The South Mecklenburg boys’ swim team was still celebrating their 2015 4A state championship on the bus ride home from Cary, Graham Weaver and some of his teammates turned their focus to a repeat performance.
Last season the Sabres broke a 26-year state championship drought by beating Green Hope in dramatic fashion -- 232-230 -- to win the 4A state title.
The young swimmers wanted more.
The greatest thing about this team is that everyone contributed, it was never about one or two guys. This team has always been about the team first. That has made the whole run the last two years even more special.
Coach Leslie Berens
“From the second we won the state championship, our goal and our main focus was to do it all again this year,” said Weaver, a senior on this year’s South Mecklenburg team. “…We weren’t going to take anything for granted or assume it was going to be easy. We knew we had to be focused in every meet.”
Coach Leslie Berens said her South Mecklenburg boys’ swim team was focused from their first team meeting in November.
The Sabres rolled through the 2015-16 regular season, going unbeaten in dual meets -- for the fourth straight year. The Sabres continued their march in the postseason, first winning 11 of the 12 events at the SoMeck8 conference championships, to win the league title by 142 points.
The next week, the Sabres won the 4A West Regional title by 92 points.
While they didn’t really need any more motivation, senior Graham Cooper found a way to inspire his team just before regionals.
“We always have a theme for states each season and put it on our team tee-shirt that we wear at states,” Cooper said. “Just a couple days before regionals, we still didn’t have a theme and I was talking to Coach Berens and I said ‘All we have to do to win a state championship is show up and swim.’ ‘Show up and swim’ seemed like a pretty simple thing to say at the time, but it became our motto for the last few weeks.”
Berens is in her ninth year as the swim team coach.
She said “We (coaches) just had to open the doors and let these guys race. Every meet I couldn’t believe what I was witnessing. They just kept getting better and better.”
When the time came to compete for that second 4A state championships on Feb. 11, the team didn’t waste any time sending a message.
The 200 medley relay team, including Nathan Murray, Jacob Rauch, Cooper and Weaver, started the meet with an all-classification record time of 1:32.48 -- and a 4A state title.
“Our swim in the 200 medley relay was a statement right from the beginning that we were here to win it all again,” said Murray. “Winning the 200 medley just energized our whole team. All four of us (on 200 medley relay) really wanted that win and state record, because we had just been (beaten) the year before (by J.H. Rose High relay team) and then that morning by Hough. That win really set the tone for the entire meet.”
The Sabres went on to win a school-record four state titles. The list includes: Graham (50 freestyle); Nathan Murray (500 freestyle); the 200 medley relay; 200 freestyle relay (with Noah Cahan, Rauch, Luke Johnson and Weaver).
There also were some runners up. That list includes Weaver (100 freestyle) and the 400 freestyle relay team (Cahan, Kellen Stillman, Murray and Johnson).
The entire, South Mecklenburg team contributed as all 12 boys’ swimmers who qualified to compete at the 4A state meet scored points, also including juniors, Jason Heishman, Christopher Pfuhl, Weston Youngblood and freshmen divers, (twin brothers) Ethan and Luke Foster.
The Sabers won by 136 points, with Hough coming in second.
“The greatest thing about this team is that everyone contributed, it was never about one or two guys,” Berens said. “This team has always been about the team first. That has made the whole run the last two years even more special.”
While the 2016 state championship run meant a lot to whole South Meck team, it may have had a little more significance to senior, Noah Cahan. He missed the entire, 2015 4A state meet after coming down with the flu.
“Last year was tough not being able to go to states and after having stay home in bed,” Cahan said. “It was an amazing feeling to be able to be at states, contribute and be a part of the whole championship experience with my teammates.”
Now the team will go their separate ways, many as college athletes. Cahan and Cooper are headed to UNC Wilmington. Murray will swim at the University of Tennessee. And Weaver is headed to UNC Chapel Hill.
“We are proud of everything we have accomplished, but what I believe our legacy has been about is instilling a culture of winning back into the program,” Weaver said. “We haven’t lost a regular season dual meet in four years and haven’t lost any meets in the last two seasons.
“You always want to be on top. We’re able to finish on top, but we hope this is just the beginning for the South Meck program.”
Jay Edwards is a freelance writer: firstname.lastname@example.org.