LAND O’ LAKES — Watching from a far at the Orlando YMCA Aquatic Center at the Class 2A state finals last season, Land O’ Lakes swimmer Cameron Hilgenberg watched fellow competitor and friend, Devin McCaffrey, nab a silver and gold medal in the 100 breaststroke and 100 butterfly, respectively.
This time, however, Hilgenberg wants to do whatever possible to join McCaffrey on a not-so-long list of names of Pasco County swimmers that have won an individual state championship. After a fifth-place finish at the Class 2A state meet last fall, Hilgenberg returns for his senior season as the top swimmer in the 50 freestyle and sees a strong opportunity to finish in the top three in his best event.
“The 50 freestyle has always been my event since I was a little kid,” Hilgenberg said. “My goal this year is to be on the podium. That would be a dream come true if I could end up on the podium. I saw how happy Devin McCaffrey was when he won as a junior and senior and I want to have that happen to me.”
A team-oriented goal for Hilgenberg is to continue Land O’ Lakes’ dominance in dual meets, which the boys team hasn’t lost since 2000, according to Gators coach Brian Vaile. The Gators have just seven returners from last season, and Vaile told the swimmers if they didn’t have any newcomers, the streak of victories might come to an end.
“It wasn’t as if it was going to happen, but it was a definite if we didn’t bring out more swimmers,” Vaile said. “Cameron went around the school and recruited new swimmers and even a guy from his baseball team. He really didn’t want the streak to end under his watch. The winning streak has gone on since his older brothers went to Land O’ Lakes back in 2000.”
Hilgenberg is also dedicated to the Land O’ Lakes Lightning swimming program, where he coaches five- and six-year-olds once a week with his mother, Robin, who also coaches the Gators girls varsity team. Grades have also been a big priority for Hilgenberg at Land O’ Lakes, and Vaile said the senior has a well-above 3.0 grade point average.
“I have nothing but good things to say about him,” Vaile said. “He has helped us out with depth by bringing some new guys onto the team. He’s just a natural leader and he’s done a really good job.”
Correspondent Andy Villamarzo cover Pasco County prep swimming and can be reached at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @avillamarzo.