The St. Louis U High Swim and Dive team stepped up to the podium with a fourth place spot in the annual COMO Invitational at Mizzou last Saturday, rivaling their foes on top high school teams across the state. The intense, emotional meet showcased the team’s widespread strength in every event, and their impressive ability to challenge some of the best times from all Missouri.
The COMO Invitational proved a particular challenge to SLUH’s local dominance, as Kansas City teams Rockhurst and Lee’s Summit West—SLUH’s exterminators in last year's Class 2 Missouri State Finals—took a road trip to meet the Jr. Bills in the chilly waters of Columbia. SLUH, who scored 212 points in COMO this year, was again bested by them. However, placing fourth among 28 teams across the state is no small feat.
“It was a lot of competition, the best we’d had all season,” said head coach Lindsey Ehret.
“I am very happy with how we performed,” said senior Joe Zarrili. “There were time drops and lots of strong swims.”
Last year, SLUH featured some excellent swimmers and divers, like Cooper Scharf ’22 and diving state champion Sebastian Lawrence ’22, who each contributed a sizable amount of points to the grand total. With these breadwinners gone, the swim team would have significant ground to make up in this year's competition.
“Most of our points came from those guys last year, so this year our depth was able to get us very close to where we were last year,” explained Ehret.
The physical dynamic going into the almost 10-hour meet was difficult to balance, as each swimmer maintained a delicate schedule of rest, warming up, staying hydrated, and stretching out in the long gaps between races throughout the day.
“It was tough, but if you're smart about it, you can manage,” explained senior Brendan Schroeder. “I brought a lot of clothes so I could stay warm and I made sure I didn't get hungry.”
Fueled by Rice Krispie Treats, fruit snacks, and Jimmy Johns, the Jr. Bills showed off in finals that evening, adorned with medal after medal. The toughened 200 medley relay crew of sophomore Ben Chumley, sophomore Evan Zimmerman, senior Gavin Baldes, and junior Henry Unger, had been a strong focus for Ehret in practices, and their tedious preparation paid off as they hopped out of the water and onto the podium, placing third.
In what could’ve been the biggest moment of the day, Schroeder slammed into the pool wall at 47.97 seconds for the 100-yard freestyle, his fastest time and a possible third-place spot among his competition. However, referees had taken notice that he’d flinched on the block, and he was disqualified for a false start.
“I was really angry at first, but I try to use failures like this motivation for the rest of the season,” said Schroeder. “I have to redeem myself now.”
Nevertheless, medal winners were in no shortage, as Chumley accepted his second medal for sixth place in the 100 backstroke, while also gaining points alongside sophomore Charlie Hill in a killer 200 IM, where Chumley finished 11th and Hill 14th.
Sophomore Jaden Yarborough proved his endurance in the 500 free, earning a seventh place medal, while his distance brothers sophomore Greyson Mueller and freshmen Connor Dunker and Wills Dino swam close behind in his wake, racking up points in the top 16.
“The 500 freestyle group is already really fast, and they probably have the most potential on our team,” said freshman Ethan Hill.
Also, Zarrili snagged his long-awaited moment of glory, shredding 5.77 seconds off his 100 breaststroke time like paper. Breaststrokers sophomore Evan Zimmerman (1:02.2) and junior Aidan Brawer (1:03.25) preserved their preciously low times as well, adding to the tally on the scoreboard.
Although the team placed fourth, the brotherhood and spirit took the number one spot, as they took their insane energy to the sidelines and rooted for their teammates through good times and bad. Every time a SLUH swimmer was in the water, a hoard of Jr. Bills crowded around the end of the lane, shouting for him.
“It was pretty cool to see how we usually have the biggest and loudest group out there cheering our team,” said Hill.
“Having that crowd of people behind your lane really gives you that extra push to work harder and swim faster,” added Zarrili.
This crowd came out in full force in the 400 free relay, the last event of the night. All of SLUH’s swimmers gathered around Schroeder, senior Jason Cabra, Yarborough, and junior Kearney Foy as they tore through the water like swordfish, ecstatic with their cheering crew’s encouragement.
“I was just pure adrenaline on that first 50,” commented Yarborough. “That was the most nervous I’ve ever been for a race.”
But as Foy, the finisher, zoomed into the wall, SLUH placed third in the event and the crowd went wild.
“I was just super excited,” said Foy. “I looked up and I saw everybody looking at me and saying nice job. It was a SLUH experience I don’t think I’ll ever forget.”
Back in St. Louis this week, overjoyed by this latest accomplishment, the team has thrown down the hammer and gotten deep into business with the infamous Hammer Week—known to current and former swimmers alike as the five most grueling practices of the year—with the hopes of repeating last year’s success in state this November. In the meantime, they will face off against Fort Zumwalt West and Liberty High Schools next Wednesday.
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