SOFLO Hosts Talented Field In Florida State Virtual Championship

By Sharon Robb
PEMBROKE PINES, December 3, 2020–One of the most talented fields ever assembled for a Florida Gold Coast meet will compete at the Florida State Virtual Championship Friday through Sunday at Academic Village Pool.

The meet, also serving as USA Swimming’s 18-and-under Winter Championships, is one of four meets being held around the state. The others are the Dec. 4-6 meet hosted by North Palm Beach Swim Club at Sailfish Splash Waterpark in Stuart; Dec. 11-13 hosted by Sarasota Sharks Swim Team and Dec. 11-13 hosted by Clearwater Aquatic Team.

More than 200 swimmers from 20 teams, including Pine Crest Swimming, Gulliver Swim Club, Azura Florida Aquatics and T2 Aquatics will compete. In addition to host SOFLO, other teams competing are Cooper City Cyclones, Delray Stingers, East Coast Aquatic Club, Gulf Coast, Hurricane Aquatics, Metro Aquatics, Midtown Weston, PAQ, Plantation, Pompano Beach Piranhas, Ransom Everglades, Sunrise Swimming, Swim Florida, Swim Fort Lauderdale and Wahoos of Wellington.

“We are very fortunate we can have a meet like this in our state,” SOFLO CEO and head coach Chris Anderson said. “This is the time for us to go best times. Coach Lou and I have talked about this since August, about peaking in the month of December.

“We are very excited about having a real swim meet and watching some fast swimming,” Anderson said.

Heading the women’s field are Julia Podskoscielny, 16, of Pine Crest Swimming; Rachel Moran, 17, of T2 Aquatics; Olivia McMurray, 17, of Swim Florida; Celina Marquez, 21, of Azura; SOFLO’s Kelley Heron, 21 and Olivia Dinehart, 15.

Among the men’s field are SOFLO’s Julio Horrego, 22, and Lance Lesage, 18; Marcelo Acosta, 24, swimming unattached for Azura; Yeziel Morales, 24, Gabriel Araya, 21, and Thiago Sickert, 32, of Azura; and Mason Laur, 18, of T2 Aquatics.

With such talented swimmers, every final is guaranteed to be exciting, close races.

SOFLO has the largest team with 45 swimmers (28 men, 17 women) in 203 individual events and four relays. Among SOFLO’s top seeds are:

Horrego, 100-yard breaststroke, 54.36; 50-yard breaststroke, 26.02.; 200-yard breaststroke, 1:57.96. Horrego, who competes for Honduras internationally, is seeded first in the 100 and 200 breaststroke events for all four sites.

Olivia Dinehart, 50-yard breaststroke, 29.38.

“Our swimmers have done a great job in their training over the last 15 weeks, they have put in so much work,” Anderson said during a Thursday Zoom team meeting. “Most of us haven’t been in the water for a while when it comes to racing especially a trials and finals meet.”

The last time SOFLO swimmers had a full meet was the first week of March.

“We have done some home meets and tested ourselves a little bit,” Anderson said. “We really feel at this point in time that we are ready to go and prepared for a full trials and finals meet. When you look at the psych sheet I think we are one of the more competitive meets.”

Podkoscielny is seeded first in three events. They are: 400-yard individual medley, 4:19.40, 200-yard individual medley, 1:59.88, and 200-yard backstroke, 1:55.39. The highly-decorated swimmer is ranked among the world’s best 18-and-under swimmers and is coming off an outstanding Class 2A high school meet where the Pine Crest girls’ team won a second consecutive team title and she won the 200 IM in 1:59.14 (1.01 time drop) and 100 backstroke in 54.29 (0.74 drop).

At 32, Azura’s Thiago Sickert is the oldest swimmer in the meet. Sickert competes internationally for Brazil. The collegiate All-American was a two-time All-Sunshine State Conference Men’s Swimmer of the Year and NCAA Division II national champion in the 200-yard butterfly. He is the best male swimmer in NSU history. At 26, he was the oldest swimmer in school history. Sickert is seeded first in the 50 butterfly in 22.13 for all four sites.

Each host site will have separate results for the short course yard events posted on Meet Mobile. At the conclusion of all four meets, the results will be combined.

The 1650-yard freestyle, all relays, and all 50-yard eventswill be timed final events. All other individual events will be conducted as preliminaries and finals with the top 20 swimmersfrom preliminaries advancing to finals.The top 20 places in finals will be scored.

Host SOFLO’s three-day meet begins Friday with women’s prelims at 9-10:34 a.m. and men’s prelims at noon-1:21 p.m. On Saturday, men’s prelims are 9-10:45 a.m. and women’s prelims at noon-1:53 p.m. On Sunday, women’s prelims is 9-10:04 a.m. and men’s prelims 11:30 a.m.-12:33 p.m. Finals begin 6 p.m. all three nights.

Friday prelim events feature the 200 freestyle, 100 breaststroke, 50 backstroke, 100 butterfly, 400 individual medley and 200 freestyle relay.

Much like other SOFLO meets, strict COVID-19 guidelines will be enforced because of the ongoing pandemic.

As meet host, SOFLO and Comets Swim Team Booster Club have taken enhanced health and safety measures for swimmers, coaches, officials and volunteer timers.

During his Zoom meetings, Anderson stressed the importance of wearing masks and social distancing among swimmers and teams especially since opposing swimmers have not seen each other in a long time.

“We want our swimmers to set the example for our facility and also for the meet,” Anderson said. “We want to make sure this meet is really fun.”

The meet, sanctioned by the Florida Gold Coast, will adhere to strict COVID-19 safety measures and precautions including no fans. No parents or friends will be allowed to congregate outside the pool fencing or allowed on the pool deck. The meet will be run with a limited number of officials and volunteer timers.

Covid protocols were sent to all coaches. There was also a coaches zoom meeting Thursday night to outline the protocols that include:

  1. Swimmers will be dropped off/picked up at the designated dropoff/pick up area.
  2. Swimmers must bring a chair and a spare mask in case their mask gets wet.
  3. Swimmers must wear their mask at all times, except when in the pool, and stay six feet apart from each other, even in their own tent.
  4. Swimmers will be given hand sanitizer upon entering and exiting the pool deck.
  5. Swimmers must bring their own food and drink. There will be no concessions available.
  6. Only swimmers who qualify for Finals may be on the pool deck during Finals.
  7. No spectators will be allowed on the pool deck or around the pool area.

Also, because Pembroke Pines Charter school is in session, for Friday prelims there will be no parent parking allowed in the pool parking lot. All parents must park at the Southwest Regional Library at 16835 Sheridan Street, just around the corner from the pool.

Those interested in watching the races can view the livestream on Facebook or YouTube. The Booster Club donated more than $2,500 for video equipment to help enhance video production. The video can also be used for swimmers to review their races with their coaches.

There will also be guest announcers throughout the meet including SOFLO’s four-time Olympian Alia Atkinson. The meet results will be posted live on Meet Mobile.

Sharon Robb can be reached at