On the horizon a squad emerges, drenched in success, hoisting a wooden Missouri shaped trophy triumphantly in the air, the largest anyone has seen all year. Last Friday and Saturday the St. Louis U. High Swim & Dive team claimed third place in the state, while setting three new state records in the process.

Senior Cooper Scharff after winning the State backstroke title. Photo: Miles Schulte.

“(The meet) was great.” said head coach Lindsey Ehret. “It surpassed my expectations. It was nice that we could settle into third pretty comfortably. We had pretty much best times, except for a couple, so it was a great meet overall.”

Finals kicked off with diving in the morning, allowing SLUH to start on top. Senior Sebastian Lawrence utterly demolished his competitors, claiming the state title for yet another year. Akin to a great white, Lawrence is an apex predator in the world of diving, having no competition in sight.

“I’ve just been doing my best,” said Lawrence, “(My goal) is always to beat my scores and work hard during the season, which I did.”

The first swim of the meet, the 200-yard medley relay, set the precedent for greatness. Astonishing all, the terrific team was composed of senior Cooper Scharff on backstroke, senior Ned Mehmeti on breaststroke, senior Jonas Hostetler on fly, and junior Jason Cabra closing on free. With a nail biting photo finish, the Rockhurst and SLUH relays tied for second place, both with times of 1:34.97, meaning that Rockhurst received far fewer points than they were planning, and that our boys in blue were closer to the top than expected.

“I started swimming when I was 8, so I have been around swimming (for a long time) and it is rare that I see swims that are breathtaking like Cooper’s and the (record breaking) relay were. There was so much improvement on already fast times, and records broken by a lot, that the whole meet really just took my breath away,” said JV coach Rob Hill. “This is my third time in a row seeing this meet, and I love seeing the improvement, records, and cheering from the team.”

While the team had no swimmers in the 200 free, they compensated with three participants in the 200 IM. Both freshman Ben Chumley and junior Gavin Baldes rose above their seeds in prelims to tie for 15th and 16th place, each with a time of 2:02.56, claiming the final two qualifying slots. In the top heat, SLUH had the esteemed Mehmeti plow through the water to secure sixth place at 1:56.31, putting him as the first individual on the podium.

“My first 100 was really nice, but then breaststroke hit, which is not my strength, so it started to hurt,” said Baldes. “Then for free I just had to push to the end, for the team.”

In the 50 free, Cabra swiftly claimed victory in his heat with a time of 21.58, a time so fast he would’ve gotten sixth if not constrained to his heat, which put him at ninth. Hostestler blazed through the water with such speed that he nearly evaporated the pool, slamming into the wall at a 21.33, earning him fourth place overall. Furthermore, the pair competed in the 100 free where Hostetler finished eighth and Cabra 13th, leaving each of them with motivation to improve in their final events.

“The team did very well,” said Hostetler, “I expected us to do well but even then there were so many swims that just far exceeded all expectations. There were things that could’ve gone better (throughout the season), but overall I am happy where I finished. At the end of the day I just wanted to spend (my senior season) with (my teammates) and I got that.”

The tension in the air was palpable leading up to the 100 fly. Lee’s Summit West’s crown jewel, Caleb Ellis, the top seed butterflyer who had dominated the event all year, was being challenged by SLUH’s Cooper Scharff, someone who had never even swam that event at State before. As soon as the starting beep was set off, the venue erupted in cheers. Going into the first wall Scharff and Ellis were nearly even, but Scharff’s explosive stroke kept putting him further ahead at each turn. In a historical display of skill, Scharff claimed first by nearly a second, and shattered the previous State record, performing the greatest 100 fly anyone in the state has ever seen with a time of 47.56. Baldes also supported the team in fly, placing eleventh and putting up a 54.46.

“My strategy was mainly just to stay with Caleb the first 50 then come back faster,” said Scharff. “A lot of the time during the season you are wondering ‘Is all this work really doing anything, is it worth it?’ So as soon as you are able to finish the race and look up to see the time that you just made, it is a really rewarding and gratifying experience. All the work has been put in for that, its amounted to something.”

“Cooper’s 100 fly was within the top 75 swum ever in high school in any state,” said Hill. “How about saying that for somebody, a swim within the top 75 ever swum by a high schooler (in the nation), that's crazy.”

The distance dudes dominated in the 500 free. Junior Brendan Schroeder exceeded his seed and held 

up the rear at 16th place. Freshman Gresyon Mueller galavanted through the water with the speed and endurance of a bluefin tuna, shaving a whopping 7.24 seconds off of his best time and winning his heat with a 4:51.85. Mehemeti once again massacred his competition to earn sixth place, putting up a time of 4:40.90.

“Overall it was an amazing meet,” said Mueller. “I was mostly just doing an all out sprint, giving it my all for a best time.”

Just as dolphins become formidable opponents when in a pod, so too did the squad of sophomore Henry Unger, Baldes, junior Solomon Shelton, and sophomore Kearney Foy form a spectacular state 200 yard freestyle relay. The group shot through the water with such speed that their heat winning time of 1:30.03, earning them ninth on the scoreboard, would’ve gotten them seventh in the top heat. Each member of the relay went a sub-23 second 50 free, leading to them to drop 1.20 seconds. What makes this win even more astonishing is the fact that Shelton did not swim this event in prelims, and was only subbed in to give Chumley more rest before the 100 back, a strategy that paid off in many ways as they both pulled through.

“It was really fun,” said Baldes. “(There) was a  lot of adrenaline coming from all of the really exciting (previous) events, so in finals we did really well.”

The 100 back was another highly anticipated event. Chumley snuck into finals earning 16th place, but the main event was Scharff vs. MICDS’s Lee Naber. This time, Scharff was the defending champ, having won the event at state in the two years prior. In prelims, Naber set a new state record, and surpassed Scharff to become the first seed going into finals. It was apparent that Scharff had no intention of letting that stand. A flying fish careening through the air, Cooper leaped off of the wall and slid into the water as though he relied on it to live. Naber and Scharff remained side by side as they submarined through the pool. As Scharff shot into the wall for the finish, he not only earned gold for the third year in a row, but set a new state record with a time of 48.12.

“Cooper showed up big,” said Ehret, “That was the best meet he’s had in four years, and he’s had a lot of good meets, but this surpassed all of them. He did a lot of things he hadn’t done before, and it went really well.”

The energy in the SLUH stands as the 400 free relay approached was utterly unmatched. All of the U. High spectators' hands were upright in the infamous U formation, accompanied by a large yell as soon as Hostetler catapulted off the block for the first leg of the relay. Hostetler streaked through the water in a blur, posting a 46.85 split, a huge improvement from his earlier 100 free. Cabra then joined the fray, holding the team’s position steady with a 47.83. Mehmeti, who is traditionally a distance monster, put up an immensely fast 48.16. 

Going into the final exchange the MICDS and SLUH relays were essentially even, but then Scharff entered the arena. Contributing the insane split of 44.02, Scharff closed out the relay to win by over two seconds, and shatter yet another state record. Immediately every SLUH swimmer flocked to the side of the pool, screaming “Oh When The Bills Go Marching” In at the top of their lungs, while being given a reverent silence by the announcers and onlookers. The spirit of SLUH had center stage as the team revealed the depth of their brotherly bond to the state.

“It was great whenever I was able to finish and see (the team) cheering for me,” said Scharff. “Before I got on the block everyone was watching me, knowing I could do it, it's just nice to have some people that have faith in you to go fast. I kind of feed off that team atmosphere.”

This season will go down in history. A third place finish at state, three new state records set, and a class of eight irreplaceable seniors that helped lead the team along the way. At last there is peace, no impending battle, no war on the horizon. The SLUH squad has achieved victory in countless ways this year, and now has the opportunity to rest knowing they have truly done their best.

“I think the season went really well.” said Ehret. “Fourteen weeks is a long time, but as soon as it is over you really miss it. I’m really proud of the guys. There were some challenges, but it was great to be back at FoPo and have a season that was pretty normal. (The team) drives me a bit crazy, but they all impress me a lot.”

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