LAKEWOOD RANCH -- Since they entered high school, the boys on the Lakewood Ranch swim team have had to take a back seat to the girls.
But now it's the boys' time. The boys swim team won its first region title last week and is carrying high hopes into the Class 3A state meet Friday at the Sailfish Splashpark Aquatic Athletics Center in Stuart.
The Lakewood Ranch boys consider themselves a band of brothers, and nowhere has that been more evident than in the relays.
The boys won the 200-yard medley and 200 freestyle relays at regions and finished second in the 400 freestyle relay.
"It's a bond. We are like a whole bunch of brothers on the relay. It's awesome. Our goal is to definitely win this event," says senior Kevin Berkenbusch, who swims the third leg on the 200 freestyle relay team, which is seeded second at state behind Miami Belen Jesuit after turning in a time of 1 minute, 30.62 seconds, at region.
"Our boys team is fueled by our seniors, especially in the relays," said head coach Matt Polk, a 2010 Lakewood Ranch graduate who at 21 is not much older than his swimmers. "This is their time. They've worked very hard, put in a lot of effort, and I can't wait to see how they do at states. "
Every meet is special for senior Jon Chaires, who doesn't plan to swim in college and has looked at the postseason as his personal farewell tour. He swims the butterfly for the medley relay team and
is a member of the 200 freestyle relay squad.
"The relays are just a great bunch of guys. We all swim for each other. We all swim good from behind, and if we are not in the lead we are getting the lead," Chaires said. "We are like brothers and are not going to hold anything back at states. ... It's my last meet, and I've got to do something."
The boys also will have a good contingent of representatives in the individual events. At regions, Eric Erlenmeyer was first in the 100 backstroke and second in the 50 free. Luke Hanner was second in the 100 butterfly, and Sang Cho was second in the 100 breaststroke.
Eric Erlenmeyer and his brother, Daniel, and Cho are members of the medley relay team; Cho and Hanner are on the 200 freestyle relay team, and the Erlenmeyer brothers and Hanner are part of the 400 free relay team.
"It's hard to say if one person is better than the other. Each and every person going to the state meet plays a valuable role in us placing," Polk said. "They are winning because they act as a team and treat each other as teammates. Winning the whole thing is up for grabs. I just tell them swim as fast as you can, and we will take it as we go."
It's also part redemption for Polk. He was beset with injuries his senior year at Lakewood Ranch and never reached his potential, and that prevented him from swimming in college.
Though the boys grabbed the headlines by winning the region, the girls team has some special talent, particularly in Madison Jean.
The sophomore won the 100 butterfly at region and is seeded first at state with a time of 55.87 seconds. She is seeded fourth in the 100 backstroke.
Lakewood Ranch senior Sydney Panzarino finished second in the 100 freestyle at region and is seeded 12th at states (54.21 seconds).
Braden River sophomore Ryan Walker won the 50 freestyle at regions and is seeded 7th at states with a time of 22.13 seconds.