Matt Ellis’ first championship race was the usual explosion of froth and flailing. There was no conservation of energy and hardly any breathing.
The Countryside High junior’s only strategy Saturday in the 50-yard freestyle was to go out as fast as he could. Ellis got the best start. Others were close. They all reached the finish as if carried by one large wave.
Ellis, his chest still heaving from an all-out sprint, looked at the wall at the far end of the Central Florida YMCA to see the results. Then the realization hit. He won the Class 3A state title with a time of 20.58 seconds, shaving nearly half a second off his personal best. It was his first state title. Ellis, who moved to the area from Texas before the season, finished fifth in the 100 fly in his home state a year ago.
There wasn’t much time to celebrate. Ellis, still dripping, accepted his gold medal then marched to the finals of his next race, the 100 butterfly. Throwing his arms forward before moving them back into the water, Ellis seemed to skip across the pool as he moved into striking distance in the final lap. In a rush to the wall, Ellis touched first to win his second medal in 49.26 seconds, beating Fleming Island’s Kyle Casias by 0. 32 seconds.
“I was happy with how everything went in my individual races,” Ellis said. “I was hoping for a little better time in the 100 fly, but I had to really dig deep in that one to come back and win. Two state titles in individual races is a pretty big accomplishment.”
Ellis added a third gold when he swam the anchor leg to help the Cougars’ 200 free relay team win in 1:25.47. Richard Willsey, John Kelly and Jon Witkowski swam the first three legs and put Countryside in position to win. Ellis sealed it with a strong finish to overtake Winter Park, capping the best state finish by a county boy in decades.
“We couldn’t be happier with how we did,” Witkowski said. “This is something we thought we could win since the beginning of the season.”
In his fourth event of the night, Ellis was unable to add a fourth gold medal as Countryside’s 400 free relay finished second in 3:06.87. Ellis swam the first leg, followed by Willsey, Gary Lush and Kelly. They were out-touched at the wall by Hagerty, which won in 3:06.54.
Palm Harbor University’s boys, which had hopes of winning their second team title in three seasons, finished second with 184.5 points.
The Hurricanes took the lead in the team standings after the 100 free, thanks to a second-place finish by Ryan McRae (46.38) and fourth-place finish by Jason Williams (46.66).
PHU had a 16.5-point lead heading into the final event, then the Hurricanes watched it disappear because they did not have a team in the 400 free relay.
PHU’s David Morgan was third in the 100 breast (57.54) and teammate Williams third in the 50 free (21.27). The Hurricanes’ 200 free relay of McRae, Zach Perrotti, Morgan and Williams also took third in 1:26. 61.
Nick Alexiou of Clearwater was the runnerup in the 200 free in 1:37.66.
Seminole’s Matt Thompson was third in the 200 individual medley (1:50.16) and fourth in the 500 free (4:27.90).