With Marta Ciesla, one of the nation’s top swimmers, competing her entire senior season, Pine Crest is a legitimate state 1A title contender.
The three-time state champion gave up competing at last year’s region and state meets to represent the United States for the first time at the FINA World Cup. She was the only swimmer from Florida selected.
Ciesla, 17, is a two-time defending state champion in the 100-meter freestyle and one-time defending state champion in the 50-meter freestyle. The U.S. Olympic trials qualifier won a silver medal at the FINA World Cup and this past summer another silver at the Pan Pacific Championships as a member of the U.S. National Team.
Now she is ready to assume her leadership role as the Panthers’ team captain.
“I am totally committed to swimming high school this year,” Ciesla said. “It’s bittersweet because it’s my senior year.
“I am so excited for states. We have such a strong chance of winning this year with all the girls we have. It’s so exciting. I love competing with them and leading all the girls. We get along super well. I love being the captain. It’s so much fun. They know they can come to me for anything.”
Pine Crest coach Jay Fitzgerald is excited about the girls team chances even though Bolles won its 25th girls state title last year with 335.5 points. Pine Crest was fourth with 164.
“I think this is the strongest team we have had since 2006 when we had a lot of firepower with Stephanie Eisenring, Siena DeVenuto and Brook Atkinson,” Fitzgerald said. “We will have to see how things play out.”
No one is more excited about Ciesla’s return than Fitzgerald, who supported and even encouraged her decision last season.
“Marta is a huge factor,” Fitzgerald said. “Last year it was important for her to represent her country and gain experience that would transfer more confidence in herself when she competes at the state level.”
With the state meet ten weeks away, Fitzgerald and his coaching staff will have plenty of time to come up with the best game plan to win. Ciesla could swim two individual events and two relays or one individual event and all three relays.
“She gives us a lot of flexibility,” Fitzgerald said. “If she swims three relays, it makes us a contender in all three. I would think she would be favored in the 50 and 100 free and that’s 40 points. And, if she swims on two winning relays that’s another 80 points. That’s 120 points starting out of the gate and that’s not a bad way to start playing your hand.
“Given her leadership and it being her last year I think Marta will inspire and motivate the other athletes to perform at a high level.”
Ciesla has a strong supporting cast with eight returnees off last year’s district and region champion team that finished 10-2 in dual meets. They are Marissa Brannan, Jamie Flores, Sandra Meszaros, Molly See, Ali Watson, Ishani Singh, Juliette Pozzuoli and Hannah Virgin, who competed internationally for Sweden.
Two talented young swimmers who will make an immediate impact are Gulliver Prep transfer Andrea Santander, a state relay champion and University School transfer Annabella Lyn, who represents Jamaica internationally.
“All of a sudden we look a lot better, there is strong depth on this team,” Fitzgerald said. “Bolles has been and still is Bolles. Obviously, we want to be competitive. We will be the top team in South Florida and should repeat as district and region team champion and we should be very competitive at the state meet.”
American Heritage, fifth at last year’s state meet, is expected to be among the top 2A teams. The Patriots are led by state runner-up sprinter Cathy Cooper, who represents Panama internationally.
“We don’t have a huge superstar that came in but we are going to have a solid group of girls and good relays,” said Patriots coach Nobutaka Tan. “The girls have certain expectations. I’m optimistic about the season.”
American Heritage will compete at Woodson for the first time in four years. The Patriots usually compete at the FSPA meet in Orlando but this year it falls on Homecoming Week.
“It will be a good test for us,” Tan said. “I think we will always be ready to go, win or lose. How we lose it or how we win it, that’s what matters.”
There is plenty of individual talent returning including Cooper City sophomore Kathleen Golding, a state champion in the 200-yard individual medley; Westminster Academy junior Jessica Nava, a state champion in the 100-yard butterfly and University School freshman Maia Goldstein, a state 1A champion on 1-meter springboard.
Other top returnees are South Florida Heat sophomore Mary Smutny, Allison Kopas of University School, sophomore Rachel Contich of Calvary Christian, junior Racine Ross of Hollywood Hills, senior diver Karlee Price of St. Thomas Aquinas, Emiliana Pelaez and Andrea van den Berg of Cypress Bay and Kelley Heron of Pembroke Pines Charter.
Two-time Class 1A state high school diving runner-up and three-time state qualifier Johanna Holloway of Westminster Academy will not return for her junior year. She moved to Georgia to train full-time.
BROWARD GIRLS SWIMMING
ATHLETES TO WATCH
Marissa Brannan, Pine Crest; Daniella Castillo, Sagemont; Marta Ciesla, Pine Crest; Cathy Cooper, American Heritage; Rachel Contich, Calvary Christian; Rachel Dickinson, University School; Jamie Flores, Pine Crest; Kathleen Golding, Cooper City; Carly Ehrlich, Pompano Beach; Maia Goldstein, University School; Kelley Heron, Pembroke Pines Charter; Annita Huang, American Heritage; Allison Kopas, University School; Amanda Kopas, University School; Elise Larin, Somerset; Ana Lyn, Pine Crest; Julie Mason, American Heritage; Thea McKenna, American Heritage; Alexandra Meszaros, Pine Crest; Jessica Nava, Westminster Academy; Emiliana Pelaez, Cypress Bay; Juliette Pozzuoli, Pine Crest; Karlee Price, St. Thomas Aquinas; Racine Ross, Hollywood Hills; Andrea Santander, Pine Crest; Molly See, Pine Crest; Isabel Shashaty, Archbishop McCarthy; Ishani Singh, Pine Crest; Mary Smutny, South Florida Heat; Andrea van den Berg, Cypress Bay; Hannah Virgin, Pine Crest; Ali Watson, Pine Crest.
DEFENDING STATE CHAMPIONS
Class 4A: Buchholz (girls), Sarasota Riverview (boys).
Class 3A: Gainesville (girls), Doral Academy Charter (boys).
Class 2A: Gulliver Prep (girls), Plantation American Heritage (boys).
Class 1A: Bolles (girls), Bolles (boys).
Sept. 10, St. Andrew’s Invitational
Sept. 14, Calvary Christian, American Heritage at Pine Crest, 4:15 p.m.
Sept. 17, Bolles Bulldog Invitational
Sept. 17, Shark Invite at University School
Sept. 21, American Heritage, Doral, Mater Academy at MCD
Sept. 23, Bolles at Pine Crest
Sept. 24, Woodson Invitational at Pine Crest
Sept. 28, Archbishop McCarthy at American Heritage
Sept. 30, University School at Pine Crest
Sept. 30-Oct. 1, FSPA High School Developmental Invitational, Orlando
Oct. 1, Catholic Championships, Orlando
Oct. 4, Coral Glades at St. Thomas Aquinas
Oct. 5, Pompano Beach at St. Thomas Aquinas
Oct. 5, Pine Crest at Gulliver Prep
Oct. 8, BCAA Championships, Plantation Central Park
Oct. 17-22, District 3A, 4A Meets
Oct. 24-29, District 1A, 2A Meets
Oct. 24-29, Region 3A, 4A Meets
Oct. 31-Nov. 5, Region 1A, 2A Meets
Nov. 4, Class 3A State Meet, Sailfish Splashpark, Stuart
Nov. 5, Class 4A State Meet, Sailfish Splashpark, Stuart
Nov. 11, Class 1A State Meet, Sailfish Splashpark, Stuart
Nov. 12, Class 2A State Meet, Sailfish Splashpark, Stuart