8 swimmers made quite a splash

May 25, 2008|By Cassandra A. Fortin | Cassandra A. Fortin,Special to The Sun

Eight seniors at Fallston High School joined the school's swim team with high hopes. Five joined as freshmen, two as sophomores and one as a junior.

First, they set their sights on winning the county meet. They achieved their goal four years in a row.

Then, despite facing adversity, they set a goal to win the state championship when it was initiated in 2007. And they did. They repeated the feat this year.

"These boys stuck together and worked as a team," said Sheri Huppenthal, one of the team's two coaches. "Their hard work and dedication paid off in a big way."

While some students are wondering if they made their mark in high school, the Fallston swimmers - Ryan Bernhey, Tom Bradley, Jack Gottschalk, Jamie Hicks, Bradley Huppenthal, Mark Ledford, William Sakell and Nick Tomechko - know they are leaving a legacy, a 52-0 record. They won every meet they competed in during the past four years.

The team was coached by Sheri Huppenthal and Jeff DeHart. Huppenthal, who has coached gymnastics and swimming for years, signed on to help coach the team when her son Bradley entered Fallston High School and joined the swim team, she said. Jeff DeHart, an elementary school teacher at Homestead/Wakefield Elementary School, who was a swimmer at the University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg, Va., signed on to coach that same year.

Huppenthal knew some of the boys before high school and has coached some of them since they were in elementary school, she said. From the start, the swimmers set high goals, she said, going on to win the county meet four consecutive years and then the state title in 2007 and 2008.

Huppenthal attributes the team's success to its cohesiveness. Some of the students have been swimming together since they were 6 or 7 years old, she said. So they knew what the others were capable of from the start, she said.

"Swimming is usually an individual sport," she said. "But in high school, it's a team sport. These boys have fun, and they have a great work ethic. They are talented in the water and the classroom."

They worked together from the start, she said. "The legacy they leave behind is more than a 52-0 record," she said. "They overcame great adversities."

Tomechko was in a bad accident last September and suffered a broken pelvis, a dislocated hip, a temporal bone fracture and a punctured eardrum. Shortly after his accident, he didn't think he would make it back to the water. But he did.

"My goal was to contribute to the team during my senior year," said the 18-year-old Forest Hill resident. "I really had to bust my butt to do it." When he swam in his first meet after the accident, he placed first in the backstroke, he said.

"Everyone was on their knees bowing to me," he said. "They couldn't believe I won." Tomechko, who plans to attend Ohio State University in the fall, said, "As a team, we had always set our goals high. I didn't want to set my goals lower than what I knew I was capable of doing."

William Sakell has been a member of a swim club since he was about 6 years old, but he didn't join the Fallston High team until his sophomore year. It was different being a member of a team, he said.

"Being part of a swim team is not about self," said Sakell, 17, of Bel Air, who plans to attend Marymount University in Arlington, Va., and become a physical therapist. "It's not a one-man show."

The highlight of his swimming career was winning the second consecutive state championship, he said.

"It was just unbelievable," said Sakell, who will swim for the Marymount team.

After so many wins, Ryan Bernhey - who swims the breast stroke - said he isn't looking forward to finding out what it feels like to lose a meet.

"If I go swim elsewhere, I know I will feel what it's like to lose," said Bernhey, 18, who plans to attend the American Jewish University in Los Angeles, and become a lawyer.

He attributes the team's streak, in part, to his coaches. "Our team has had two amazing coaches who knew how to take a group of kids and place them in a meet perfectly," he said. "Next year's team will have a completely different experience than we had. I hope that if they remember anything about our team that it is that we never gave up."

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