Wheeler keeps McDonogh afloat

Swimming: With two-time All-American senior Mike Wheeler leading the way, the Eagles may finally be able to achieve their first victory over Loyola.

January 24, 1999|By Lem Satterfield | Lem Satterfield,SUN STAFF

McDonogh has never beaten Loyola in swimming, and Eagles senior Mike Wheeler says it's time for a change.

"I've thought about it since my freshman year. I've thought about it, it seems, forever," said Wheeler, 18, a Woodbine resident. "To go out on top would be a great way to end my high-school career."

Wheeler set meet records at last year's Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association championships in both the 200 freestyle (1 minute, 42.85 seconds) and the 500 freestyle (4: 35.94).

He also swam the first leg of the Wheeler winning 400 free relay and the backstroke leg of the runner-up 200 medley relay.

But even though Wheeler and company turned in what then-McDonogh coach Scott Ward called McDonogh's "best effort in my 11 years," they lacked the overall depth and experience to dethrone powerful Loyola.

As a result, the Dons captured their fifth consecutive championship meet title over the Eagles, 329-290.

Earlier that year, in a regular-season 105-71 dual-meet win, the Dons of coach Pete Schertle had won nine of 12 events to turn back McDonogh.

But Wheeler -- a two-time All-American swimmer who has signed with the University of Virginia on a scholarship -- said that if it's going to happen, this is the year.

McDonogh visits Loyola on Tuesday in an MIAA battle of 5-0 teams. But a win by McDonogh won't guarantee a regular-season crown unless the Eagles defeat once-beaten Gilman (4-1), the league's other top contender, in a meet at McDonogh on Feb. 2.

Only then would McDonogh have momentum for the league's big splashdown -- the league championship meet -- on Feb. 6 at Calvert Hall. Loyola already has faced and defeated Gilman in a close meet.

"It's been our goal all year to win MIAAs," said Wheeler, who has eclipsed eight school records at McDonogh. "Our depth has proven advantageous in our duals so far, and we're feeling pretty confident."

But the Eagles will need an all-out effort from versatile junior Jamie Todes, junior sprinter Scott Aszal and sophomores Eric Weinberg and Andrew Schapiro, with additional leadership required from seniors Bobby Smith and Jason Olszewski.

"We have a lot of depth this year, but Michael's our standout swimmer," said first-year coach Brent Miller. "Pretty much anything I put him in, we know he'll either win or place high."

Nicknamed "Gigantor," "Sasquatch" and "Bigfoot" for his size (6-foot-4, 195 pounds, size 14 feet), Wheeler is an honor-roll student. He became an Eagle Scout this past summer.

But Wheeler didn't just spend his entire off-season earning merit badges: He also improved as a swimmer.

In April, he was seventh nationally in both the 400- and 800-meter freestyle events at the Phillips 66 U.S. National Championships at the University of Minnesota.

In June, Wheeler's efforts were rewarded further: He was the only Marylander chosen to the 20-member U.S. National Junior team, which traveled to Sheffield, England, for the Grand Prix Meet.

"I did very well," said Wheeler, who competed against squads from Ireland, Japan, China and England. "It was great representing my country in my first international competition."

Wheeler, also a standout on the Eagles' water polo squad, has twice achieved "High Point," an honor bestowed upon the highest individual scorer in prestigious meets, at the University of Pittsburgh's Christmas Invitational in December and at last weekend's Retriever Classic at UMBC.

At UMBC, Wheeler also was co-winner of the P. J. Frappaolo Memorial Award in the 100-yard freestyle.

Pub Date: 1/24/99

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