By Chuck Ballaro, Sun Correspondent
PUNTA GORDA – It was a warm Monday afternoon at the South County Regional Park and the pool was nearly empty.
Empty, except for two teenagers who were swimming laps while their coach was monitoring them near the edge of the water.
Swimming is a sport that takes complete dedication to be successful. Charlotte High School boys swimmer Dylan Hacker knows that.
That’s why he was in the pool, doing the laps that only one other swimmer was willing to do. He would make the time to study for midterms later.
It was also why he is one of the best boys swimmers in the area, fluent at all the strokes while setting records and advancing to the state meet.
Last month at the Class 3A state meet in Stuart, Hacker set the school record in the 100-yard breaststroke, finishing sixth, and finished 13th in the 200-yard individual medley.
Hacker started swimming at the age of eight after his brother started. When he tried out for the Charlotte County Blue Fins, Coach Jeff Cain knew he had someone with great potential.
“He definitely had natural talent and ability. He still had to work for it, but he did, and he’s very quick to catch on how to fix and improve how to do it,” Cain said.
“I always felt I could do something in this sport. I just trained really hard to do it,” Hacker said. “With the Blue Fins, the coaches helped me through the whole thing and when high school started, they helped even more.”
Success came quickly, albeit through hard work. Last year, Hacker made states as a freshman in the 400 freestyle relay and regionals in several events, including the 200 IM and 100 breaststroke.
This season, with superstar Hans Schroeder gone, Hacker was expected to lead a young squad. He did, becoming the schools’ only state representative, which brought a different kind of pressure.
“It was a challenge that I didn’t have other teammates. There were still some who went to support me,” Hacker said.
Like Schroeder, Hacker is adept at all four strokes, with his breaststroke being the best and the backstroke being the one he needs to work on the most.
“The medley is pretty difficult. After the fly, you feel comfortable. But on the backstroke, I can’t pull through the water deep enough and rotate fast enough,” Hacker said. “It’s always been an issue, but I keep working on it. It’s getting better.”
Cain said Hacker’s understanding of the work it takes to attain the level he wants to be at is what makes him the swimmer he is.
“He knows what he has to do to compete. He understands that and that’s why he went to states and placed,” Cain said. “I’m going to expect big things from him. He has the ability and talent and he’s getting bigger, stronger and has a work ethic. He can compete as one of the top breaststrokers in the state.”
Hacker said he’s up to the challenge.
“I want to go faster in the 100 breast and get closer to the school record in the 200 IM (which Schroeder set last season),” Hacker said. “I want to see if I can move up in both races.”
BOYS ALL-AREA TEAM
EVAN BURGER, Lemon Bay, Senior
Burger finished 8th at regionals in the 50-yard freestyle (22.86) and 7th at regionals on the 200-yard freestyle relay team (1:33.04) to qualify for state in both events. The senior also won a district title and county title in the 100-yard freestyle and went on to finish 6th (50.70) at regionals in the event, in addition to finishing 7th at regionals in the 400-yard freestyle relay (3:30.10).
GAGE DENSON, Lemon Bay, Sophomore
Denson placed third at regionals (314.10) in the 1-meter dive to qualify for state, where he finished 17th (189.85), and was also part of the 200-yard freestyle relay team that placed seventh at regionals (1:33.04) to qualify for state. The sophomore won a district title in the 200-yard freestyle relay (1:33.95) and nearly won three other district titles, finishing second in the 200-yard medley relay (1:49.73), 1-meter dive (350.80) and 100-yard butterfly (59.36).
JED FAZLER, Lemon Bay, Junior
Fazler was a district champion on Lemon Bay’s 200-yard freestyle relay team (1:33.95) and helped his relay team finish seventh at regionals to qualify for state (1:33.04). The junior also had two third place finishes at districts in the 200-yard IM (2:14.18) and 100-yard breaststroke (1:07.10) in addition to finishing second in the 200-yard medley relay. He finished 10th in both the 200-yard IM (2:08.15) and 100-yard breaststroke (1:06.50) at regionals.
CASEY KELLER, Charlotte, Sophomore
Keller was a county champion in the 500-yard freestyle and he went on to finish 10th in the event at districts (1:55.02) and 20th at regionals (5:10.50). The sophomore also finished 20th at regionals in the 200-yard freestyle (1:55.02) after placing 11th in the event at districts (1:57.29).
KEVIN MAYES, Lemon Bay, Sophomore
Mayes was the most consistent diver in the area, winning a district title and county title in the 1-meter dive. He went on to place fourth in the event at regionals to qualify for state, where he placed 15th (275.90).
JOSHUA MENDIETA, North Port, Senior
Mendieta had two top-3 finishes at the District 4A-6 meet, placing second in the 100-yard freestyle (49.61) and third in the 50-yard freestyle (22.75) to qualify for regionals. He also swam on North Port’s 200-yard medley relay team that placed sixth (1:52.76) at districts and 200-yard freestyle relay team that placed 7th (1:39.75) at districts, qualifying for regionals in both events as well.
TOM NELSON, Charlotte, Sophomore
Nelson was a county champion in the 50-yard freestyle, 100-yard backstroke, 200-yard freestyle relay and 200-yard medley relay. The sophomore also placed in the top-four in all four events at the District 3A-9 meet, including a district title on the 200-yard freestyle relay team (1:32.17). He also placed 2nd at districts in the 100-yard backstroke (58.39), fourth in the 50-yard freestyle (23.19) and third on the 200-yard medley relay team (1:46.35) on his way to qualifying for regionals in all four of his events.
COOPER WHITTEN, Charlotte • Junior
Whitten took home three county titles in the 100-yard butterfly, 200-yard medley relay and 400-yard freestyle relay and finished in the top-3 in all three events at the District 3A-9 meet — fourth in the 100-yard butterfly (57.30), third in the 200-yard medley relay (1:46.35) and second in the 400-yard freestyle relay (3:23.84). He also placed seventh in the 100-yard backstroke at districts (1:01.59) and qualified for regionals in all four of his events.
Honorable mention: Charlotte: Joey Almeida, Blake Thurman, Yahia El Hamshary, Evan Flores, Dalton Larson; Lemon Bay: Sean Beaugrand, Port Charlotte: Trevor Bloom; North Port: Michael Sickels.
Team compiled by Jordan Kroeger