On Nov. 3, Key West senior AJ Smith made school history, re-breaking his own school record in the 50 freestyle event at the FHSAA Florida swimming state championships. Smith’s 20.89-second effort was the fastest time in the pool, making him the 2A state champion in the event. 

Smith is the first swimmer in the Conchs’ rich history to bring home state gold, and the 2023 season marked his second trip to the state meet. Last season he placed 10th in the same event. Smith’s dedication to his sport and rock-solid work ethic made the difference this year. 

Longtime Conchs coach Lori Bosco’s pride in her senior captain is twofold. 

“He definitely put in all the hard work,” she said. “He’s always thinking about the rest of the team and he leads by example. He wanted to show the rest of the team that they could achieve their goals, too. We are all very proud of him.” 

Smith has not decided on whether he will pursue swimming at the collegiate level, but his coach said he is keeping his mind open. 

“This has definitely opened some doors for him,” Bosco said. 

The phenom also qualified for the 100 free at the state meet, held at the Ocala Florida Aquatics Swimming and Training (FAST) Center. His preliminary time was fast enough to qualify for a chance to bring home a second medal, but a false start in the finals disqualified him from the event. 

Coral Shores sent four athletes to the 1A state championships, also held at FAST, on Nov. 4. Junior Abbie Sargent qualified for the meet in the individual 100 breaststroke race as well as the 200 yard medley relay with Layne Smith, Allegra Fucaraccio and Riley Cooper. 

Sargent ended in 21st place in the 100 breaststroke, and the relay team suffered an early takeoff, disqualifying them from the race. All four athletes are highly decorated after an impressive showing at both districts and regionals, and will likely continue to improve next season. 

Their training is extensive and includes open water distance swims “for the fun of it.” Earlier this fall, Smith became the youngest solo swimmer in the eight-mile Swim for Alligator Lighthouse, placing second in the women’s division, while Cooper and Sargent were part of the winning relay team in the event. 

Tracy McDonald fled to the Keys from the frozen mountains of Pennsylvania hours after graduating from college and never looked back. She is a second generation coach and educator, and has taught in the public school system for over 25 years. She and her husband met at a beginning teacher meeting in 1997 and have three children born and raised in Monroe County. In her free time, McDonald loves flea markets, historical fiction and long runs in the heat.