Chapel Hill High School men’s swimming head coach Greg Zoltners anxiously watched his team's scores throughout the afternoon on Feb. 10.
He knew his team, loaded with seniors returning from last year’s state championship run, would be fully equipped to compete with any opponent. But Zoltners also knew that the team his Tigers bested last season would be back with a vengeance.
A year ago, the Chapel Hill Tigers finished just ahead of Marvin Ridge High School's Mavericks to take the top spot. This year, the battle between the two teams came down to the final event.
The Tigers held only a half-point lead going into the men's 400-meter freestyle relay, but with star seniors Sam Hoover and Peter Bretzmann swimming the third and fourth legs, respectively, Chapel Hill was able to hold off the Mavericks. The group broke its own 3A state record with a 3:06.10 time, taking first place in the event and the meet.
With first-place finishes in seven events, Zoltners’ squad logged 106 points to Marvin Ridge’s 101.5, claiming the school’s eighth state championship.
“It was just a nail-biter,” Zoltners said. “Last year, I wasn't paying any attention to the score. And I didn't know that we were gonna win the meet. This time, I knew it was down to that relay.”
Hoover, a senior, is committed to swim for N.C. State next school year, and leading up to the state championships, he had been busy training for June's Olympic Trials.
“The story with Sam is that he was not fully rested for this meet,” Zoltners said. “So the fact that he swam as fast as last year on those relays is really quite remarkable.”
While Hoover would normally be the one to anchor that last race, Bretzmann, another senior, ended up being chosen for the job in the championship-clinching relay. The Florida commit took home the Most Outstanding Swimmer award for his record-breaking effort in the 200-yard individual medley race, as well as his first-place finish in the 500-yard freestyle. Bretzmann was also a key member of the teams that claimed gold in all three men’s relay events.
Both the season and championship meet took a lot of work at multiple levels to pull off, and that effort was not lost on the swimmers competing.
“I think everybody on the team is very grateful that we had an opportunity to compete,” first-year Eddie Wang said. “(Even with COVID protocols), when you get to that state championship level, every single person has been swimming for years. So I think when it comes down to it, it’s business as usual.”
Next school year, Hoover, Bretzmann and the rest of the team’s seniors will be off to their respective colleges, likely competing for spots in their new programs.
The program they leave behind will also be taking a step up in weight class, as Zoltners says that starting next semester, Chapel Hill High School is going to be reclassified as a 4A school, and will be competing at that level in the coming years.
Zoltners, however, isn’t worried about how his team will transition, and for good reason.
When comparing the times his Tigers recorded at this year's state championships to those on the 4A level, they would have won four events, racked up 79 points, and finished second in the state.
“The competition will be significantly more difficult,” he said. “However, a number of our winners from this meet would have won everywhere in the state, our (200-meter freestyle) relay beat the 4A teams this year. So it’s not that we can’t compete anymore, there’s just more fast people.”
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