South Meck’s boys’ swimming and diving team is synonymous with excellence. The Sabres defeated Hough 279-208 to win their third consecutive N.C. High School Athletic Association 4A state championship.
Their theme three years ago was “Do your job.” It was “Reload” for the majority of last season, but changed to “Show up and swim” for the championship. The mantra for this season was “Unfinished business,” which gave South Meck, especially its senior class motivation to make sure it went out on the right foot. South Meck coach Leslie Berens said those themes and quotes helped to drive the team.
The idea of unfinished business was started by senior Kellen Stillman after the Sabres lost 115 points from last season’s graduating senior class. He and his classmates Luke Johnson, Christopher Pfuhl and Weston Youngblood wanted to make this state championship their own before they departed, and they did.
“That made me incredibly happy and proud to be a South Meck Sabre,” Johnson said.
Johnson, who is committed to the United States Naval Academy, said everyone did their job. The Sabres entered the state meet with plenty to prove after falling short 400.5-399 at the regional meet to Hough, which made their comeback against the Huskies on the biggest stage even more impressive.
“When you lose by 1.5 pretty much everyone looks at their own swims and thinks, ‘This is on me,’” Stillman said. “When everyone kind of has that self-reflection that’s what made everyone swim so fast at states.”
The loss to Hough at regionals was disappointing, but it proved to be a blessing in disguise. That setback gave South Meck the motivation it needed to get over the hump. The swimmers got even more fodder to their fire when folks at school and in the community raised their doubts and questioned if the Sabres could complete the trifecta.
Youngblood, a Michigan State commit, said that was a wakeup call for him and his teammates, and it made them hungry going into states. Johnson said he was shocked by the loss at regionals, and went as far as to say that it made him mad.
The senior captains had a conversation with the rest of the team. They told their teammates it wasn’t over yet.
“I think their last two state championship runs was definitely key to them winning,” Berens said. “Hough was trying to win their first and only. I think they were a little more tired than Hough on that regional swim.”
The moment was too big for Hough, while South Meck knew what to expect going into that high-pressure environment.
Stillman, who is committed to Emory University, compared South Meck to the New England Patriots, because the Sabres make big comebacks and are hated by everyone.
Pfuhl, who is waiting to decide between William & Mary and Columbia University, said he couldn’t imagine a better way to go out as a senior.
The seniors have been swimming together at Swim MAC since they were 11 years old, which helped them forge a strong bond that carried South Meck to another state championship.
Winning is important to South Meck, but it’s not everything to the Sabres.
They felt compassion for those who are less fortunate than them, and put their servant hearts and generosity on display earlier this season when they raised $800 for West Meck’s swimming and diving team that had several swimmers wearing old, wornout swimsuits or compression shorts. The money helped West Meck get new goggles, sweatshirts and swimsuits.
South Meck is No. 1, but that day they were one team with West Meck. Both teams chanted “One Meck” together.