South Mecklenburg boys’ swimming tries to live up to its motto: “Build a team”
Tuesday, Jan. 28, 2014

South Mecklenburg boys’ swimming tries to live up to its motto: “Build a team”

    Four freshman, from left, Kellen Stillman, Christopher Pfuhl, Weston Youngblood and Luke Johnson, have helped the South Mecklenburg boys’ swim team go undefeated in the SoMeck 8 conference this season.
    The South Mecklenburg boys’ swim team includes, from left, freshman Christopher Pfuhl, sophomore Graham Cooper, sophomore Noah Cahan, freshman Weston Youngblood, freshman Luke Johnson, senior Matthew Cooper, sophomore Nathan Murray, and sophomore Graham Weaver.

South Mecklenburg swimming and diving coach Leslie Berens has said it too many times to count this season: “Build a team.”

Berens even made a sign of this year’s motto at a team meeting last month, with phrases like “be tough,” “crazy work ethic,” and “do your job.”

Berens has shown she can build a good team at South Meck.

After a couple of down seasons in 2010-11 and 2011-12, Berens has helped the South Meck boys’ team steadily climb back up the ladder in the conference, region and state meets.

The Sabres finished 47th at states in 2011, placed 17th at the state meet in 2012 and third at the same meet last season.

The 2013 finish was the best since the Sabre boys were 4A state runner-up in 2006, when Berens’ son, Olympic gold-medalist Ricky Berens was a senior, and 2007, Leslie Berens’ first year as head coach.

“South Meck swimming is deep tradition, and we’ve accomplished a lot of great things,” Leslie Berens said. “But we want to get back to that championship tradition every year. We aren’t just thinking about this year, but next year and the next year after that.”

The South Meck boys have reasons to believe they are on track. They have gone unbeaten in their last two conference regular seasons, finishing 7-0 last year in the Southwestern 4A, and going undefeated with the same mark this season in the new SoMeck 8 conference against teams like Ardrey Kell, Providence High and Charlotte Catholic.

“When I got here, we were pretty bad that year and had only three club swimmers.It was a tough season,” senior Matthew Cooper said. “But now, it’s a whole different team with so much more depth and talent. We have really come together, from the freshman to the seniors, year-round swimmers and non-year- round swimmers – we are all one big family.”

While co-captains Cooper and seniors Landon Holbert and Brendan Schaffer lead the team, South Meck has gotten key contributions from swimmers in all classes, like sophomores Noah Cahan, Graham Cooper (Matthew’s brother), Nathan Murray and Graham Weaver; and freshmen Jason Heishman, Luke Johnson, Christopher Pfuhl, Kellen Stillman and Weston Youngblood.

Berens said that most of her swimmers are versatile enough to swim in multiple events

While the Sabres had a great regular season, including a 40-point win over Ardrey Kell in the regular season finale, they want more in the postseason.

They not only want a chance to win the Jan. 24 SoMeck 8 conference meet , but also believe they can contend for regional and state bragging rights.

The Sabres haven’t won a regional title since the 1980s, and they haven’t won a state title since 1985. Freshman Luke Johnson’s father, Rod, was a senior on that team.

“I’d definitely like to tie my dad (with a state title) or even beat him,” Luke Johnson said, laughing. “It would be nice to quiet him down.”

“You see all of the regional and state championship banners in the gym and there aren’t a lot from boys swimming,” Murray said. “We want to be part of the team changes that and put some more banners up.”

The Sabres were close to a regional title last year, losing to Hough by seven points.

South Meck will also have multiple swimmers looking to win individual titles, including Matthew Cooper (100 backstroke), Murray (100 backstroke), Graham Cooper (500 freestyle) and Graham Weaver (50 and 100 freestyle) .

Murray broke an 11-year- old school record for the 100-yard backstroke, in 52.42 seconds, while Weaver owns the South Meck record in the 50-freestyle (21.50).

Diver Brendan Schaffer also won the SoMeck 8 boys’ diving title earlier this month.

But Berens knows winning a state title won’t be easy.

“You just don’t wake up and become a state champion,” Berens said. “There is so much hard work that goes into it. But I believe we have what it takes to get there.”

Her swimmers have the same feeling.

“We believe we can compete for championships,” Weaver said. “We know we have that potential. Now the only question is: ‘Can we live up to it?’ 

Story went to print before the South Mecklenburg boys swam in SoMeck 8 conference championship Jan. 24.

Jay Edwards is a freelance writer. Have a story idea for Jay? Email him at

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