Belen chasing sixth straight swimming title

The Belen Jesuit swimming team will go for its sixth consecutive Class 2A title at the Pinch-A-Penny FHSAA Swimming and Diving Finals tomorrow in Orlando. It'll be a tall order for the Wolverines, who last year graduated two swimmers — Andy Vazquez and Carlos Omana — crucial to those title runs. Last fall we did a cover story in ESPNHS Magazine on Vazquez and Omana, who are now at Boston University and Florida, respectively. The pair combined for eight individual gold medals in their careers and also teamed up for five relay state titles. That kind of production is impossible to replace.

Still, Belen is not without hope. Kirk Peppas' squad is led by Julian Ballestas, a junior who won the 100 free last year and was on both the 200 and 400 free relay squads that took gold. In our story, Ballestas talked about the influence Vazquez and Omana had on him: “They’re really good leaders,” he said. “Chacho is more of a pumpup guy. Andy’s kind of the wise one, I guess you can put it that way.” This year it has largely fallen on Ballestas to provide that leadership. Whether the Wolverines make it six in a row tomorrow or not, what they've already accomplished is one of the most impressive team feats in Florida state history.

In Class 3A, Palm Harbor University secured the title on Thursday. The Hurricanes didn't have a single individual champ (senior David Morgan had second- and third-place finishes and led the 200 medley relay squad to gold), but still secured their second title in four years. They finished runner-up to Miami Palmetto last season.

The Class 1A finals take place at the YMCA Aquatic Center today. Bolles, which has won the most swimming titles in state history (33), including 23 straight, has to be considered the favorite, but Tampa Prep, Providence School, Lake Highland Prep and Plantation American Heritage should all be in the mix.