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Sweet 16 Boys Bay Area Bracket Game 8

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Swimming

Bobby Finke makes Olympic history by winning 800 free

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Bobby Finke already made history before the finals of the 800 meter freestyle, which made its debut as an event at the Summer Olympics in Tokyo.

The former Countryside standout, the first-ever American representative in the event, set an American record in the preliminaries, shaving off more than five seconds from his time at the Olympic Trials. By improving that much, Finke went from being questionable to even making the finals to one of the favorites to medal. 

On Wednesday, Finke made history again.

Not only did he become the first ever Olympic champion in the event but also became the first male swimmer from the Tampa Bay area to win gold in an individual event. 

Finishing among the top three did seem likely through most of the final. 

Finke was fifth with 150 meters to go. Then he turned it on, leaving others in his wake.

In the final 50 meters, Finke put himself in striking distance. At the end he touched the wall ahead of everyone else, finishing first in 7 minutes, 41.87 seconds.

“I just wanted to get my hand to the wall,” Finke told NBC afterward. “I was just so happy I was able to switch to another gear.”

The Tampa Bay area has always been strong among female swimmers. Former Lakewood standout Nicole Haislett and Brooke Bennett combined for six Olympic gold medals, including four in individual events.

That is not all.  

Countryside graduate Melanie Margalis was part of the winning 4×200 meter freestyle relay team and former Tampa Bay Tech star Correia McClendon took silver in a relay. 

Male swimmers from the area have not been able to match that success. In fact, the only male champion was Scott Tucker, a former Seminole standout who was part of a winning relay in 1996.

Now Finke becomes the first champion.

And to think the 800 free is not even his best event. 

Finke’s specialty is distance events. On Friday, he competes in the preliminaries of his signature event, the 1,500 free.  

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College Football

Iowa State now a hotspot for local football recruits

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Since arriving at Iowa State five years ago, Matt Campbell has guided the program to four straight bowl appearances, including a Fiesta Bowl win this past season that vaulted the Cyclones to No. 9 in the final AP poll, the highest ranking in school history. 

That success is due in part to the talent accumulated in Florida, especially the Tampa Bay area. 

There are currently five local players on the roster, all of whom were recruited by Campbell’s staff. Anthony Johnson, a former standout at St. Petersburg, starts at cornerback. Two other defensive backs, T.J. Tampa (Lakewood) and Kym-Mani King (Mitchell), should get significant playing time this season. 

It does not end there. 

This offseason Iowa State had perhaps its biggest haul of local talent with three offensive stars — Wiregrass Ranch quarterback Rocco Becht, Tampa Bay Tech receiver Greg Gaines III and Berkeley Prep athlete Xavier Townsend — all committing to the Cyclones as part of the 2022 class.  

Gaines is a four-star recruit while Becht and Townsend are both three-star prospects according to 247Sports. The addition of that trio helped the Cyclones’ current recruiting class rise to No. 5 in the Big 12 and No. 23 nationally. 

The recruiting efforts are not just limited to the staff. Becht, who committed in April, said he tried his best to get more offensive talent from the area to join him. 

“I talked to Greg and Xavier everyday,” Becht said of his recruiting pitch to that duo. “I was on them from the beginning.”

Rocco Becht

Iowa State’s staff also zeroed on those targets — and the area.

“The Tampa Bay area is a huge priority,” said Cyclones assistant head coach/linebackers coach Tyson Veidt, who recruits locally. “Some of our best players are from there and it has helped us develop some all-around continuity.”

Iowa State has a knack for landing playmakers in the bay area, particularly on the defensive side. It started more than a decade ago with linebacker Jeremiah George (Clearwater) and defensive back Leonard Johnson (Largo), both of whom played for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during their NFL careers. 

There has been even more of an emphasis on the area with Campbell and his staff.

That comes from experience. 

Before taking over the Cyclones, Campbell was an offensive coordinator (2009-11) and head coach (2012-15) at Toledo. During his time with the Rockets, the program landed several prospects from the area, including former Lakewood star Bernard Reedy, who went on to play in the NFL. 

In fact, Campbell had at least one local commit in each of his recruiting classes as Toledo’s head coach. That helped the Rockets rank among the top two recruiting classes in the MAC in three of the four years during Campbell’s tenure. 

The trend has continued at Iowa State. 

And it is having an impact, especially with the camaraderie among locals. 

“Well, of course, the decision was for me and my future as a student athlete,” said Townsend, who committed to the Cyclones on Sunday. “But it was icing on the cake knowing a couple of my boys are coming up with me.”

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Swimming

Swimming: Three former area stars to compete at Olympics

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The swimming events for the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo start on Saturday. Three former area standouts — each representing a different country — are vying to place, even contend for a medal, in their individual events. Here is a look at the local trio. 

Bobby Finke

High school: Countryside

College: Florida

Country: United States

Events: 800 freestyle, 1500 freestyle

Outlook: A former state champion in the 200-yard individual medley and 500-yard freestyle, Finke has become the nation’s premier distance swimmer. He won both the 800-meter and 1,500-meter free at the U.S. Olympic Trials. The 1,500 is the best shot for Finke to finish among the top three. He has the fifth-best entry time (14 minutes, 46.06 seconds) in his signature event according to the most recent psych sheets. 

When to watch

Check out Bobby Finke’s preliminary Olympic schedule

EventDay/timePreliminary heat
800 freeTuesday, 7:40 a.m.No. 4
1500 freeFriday, 7:31 a.m.No. 4

Emir Muratovic

High School: Ridgewood

College: Florida State

Country: Bosnia and Herzegovina

Events: 50 freestyle, 100 free

Outlook: One of the area’s top sprinters, Muratovic won state titles in the 50-yard freestyle and 100 free before becoming one of FSU’s top swimmers during his college career (2015-19). He is one of seven athletes from Bosnia and Herzegovina who qualified for the Olympics.  

When to watch

Check out Emir Muratovic’s preliminary Olympic schedule

EventDay/timePreliminary heat
100 freeTuesday, 6:11 a.m.No. 5
50 freeFriday, 6:07 a.m.No. 5

Sydney Pickrem

High school: East Lake

College: Texas A&M 

Country: Canada

Events: 200 individual medley, 400 individual medley, 200 breaststroke

Outlook: The two-time Pinellas County swimmer of the year who led East Lake to its only state team title in 2014 has been one of Canada’s best swimmers for years. She finished sixth in the 400-meter individual medley at the 2016 Rio Olympics, two spots behind former Countryside standout Melanie Margalis. Pickrem has perhaps the best chance of any former area athlete to medal. She has the second-fastest entry time (2 minutes, 08.61 seconds) in the 200 IM and the sixth-fastest in the 400 IM (4:35.15) according to the latest psych sheets. 

When to watch

Check out Sydney Pickrem’s preliminary Olympic schedule

EventDay/timePreliminary heat
400 IMToday, 7:12 a.m.No. 2
200 IMMonday, 6:42 a.m.No. 3
200 breastWednesday, 6:42 a.m.No. 3

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