South Charlotte

Sabres swim teams are kept afloat by siblings

The South Meck swim team has had either a boys' or girls' team finish in the top five at each of the last 10 state championships.

The trophy case in the school's hallway shows off the program's success, including state championship plaques, team pictures and decades of memories.

Although the school's run of top-five finishes may end this year, there are many reasons not to count them out, and the future looks bright for a return to dominance. South Meck has been able to keep its winning tradition all in the family, as past Sabre success has long been founded on family tradition.

From the early 1980s through the 2000s, when the five Martelle kids roamed the pools, South Meck swimming and diving has been steeped in sibling rivalry. The youngest Martelle, Meredith, finished her career in 2003, swimming on the girls' state champion team.

Another member of the 2003 championship team was captain Jessica Berens, a two-time state champion and high school All-American.

Ricky Berens, another South Meck All-American and a 2008 Olympian, and Tim Berens, an integral part of the 2007 state championship runner-up team, followed in their sister's footsteps.

Greg, Lindsay and Amy Baskwell were team captains in three separate state finals. Chandler Thomas was a state champion breaststroker in 2007, and his sister Kelsey was a key contributor during her years with the program.

Andreas and Michaela Nilsson were both high school All-Americans and now are swimming at Georgia Tech and Rutgers, respectively. Mark and Claire Nichols were team captains; Mark swam in college at Florida State, and Claire, now a Sabres assistant coach, swam at N.C. State.

This year is no exception to the strong family trend, as 16 swimmers and divers at South Meck have a brother or sister on the team.

"It is kind of a neat idea how families have come to South Meck and swam (and) had success in the past," said Leslie Berens, head coach and longtime Sabres program contributor. "Now we have 16 sibling combinations on the team, and it will be interesting to see what impact they will have."

Those siblings aren't without talent, either.

"I think our girls have someone solid at each and every position," said Amelia Loydpierson, a sophomore who swam in the state championships last year and whose twin brother, Isaac, swims for the boys.

The girls have a fairly deep and experienced team, while the boys have lots of talent but lack experience.

"The guys are really young since we lost a lot of people to graduation last year, so we are left with a lot of freshmen and sophomores," sophomore swimmer Mitchell Cooper said. "We are trying to get everyone some experience, but know in a couple of years we will be right back up at the top."

The Cooper brothers, Mitchell and freshman Matt, both have exciting futures and already are stars expected to lead the Sabres. Teammates say they not only are the best swimmers but also were voted most serious and the fiercest sibling rivalry.

The Coopers are not the only set of siblings who see the benefits of a close supporter.

Sophomore Charlotte Weaver said, "My sister (Haley, a senior captain) always cheers for me and helps with my strokes. She really encourages me. Even if she is swimming right after me, I can count on her to cheer me on and be supportive."

The Weavers were voted the funniest and are said to have the best sibling friendship on the team. Haley, MVP last season, is helping Charlotte follow in her footsteps.

Other siblings, however, crave competition rather than support.

"It is different to have someone to compare stats with, and it helps to push us and makes us better swimmers," sophomore Louis Senay said of his freshman brother, Billy. "We will go home after practice or a meet and talk about our times. It makes a big difference, and we are lucky to have that rivalry."

Junior Madey Ott, swimming with her twin, Haelli, is a team leader. She said she thinks the connections the brothers and sisters have leads to a really close team. Members regularly meet outside practice for team dinners or just to hang out.

"There is a much stronger bond for the swim team than other teams that I have been on," said Allie Gamble. "I have been on the tennis team for four years now, and we hang out a lot more on this team.

"Outside of the swimming pool, I think we do a lot together and a lot of us are good friends."

Gamble, a senior swimming on the team for the first time, was encouraged to join by her sister Mary, a leading backstroker as a sophomore.

Coach Berens, who has had three children successfully pass through the program, is excited to be a part of the newest group of siblings and looks for great things in the coming years.

"These guys are all great kids, and are all great brothers and sisters, and that spreads out to the rest of the team," Berens said.