PALM HARBOR — As Laura Bitting watches over her team of swimmers in the water, she notices something staring back at her for the first time in her 19-year career as Palm Harbor University High swimming coach — a challenge.
Bitting started with five boys her first year as head coach in 1996. But since that time she has built a lasting powerhouse.
For the past 11 years, the Hurricanes’ boys team has reigned supreme over Pinellas County 4A swimming and beyond, winning 11 straight district titles and three state titles during the past six years, including last year.
But this season will be her toughest yet, and Bitting knows it.
“We lost eight boys from last year’s state championship team and return only four. We’ve taken a hit, and this is a rebuilding year. This will be the most difficult season I’ve ever had,” she said.
That’s what happens when you graduate the largest college signing class in school history — a staggering five of the eight seniors, including the eighth-ranked swimmer in the state, Tristan Sanders (Michigan).
But what this team lacks in skill it will make up for with hard work and solid technique. The boys have been competing on club swimming squads for the past 11 months.
“I’m proud of how dedicated this guys have been this offseason. They know how hard they will have to work this year, and they’ve been putting the hours in. They’ve been doing multiple aerobic interval training drills, going tirelessly in practice. They still strive to succeed,” Bitting said.
Luis Rivadeneira, a senior, knows he has to lead a rare inexperienced Hurricane squad.
“Last year it was a relief to win states because there was so much hype and expectations. Now it’s my turn to lead, and I have to set an example for the younger guys and practice hard. We want to keep up the winning legacy, and even if we don’t do as well this year, we will be a lot better in the future.”
Bitting plans to use specialized training to improve the team’s power and speed, including attaching parachutes to the backs of the swimmers to increase power through extra resistance. Honing in on power in leg kicks will ratchet up team speed. Bitting knows the extra boost can make the difference between a win and a loss.
But if there’s one coach who can still win with less, it’s the proven Bitting.