May 24, 2016 04:39PM ● Published by Tyler Hicks
By EJ Holland
Southlake Carroll athletics has established a tradition of excellence.
From football to baseball and everything in between, the Dragons are known nationwide for having the country’s premier high schools sports teams on a yearly basis.
And 2015-2016 was no different. Southlake Carroll sent a number of athletes to the state championships in swimming and diving, cross-country and wrestling in the winter.
Perhaps the most successful program of the trio was swimming and diving, which saw a number of athletes proudly display gold medals around their necks. But that’s far from a surprise. In fact, winning state is an expectation for the swimming and diving team.
Since 2010, Head Coach Kevin Murphy has guided his teams to six straight state championship appearances. Murphy originally arrived at Southlake Carroll from Oklahoma and has built a dynasty.
“With what I learned in the desert, I felt like I could make the middle and bottom of the program a lot better. That’s what we initially worked on when we got there. Once the snowball got rolling, it was hard to stop.”
Murphy had arguably his best team yet on the boys side as the Dragons took home another state title.
Southlake Carroll posted a score of 295 points—more than 100 points ahead of second-place finisher Austin Westlake (194). The record-smashing performance opened eyes across the nation.
“If you’ve ever played the game where you put your hand on a baseball bat then the other person puts it higher then you put it higher, that’s how our boys are,” Murphy says. “They were competing at practice all the time, and they were hungry. They had a special season.
“They scored more points than any team in the history of the state team. We’ve had some really good teams, but this is the highest-scoring and deepest team we’ve ever had.”
Alex Zettle, the 6A Boys Swimmer of the Meet, led the Dragons and won a pair of individual gold medals in the 200-yard freestyle and 500-yard freestyle. Zettle posted a time of 1:37.17 in the 200, while he finished the 500 in 4:22.64.
His teammate Jack LeVant won the shortest race of the event, finishing the 50-yard freestyle in 20.23 seconds. The duo together with Austin Whalen and Colter Carman won the 400 free relay with a time of 2:59.69. In doing so they became only the third public school team in the nation’s history to have ever broken the 3:00.0 barrier.
Meanwhile, 6A Diver of the Meet Nate Hernandez defended his title, adding his special talents to the Dragons’ championship effort.
While the girls didn’t bring home the hardware, they still had an excellent season in their own right, finishing the regular season undefeated and claiming seventh place at the state meet with a score of 106.
“The girls have been down for a little bit, but I feel like we are on the upswing,” Murphy says. “They just need to become more competitive. All the girls that swam at state received All-American consideration. They were a good group of swimmers.”
Southlake Carroll’s boys team returns a number of key swimmers, while the girls team has the potential to place even higher next season. It’s clear more state achievements are within reach.
So how does Murphy keep his team motivated?
“We individualize goals a lot,” he says. “That’s based on their high school practices and their club practices. Our objective is for everyone to improve. And if everyone improves, something good is going to happen. The expectations keep getting higher. Where it stops, I don’t know.”
Swimming and diving might have been the pinnacle of Southlake Carroll winter sports, but cross-country had a spectacular season as it garnered national attention after yet another dominant season.
The boys took home both the district and regional championships as they earned a berth in the state championship meet. The girls also captured a district title and made their way to state.
Unfortunately for the Dragons, awful weather ruined the course and played a major factor as both teams finished in second place.
“We were a little disappointed at the state meet,” says Head Coach Justin Leonard. “Our goal is to always win a state championship. It was just one of those things where we got beat by a better team, so we have to regroup and get better.”
Reed Brown placed fourth at state with a time of 16:28.26. No girl finished in the Top 10 individually for Southlake Carroll but as a unit, they posted a scored of 87, finishing only behind Flower Mound Marcus.
While both teams experienced heartbreak at state, they did have a fun ending to the season as they competed in the Nike Cross Nationals in Portland, Oregon.
“That was a great way to end the season,” Leonard says. “It’s the best of the best out there. It was a great experience. There is no better way to wrap up your high school season than with a trip to Portland, Oregon, to compete against some of the best.”
The girls team finished 15th at nationals with a score of 340, while the boys finished 16th with a score of 344.
Individually, Brown stood out from the crowd. On top of his great performance at state, Brown was named the Gatorade Runner of the Year after placing first in the Nike Cross regionals and 14th at nationals.
Fellow junior Charlie Gardner also had a specular season as he finished fourth at the Nike Cross regionals. On the girls’ side, sophomore Catherine Tracht showed some flashes of potential for the future as she placed 24th at state.
All three runners will be back next season and give the Dragons a legitimate opportunity to get back on top.
“Getting to nationals has given us a lot of momentum heading into next season,” Leonard says. “Reed and Charlie are huge. They both work extremely hard. They are two of the fastest we’ve had come through the program. They are going to be leading the charge.
“I’m excited about our girls team, too. We are going to revamp the team and get to work.”
WRESTLING’S NEW STRONGHOLD
Wrestling had one of its most successful seasons in school history. The Dragons captured their second consecutive district title, finished second in the region and placed eighth at the state meet.
Head Coach Joseph Hathaway was also named the region Coach of the Year. Over the last six years, Hathaway has built Southlake Carroll into a wrestling powerhouse.
“This was a great season and another step in the right direction for our program,” Hathaway says. “We started out well and carried that momentum on throughout the year. We talk a lot about consistency and that is what we are starting to see from our kids and that is leading to more success on the mat.
“Just like every season, we had our ups and downs, but this experienced group came prepared to compete every week. This was a special group of kids, especially our seniors, that I’ve had the pleasure of working with for many years now.”
Nolin Wheeler (106), Adam Linberg (170), Jack Duval (160), Zach Francis (182) and Cameron Haddock (138) all captured individual district championships. Duval finished as the state runner up in the 160-pound division.
With Duval, Linberg, Haddock and others back in the fold next season, the Dragons look poised to place even higher at state next year.
“This is a talented group and one of the most athletic teams we have had,” Hathaway says. “Having said that, their commitment to preparing for next season on a daily basis will determine their success. I’m really excited to see them put in the work, grow as a team and improve on the mat.”
All three sports and their success have helped Southlake Carroll in the race for the UIL Lone Star Cup, which is awarded annually to six high schools—one in each of the six UIL classifications.
The accolade based on their team performance in district and state championships. The winning schools in each classification will receive the UIL Lone Star Cup trophy and a $1,000 scholarship.
Southlake Carroll currently sits in third behind The Woodlands and Austin Westlake with 48 points. If these winter sports are any indicator, the Dragons will have a chance to claim the cup with strong athletic performances to round out the school year.