Kaii Winkler Targeting Records at Last Florida High School State Championships; Fast Weekend Ahead

Kaii Winkler -- Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

Kaii Winkler to Race at Last Florida High School State Championships

A star sprinter will complete his high school swimming career this weekend in Ocala, Fla., as National-Age-Group-record holder Kaii Winkler competes for South Florida Heat with state titles on the line. It was at the Florida 1A High School State Championships one year ago when Winkler began his tear in the sprint events as he knocked off Ryan Hoffer’s NAG mark in the 100-yard freestyle with a mark of 42.52.

Since then, Winkler lowered the mark to 41.96 while also blasting a 48.81 in the long course 100-meter free. The fastest three 15-16 American male swimmers have all recorded their top times in the last 15 months, Winkler has been faster than either Maximus Williamson or Thomas Heilman at that age. Notably, Winkler did not get a chance to qualify for international racing this summer after an injury knocked him out of U.S. Nationals.

As Winkler, now 17 and committed to swim at NC State next fall, focuses on this short-course meet, he will eschew the 100 free to focus on the 200 free and 100 fly. In the longer freestyle event, he will try to beat his own state record of 1:34.18. In his career, Winkler has been as fast as 1:33.28, so he could be in position to make another big jump this weekend. The 100 butterfly could be more dramatic, with Winkler entered at 47.19 and with a best time of 46.94. With a brilliant swim, Winkler could drop down to the 45-mid range that Joseph Schooling swam for a Florida state record in 2013, 17 months before he won an NCAA title in the event and less than three years before he surged to Olympic gold in the 100-meter fly in Rio.

Expect to see some sprint freestyle from Winkler as he will surely play a role on South Florida Heat’s relays. If he leads off the 400 free relay, he will again try to break the 42-second barrier and perhaps take a shot at Hoffer’s 17-18 NAG record, which stands at a daunting 41.23.

In the girls’ competition, a fellow South Florida Heat competitor and future NC State swimmer is the standout name. Erika Pelaez will aim for state records in the 50 free and 100 backstroke. The versatile sprinter went 22.26 in the 50 free this season, four hundredths off the state record of 22.22, while her best time stands at 21.91. In the 100 back, Pelaez swam a time of 51.32 at last week’s region championships, which surpassed the Florida state record (51.78) by almost a half-second.

Also set to compete at the state meet is PK Yonge’s Lillie Nesty, the daughter of University of Florida head coach and 2024 U.S. men’s Olympic team head coach Anthony Nesty and a national-caliber freestyler in her own right. The younger Nesty, committed to the University of Texas for next year, will take a shot at Florida state records owned by former Stanford swimmer Morgan Tankersley. In the 200 free, Nesty’s best time is 1:45.28, a little under one second off Tankersley’s 2016 mark of 1:44.31, while her 500 free best time is 4:48.98, compared to Tankersley’s 4:37.60.

In other events, look for an exciting race in the boys’ 200 IM between three members of the defending-state-champion Bolles School team. Carter Lancaster owns the state record at 1:45.02, but he is seeded a close second behind teammate Sascha Macht while Cohen Yuen Han Chiam sits third. Look for a good head-to-head-to-head competition in the girls’ 100 breaststroke as Addison BitelAlyssa Bozzuto and Emily Santos all swam times about one second off Isabel Ivey’s 2017 state mark of 1:00.99 during the season.

All of these swimmers will compete at Saturday’s 1A meet, which follows the 2A meet Friday. The 3A and 4A competitions will take place next weekend, and more information is available here.

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