LAKEWOOD RANCH -- Jay Cho is Lakewood Ranch's singing swimmer.
When he is in the water, the Korea native is usually singing a song. It keeps his boredom to a minimum and gives him a burst of energy.
It has been working for the junior. He will compete Thursday in the Class 2A state meet in Orlando in the 100-yard breaststroke for a boys team that figures to surpass last year's ninth-place finish.
Cho does things a bit differently in a lot of other ways.
"He is an incredible talent, though he is not a club swimmer. He just trains with me three months a year," Lakewood Ranch head swim coach Peter Hegwein said. "He could be a senior national qualifier if he swam year round. He is down to 1:02 (one minute and two seconds) for the breaststroke, which is close to rarified air with limited training."
The 17-year-old junior came to the United States five years ago with his family in search of a better life. He might take his coach's advice and train year round because it could help him get a scholarship to college.
Cho swam the butterfly and freestyle while living in Korea, but found he is more suited for the breaststroke.
Cho has the 15th-best time in Class 2A in the breaststroke with a 1:02.04, which was good enough for third place at the region meet. He credits a lot of his success to singing in the water.
"I sing whatever song comes to my mind when I am training. You can't be serious all the time at practice and having fun gives me energy," Cho says. "My goal is to get 59 seconds and break a minute and get into the top eight at states. I hope to
do it. Things are going well. When I first came here, it was kind of hard because I barely spoke English."
Hegwein sees Cho being a key part of the boys team, which he predicts will finish better than the ninth place it turned in last year.
"My guesstimate is they will finish around sixth," Hegwein said. "They are stronger than last year, though we are missing in the 200-yard freestyle relay, but should do well in the 400 free relay (8th best time in 2A at 3:18.44)."
Lakewood Ranch qualified five boys for individual events at the state meet. At the top of the list is senior Will Kazokas. He won the 100 free at state last year and finished fifth in the 50 free.
This year, Kazokas will compete in the 50 free and 100 butterfly. He has the fifth-best time in 2A in the 50 free (21.62 seconds) and the 10th-best in the fly (52.19).
Luke Hanner will compete in the 200 freestyle and 100 butterfly. In 2A, he brings in the ninth-best time in the fly (52.07) and the 11th-best in the 200 free (1:43.75).
Rounding out the boys in the individual events are Danny and Eric Erlenmeyer. In 2A, Danny has the 22nd-best time in the 500 freestyle (4:53.21) and Eric the 24th-best in the 100 backstroke (56.67).
The girls' hopes again ride on senior Danielle Valley, who won the 2A state title in the 200 and 500 free in leading the Mustangs to a sixth-place finish last year.
"She injured her back about two weeks ago, but swam through it and turned in a gutsy performance," Hegwein said. "At regional, she was better but had a tinge of the flu. Still she won both of her events. I expect her to be fine at states."
Based on this season in the 2A region meet, Valley brings in the best time in the 500 freestyle (4:56.14) and the fourth-best time in the 200 free (1:52.25).
Lakewood Ranch's newest rising star is freshman Madison Jean. She won the 100 butterfly at region, setting a girls school record (58:03), which is the fifth-best time in 2A, and she has the 18th-best time in the 100 backstroke (1:01.82).
"She has a Teflon attitude; everything bounces off her," Hegwein says.
Shannon McCarty, who didn't swim last year because of a shoulder injury, will compete in the 50 and 100 freestyles. In 2A, she has the 14th-best time in the 50 (24.65) and 16th-best in the 100 (54.61).
Sydney Panzarino returns to the state meet in the 100 backstroke. In 2A this year, she has the 17th-best time (1:01.76).
Lakewood Ranch qualified only one girls team for the state relays with its 200 medley team. It has the sixth-best time in 2A (1:53.72). Isabelle Basden is expected to swim on the relay team.