ORLANDO -- Belen Jesuit is once again the powerhouse of Class 2A.
Regaining its place atop the high school swimming world, Belen had a dominant performance at the FHSAA state finals on Thursday. The Wolverines, with the help of senior Julian Ballestas, won their sixth team state title. Belen crushed the competition, winning by close to 75 points.
“Everybody is looking at us like, ‘When are they going to stop?’ ” Belen coach Kirk Peppas said. “It’s a very young group.”
With the help of Ballestas, the Wolverines won the 200 free and 400 free relay.
Anchoring the 400 free relay, Ballestas closed a two-second deficit to win the gold medal. The Wolverines had a season-best All-American Consideration time of 3:09.69 in the event.
“That’s a fantastic time for them,” Peppas said. “We put a lot of pressure on them.”
Belen’s 200 medley relay placed third. The Wolverines swam a season-best All-American Consideration time 1:36.54 in the race. Belen, which trailed from the start, rebounded late to earn a spot on the podium the relay was 1-100th of a second from winning silver.
“This was definitely the best medley relay we’ve ever had,” senior Jose Alvarez said.
Individually, Ballestas won a state title in the 200 freestyle after coming up short in previous years. Ballestas swam an All-American Automatic time of 1:38.10, a personal best.
“Three years I’ve been wanting to win this event since I was a sophomore,” he said. “I feel great about it.”
Seeded third in the race, Ballestas faced tough competition from Tallahassee Chiles’ Alex Dehner and Fort Lauderdale’s Lance Rutkin. At the start, Ballestas trailed for the first 20 yards before taking the lead after the first turn. Ballestas, who said he was “pumped,” opened almost a two-second lead over his closest rival after the first 100 yards.
“Usually I go out in the first 100 and I kind of use everything and try to keep up,” he said. “This time around, I had a lot of energy at the 150 [mark] and I had a burst going into the 200.”
Ballestas nearly won a second title in the 100 free, but fell to second-place. Ballestas lead briefly in the race, but Chiles’ Caeleb Dressel took a commanding lead as the racers neared the wall. Ballestas had an All-American Automatic time of :45.08, a personal best. Dressel’s :44.10 was six one-hundredths of a second away from breaking the state record.
Several other Belen swimmers placed in the top eight of their events. Ryan Guso and Boleck De Pawlikowski placed seventh in the 50 free and the 500 free, respectively. De Pawlikowski came close to winning bronze in the 100 back, but was edged by Gainesville’s Ben Borgret. Alvarez placed eighth in the race.
With a talented crop of young swimmers on the team, Peppas is confident his team will have the talent to compete for a state title next season. After the meet, Peppas was already studying the competition. With the exception of Ballestas and Alvarez, most of the Wolverines’ swimmers are juniors and sophomores.
“We’ll be back,” he said.
Belen was the only Miami-Dade representative at the Class 2A final.
On the girls’ side, Tallahassee Chiles beat Riviera Beach Suncoast for the title.