“The job is not done.” That may seem like a simple, or even obvious, phrase. But for the South Mecklenburg boys’ swim team, those five words have a deeper meaning.
For the Sabres’ five senior co-captains -- Noah Cahan, Graham Cooper, Nathan Murray, Jack Navaroli and Graham Weaver -- it’s also constant reminder of the championship focus they strive to have in their final high school season.
“The funny thing about (coach Leslie Berens) is she has about a million motivational sayings for us, she is trying to bring the best out of us in every meet,” Weaver said. “But we definitely feel like ‘the job is not done,’ this season.”
Berens, who has coached swimming for nearly three decades with SwimMAC Carolinas, Old Georgetown Club and now South Meck High, says the class of 2016 has been a special group.
“These boys really have helped put South Mecklenburg back on the map,” Berens said.
Berens’ two sons, Ricky (University of Texas All-American, two-time Olympic gold medalist and World Champion) and Tim (who swam at University of South Carolina) also swam at South Meck.
“We’ve always been in the mix, but it’s tough with all the great teams not only just in Charlotte, but in the state,” Berens said. “To win a state championship for the first time since 1989 last year was special. It’s been a great time for our school. We hope to keep it going.”
South Meck has followed up an unbeaten regular season with a dominant performance at the SoMeck8 conference championships where they won 11 of the 12 events to claim their third straight league title.
Weaver, the SoMeck8 Swimmer of the Year, led the way winning the 50- and 100-meter freestyle, while anchoring the 200-meter medley relay and 200-meter freestyle relay teams to league titles.
Cahan also accounted for four league championships. He won the 200 individual medley and 100 butterfly (setting a meet record of 52.23), while also swimming on the 200 medley and 200 freestyle relays.
Luke Foster (diving), Lucas Johnson (100 breaststroke, meet record 59.68), Nathan Murray (100 backstroke), Kellen Stillman (200 freestyle) also won SoMeck8 titles in their respective events.
The 400-meter freestyle relay team, including Stillman, Cooper, Johnson and Murray, also set a meet record (3:14.35).
The key to South Meck’s success has been their depth. The Sabres also has seven league runner-ups, including 200 medley relay (Christopher Pfuhl, Johnson, Cooper, Navaroli), Weston Youngblood (200 freestyle), Johnson (200 individual medley), Cooper (100 butterfly), Stillman (100 freestyle), Murray (100 backstroke) and Jacob Rauch (100 breaststroke).
“Our team’s success doesn’t depend on one or two guys, but the entire lineup,” Berens said. “They really push each other, even in practice.”
That daily competition has also paid big dividends for the future of the core of South Meck’s senior class. Cahan and Cooper are headed to UNC Wilmington; Murray to the University of Tennessee; and Weaver the University of North Carolina.
But first they want to help write one more championship chapter at South Mecklenburg.
After earning a two-point victory over Green Hope, in the 4A state meet’s final event, the Sabres are eager to prove they can do it all again on Feb. 11 at the Triangle Aquatic Center in Cary.
“This team has learned that once you climb the mountain and reach the top, you realize there are more mountains to climb,” Berens said. “We are just as motivated as ever.”
“Last year, I don’t think we understood how good we were, even when we got to states,” Cooper said. “Then, all of sudden, we were like ‘Whoa, we can do this.’
“This year, we have had a different level of focus. We know people are gunning for us, we know it’s not going to be easy. But our focus all year is that we don’t want to leave any doubt who the best team is.”
Weaver says he believes this run is about more than just this year’s South Meck team.
“We all want to win another championship pretty bad,” Weaver said. “But this is about more than just this team. We want to leave a championship legacy at South Meck, where every team comes in expecting to be a contender each season. We hope that is just the start of a dynasty.”
Jay Edwards is a freelance writer: firstname.lastname@example.org.