Stewart Crowe was left delighted by his Fareham Nomads after they took a step into the unknown.
The club’s head coach sent an inexperienced B team to the first round of the Hampshire & South Coast League in Basingstoke.
But they rose to the challenge brilliantly, recording 36 personal bests from 40 individual swims.
Nomads finished the gala in third spot – just six points adrift of Winchester City Penguins A as City of Southampton triumphed.
Crowe said: ‘To get so close to Winchester A with such an inexperienced group says so much for the improvement the swimmers have made during my first 10 months back at the club.
‘The atmosphere was electric and our swimmers showed such passion for swimming and the club they love.
‘I am very excited to see what happens in the second round scheduled for November.’
Fareham’s first win came in the 10th event – with Sam Cooper recording a personal best 34.91sec in the under-15 50m breaststroke.
Nomads kept in touch with the two leading teams with victories for Ben King in the under-11 50m butterfly and Ellen Jewell in the under-11 50m freestyle.
They then celebrated under-11 medley relay glory before second places from Cooper, Jewell, King, Olivia Bevel, Aiden Phillips, Zoe West, Daisy Ireland, Alex Finch, Xanthe West and Beth Lincoln helped close the gap.
But despite further wins from Emily Quick and Cameron Wrankmore in the under-11 girls’ and boys’ 50m breaststroke, the Fareham swimmers were unable to overhaul Winchester.
Nomads finished ahead of the Penguins’ B team and Romsey & Totton.
n Anna Ross, 12, swam three long-course personal bests in the in 100m backstroke, 200m backstroke and 400m freestyle at the Irish National Age Group Championships.
n Jess Davies won the 100m backstroke at the Portsmouth Northsea Open in a time of 1.09.58.
Chris Finch, Beatrice Hollands, Zara Mitchard and Lara Barnett also competed.