SARASOTA -- A trio of area swimmers, each at varying stages in their scholastic careers, claimed individual championships on Saturday at the Class 1A-Region 3 meet at the Selby Aquatic Center.
Bradenton Christian eighth-grader Anna Freed posted the fastest time of the 16 competitors in the 100-yard backstroke with a mark of 58.34 seconds, which was an improvement of 3.06 seconds from her second-place time in last week's District 8 meet. Lindsey Leadbetter, a sophomore at St. Petersburg's Northside Christian who defeated Freed last week in the same race, was second on Saturday with 59.87 seconds.
"I was actually feeling really nervous and I think that got my adrenaline pumping," Freed said. "I was just going all out the first 25 (yards). When I saw that I was ahead of (Leadbetter), I was thinking, 'alright, let's do this.'"
The top two finishers in the 12 individual and relay events at each of the state's four region meets earn automatic berths to Friday's FHSAA Swimming & Diving State Championships in Stuart. The other 16 individuals and 16 relay teams that will compete in those events Friday are determined by the best non-automatic qualifying from the four regions.
A week after claiming the district championship in the 200-yard individual medley, Freed placed third in the event on Saturday with a time of 2 minutes and 10.79 seconds. An improvement of nearly five seconds from a week ago will most likely earn Freed an at-large spot in the event at the state meet.
Cardinal Mooney sophomore Jillian Santiago earned an automatic berth to the state meet with a second-place finish in the 100-yard freestyle. Her time of 52.94 seconds was an improvement of 2.24 seconds from her second-place finish in the district meet.
Santiago should also qualify in the 100-yard freestyle after placing fourth on Saturday in 24.88 seconds.
Tampa Prep claimed the team championship in the girls division on Saturday with 372 points. Fort Myers Bishop Verot and Tampa Berkeley Prep were second and third, respectively.
Cardinal Mooney led all area schools with a sixth-place finish in the girls division. Out-of-Door Academy was ninth, Bradenton Christian was 15th and Saint Stephen's was 20th in the 25-team field.
Led by sophomore Martin Baffico's first-place finish in the 100-yard butterfly and third-place finish in the 100-yard backstroke, Out-of-Door Academy was fifth among the 23 schools that competed in the boys division on Saturday. Baffico's time of 51.32 seconds was 1.38 seconds better than second-place finisher Matthew Strickland of Bishop Verot, which placed overall behind team champion Berkeley Prep, runner-up Tampa Prep and St. Petersburg's Shorecrest Prep.
While Baffico is hoping to shave a significant amount of time, possibly up to four seconds off his 100 butterfly, on Friday, he was most impressed by his time of 52.72 seconds in the 100 backstroke.
Winning the 100 backstroke was Cardinal Mooney senior Matthew Garcia, who will sign a national letter of intent with the University of Tennessee onNovember 11. Garcia's time of 50.02 seconds was 2.64 seconds better than runner-up Van Cates of Tampa Prep.
Garcia is aiming for a time in the 47-second range on Friday in hopes of winning a state championship and solidifying All-America status.
"This week was just about getting to next week," Garcia said. "(The state meet) is the same as any other meet, it is the same as any other race. I have to approach it as business as usual."
Garcia should also compete in the 200-yard freestyle in Stuart after finishing third behind region champion Santiago Correndor of Bishop Verot and teammate Matthew Nutter.
Saint Stephen's, which claimed fifth in the 200-yard medley relay, finished 30 points behind Out-of-Door in sixth with 137 points. Cardinal Mooney was 11th overall in the boys division, while Bradenton Christian, which got a fourth-place finish from Connor Kesten in the 200-yard individual medley, was 20th.