High School Sports

South Meck’s Hunnicutt swims, vaults during day to remember

South Mecklenburg senior Lainey Hunnicutt swam at the state swim meet in Cary the morning of Feb. 14 before driving to Winston-Salem to compete in the state indoor track meet.
South Mecklenburg senior Lainey Hunnicutt swam at the state swim meet in Cary the morning of Feb. 14 before driving to Winston-Salem to compete in the state indoor track meet. COURTESY OF LESLIE BERENS

When Lainey Hunnicutt found out the 4A state swimming championships and the 4A state indoor track meet would be the same day, she says she “freaked out a little bit at first,” thinking she might not be able to help both her Sabres teams.

Instead, Feb. 14 was a day Hunnicutt, a senior at South Mecklenburg High, says she will never forget.

Hunnicutt, 17, started her day in Cary at the Triangle Aquatic Center that morning for the 4A state swim meet before making the 1 hour, 45-minute drive with her mother, Cyndi, to the JDL Fast Track in Winston-Salem that afternoon for the 4A state indoor track meet.

She swam with the 200 medley relay team (with Caroline Greiner, Claudia Barnett and Sinclair Larson) at the swim meet before tying for fifth in the pole vault at the state indoor meet.

“The whole day turned out to be more cool than crazy for me,” said Hunnicutt. “To be able to swim and then watch my teammates for the entire (state swimming) preliminaries that morning and then go to the state track meet and compete and watch my teammates run was a lot of fun. It was fun getting to do everything. I don’t think I will ever forget that day, it was a big day.”

That day is a microcosm of Hunnicutt’s entire South Meck athletic career. The Sabres senior will have 14 varsity letters when she graduates in June.

Hunnicutt has earned a letter all four years for the swim team and the outdoor track team. She also has three varsity letters in indoor track, ran for the cross country team for the first time this past fall and played for the Sabre varsity volleyball team her sophomore and junior seasons.

“If I could have played soccer, I would have loved to, but I don’t know if I would have had time or been able to make the team,” said Hunnicutt, who also swims in the summer for the Olde Georgetown neighborhood team. “I like to stay as busy as possible. I don’t have an offseason, but I like it that way, it keeps me in good shape.”

“Lainey is a tremendous natural athlete, I don’t think there’s any sport she couldn’t learn and then excel at if she tried,” said South Meck swim coach Leslie Berens, who earned 13 letters in her high school career in swimming, tennis, volleyball and basketball. “She’s very dedicated and focused on whatever it is she doing at the time.”

While Hunnicutt is used to handling a hectic schedule, she says Feb.14 took all her energy.

She woke up at 5:40 a.m. in the team motel. As her swim teammates ate breakfast, she had to skip both the morning meal and lunch to make sure she made the weight requirements for the pole she uses in the pole vault.

Hunnicutt didn’t eat anything that day until around 5:45 p.m., when Lainey and her mom stopped for dinner on the way home from the track meet.

“I was definitely exhausted and starving,” Hunnicutt said. “But it was all worth it.”

While Hunnicutt was disappointed not to be able to help the 200 medley relay qualify for the state finals, she quickly turned her focus to the track meet. She and her mother left Cary at 12:15 p.m. to head to Winston-Salem, doing what they always do on a road trip.

“When Lainey and I are on a car ride, we always turn up the music and sing together,” Cyndi Hunnicutt said. “That’s our thing.”

Hunnicutt went on to finish fifth at the meet in the pole vault with a 10-foot, 6-inch jump, but said she could be better.

“I had had a great week of pole-vault practice the week before and I really wanted to get to 11 feet,” Hunnicutt said. “I almost got 11 feet (her personal record) and that would have put me (in the top four).”

Hunnicutt now hopes for her best season in outdoor track. Her goals are to win a conference and 4A West Regional title in the pole vault, and to make the podium at states.

She also wants to clear 11-6, which would be a personal record.

Hunnicutt, who will attend Appalachian State University, also hopes her performances will earn a spot on the Mountaineers’ track team, and is talking to the Appalachian State University track coaches about that possibility.

“I’m really excited about this spring, but it’s also sad to think it’s my last high school season,” Hunnicutt said. “I’ll probably cry after my last (track) meet. Hopefully, I can keep doing (pole vault) in college for the next four years.”

Jay Edwards is a freelance writer. Have a story idea for Jay? Email him at jedwardsjr23@gmail.com.