.
    "(First-year coach) Duncan (Sherrard) blew us away this year and really put 100 percent effort into everything he did," Shanata said. "I think he definitely surprised himself and the team with how well we did."
    Since most of the girls are also competitive at the club level, Sherrard and Shanata were familiar with the incoming freshmen, and the group didn't miss a beat in its preparation. Even the addition of the regional meet, which provided three straight weekends of intense competition to end the season, tested the Bobcats and will help motivate them for next year.
    "Regionals was something different and made for a lot of competing in such a short time, but it definitely put the fastest of the fastest at state," said Shanata, who is looking at Florida, Georgia and Stanford as possible college choices. "This year, out of the three I have experienced, has been the best. I can only look to improve next season, but I have no regrets. It was a really fun year."
  • JULIE CARUSONE, GAINESVILLE HIGH Julie Carusone and her older sister Ashley have been swimming together since they were four and five years old, but they haven't spent much time in the pool together since Ashley, a former state champion and Sun swimmer of the year, left the family's High Springs home to pursue a swimming career with the Florida Gators.
    In the two years since, Julie focused on her own year-round training, became a YMCA national champion, helped her high school team to a second-place team finish at the Class 2A state meet in November and then signed on to join her sister at UF next fall.
    Julie remembers not seeing Ashley a whole lot when she started college, despite living so close, but she understands the demands on a college freshman and welcomes the opportunity to be more independent and begin her own collegiate experience.
    "We swam together for so long and were always together until she went to UF," Julie said. "I originally wanted to go to there too, but as I got older I realized there were a lot of other options and schools I could go to. In the end though, I knew that UF was the right place for me all along."
    Carusone's stock rose considerably after a productive summer that included a win in the 800-yard freestyle relay at YMCA Nationals in Maryland with GHS teammates Natalie Smith and Stacey Huber and Buchholz's Carlyn Sander. Carusone added a second-place effort in the 200-yard individual medley and followed up her summer success with city, district and regional championships with the Hurricanes.
    At the state event, Carusone finished second in the 200-yard IM, third in the 100-yard breaststroke, and joined Smith, Huber and freshman Lily Ramirez for a win in the 400-yard freestyle relay.
    "High school swimming is a lot different than the club thing because it is more about the team, and there is more bonding involved," Julie said. "I was definitely happy with how I swam this season. I think I did my best, and I had a good time too."
    Gainesville coach Rob Ramirez also knows what an important role Julie played in his team's success this year, not only in the pool but also as a leader.
    "I think last year was a bit of an off year for Julie, but she regrouped and trained hard to come back for a strong senior season," Ramirez said. "She also sacrificed some of her personal swims at the state meet to help more with the team score, and that meant a lot to the team and our finish."
  • CORY SMITH, EASTSIDE Cory Smith did not have the senior year he was hoping for, although his successes and second straight swimmer of the year honor would have been a career effort for the average high school swimmer.
    Smith was undefeated in dual meet competition, was the city and district champion in the 100-yard backstroke and 200-yard individual medley, and added a regional title in the 200 IM and third-place regional finish in the 100 back.
    During the Class 2A state meet at the O'Connell Center, though, Smith became ill between the preliminaries and the next day's finals, jeopardizing his chances at a spot on the podium.
    Swimming at less than 100 percent, Smith settled for a third-place state finish in the 200 IM and a fourth-place effort in the 100-yard backstroke. Both times were good enough for All-America consideration.
    "I thought I could win at least one of the events, and that was my goal all along," Smith said. "I was really disappointed with the outcome, especially when I knew I could go faster."
    Smith's drive to achieve just beyond his grasp extends to the classroom too. He has been as focused on his studies as he has been on his swimming, taking full advantage of the academic opportunities available through Eastside's International Baccalaureate program while never considering transferring to join one of the area's more competitive high school teams. Smith's sister Natalie was a standout freshman at Gainesville High this year.
    Although he will enter college with more than 30 credits, the full college experience is just around the corner, and Smith has narrowed his choices down to Emory and UF, with plans to swim at either.
    "I took advantage of the whole high school experience," Smith said. "And even though I was disappointed about what happened at state, I still think it was a good year."
    You can reach Matt Cannizzaro by e-mail at Sunpreps@hotmail.com or by calling (352) 374-5052
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