The King’s Academy girls and boys varsity swimming teams had a pair of stellar performances at this year’s Florida High School Athletic Association Class 1A state swimming championships, which were held Saturday, Nov. 4 at Florida Aquatics Swimming & Training (FAST) in Ocala.
At the conclusion of the FHSAA Class 1A state meet, TKA’s two swimming and diving teams had recorded a pair of third-place finishes. The girls garnered 182.5 points, while the boys earned 146 points. The teams from the Bolles School in Jacksonville were the winners of the two team competitions. This was the second time in school history that both teams from TKA recorded top-four finishes in the state meet in the same year.
According to coach Jonathan Zuchowski, the director of TKA’s swimming program, there were a number of standout performances by his swimmers.
“Julianna Bell had an amazing meet,” Zuchowski said. “She made the ‘A’ [championship] final in the 50-yard freestyle and 100-yard freestyle. We knew she had the talent, but it was a little unexpected. She had a solid backstroke split in the 200-yard medley relay, but a huge split of 51.0 [seconds] in the 400-yard freestyle relay to help secure third. We knew she could be the difference between third and fifth place in the overall team standings.”
In the 50-yard freestyle, Bell finished in sixth place with a time of 23.76. In the 100-yard freestyle, Bell was fifth with a time of 51.42.
The TKA girls secured their third-place team finish with a strong fourth-place performance in the meet’s final race, the 400-yard freestyle relay.
“In the championship final for the 400-yard freestyle relay, we needed to be within three places of Saint Andrew’s to secure third overall,” Zuchowski said. “After graduating four females last year who are now swimming in NCAA Division I, this was an amazing team performance.”
The four TKA girls on that team were Julianna Bell, Emma Herrera, Kiersten Munna and Rebekah Foster. Their time was 3:31.41.
According to Zuchowski, Herrera and Alyssa Bozzuto also had great performances.
“Emma broke the school record in the 200-yard and 500-yard freestyles,” he said. “Aly did amazing, with two second place finishes in her final season.”
Herrera was fourth in the 200-yard freestyle with a time of 1:49.52. In the 500-yard freestyle, her time was 4:51.87, which was fast enough to finish third.
One of Bozzuto’s second-place performances was in the 50-yard freestyle with a time of 22.70. Her other runner-up finish was in the 100-yard breaststroke, where she was clocked at 1:01.88.
On the boys side, Noah Engstrom and Noah Smith were big point producers for the Lions. Engstrom led the way with 25 points, while Smith earned 24 points.
“These two seniors were rocks for us all season,” Zuchowski said. “We expected it from Noah Smith. Noah Engstrom making the championship final in both the 50-yard freestyle and 100-yard freestyle was not so much a surprise as it was needed. He was up for the challenge and delivered.”
According to Zuchowski, finishing high at the FHSAA Class 1A state meet always comes down to the three relays.
“The first step is qualifying all three relays on both sides to states. The second step is getting all three relays to finish in the top eight in prelims at states,” Zuchowski said. “If you can do this, you are going to be successful and make a lot of swimmers happy. For the girls, Marin Zuchowski, Taylor Sipowski, Rebekah Foster, Kiersten Munna, Julianna Bell, Emma Herrera and Alyssa Bozzuto executed the plan and came home with the hardware on our girls relays.”
In the 200-yard medley relay, 200-yard freestyle relay and the 400-yard freestyle relay, the TKA girls finished fourth (1:45.44), fourth (1:34.92) and fourth (3:31.41), respectively.
On the boys side, Noah Smith, Drew McQueeney, Max Strohecker, Enzo Gaeta, Noah Engstrom, Tyler Wilkinson, Aaron McQueeney and Hamilton Gates were the swimmers on the three relay teams.
In the 200-yard medley relay, 200-yard freestyle relay and the 400-yard freestyle relay, the TKA boys finished fifth (1:37.36), fourth (1:25.55) and sixth (3:13.03), respectively.
“We got a lot of people involved this year on our relays. Not to mention our alternates, who were standing by in case of an issue,” Zuchowski said. “Thanks to Diana Harris, Asher Smith and Sam Strohecker for being ready to help.”
Every school year, TKA honors its athletic teams when they have a top-four performance at the FHSAA state finals.
“Our goal was to have the girls and boys teams finish in the top four together. So, third [this year] was even better,” Zuchowski said. “In 2021, the boys got second, and the girls were fourth. So, this year was the greatest combined performance in TKA swimming history.”
The Lions had a number of first-time qualifiers for the state swimming championships. That list of swimmers included senior Marin Zuchowski in the 100-yard butterfly and the 100-yard backstroke; junior diver Sarah Person, who finished in 16th place; freshman Asher Smith, who was 16th place in the 100-yard backstroke; and eighth-grader Aaron McQueeney, who competed in the 100-yard freestyle.