New Hough program’s talent creates great expectations
by Chris Hunt
Things will be very different for Tim Queen this winter.
After five seasons at the helm of North Mecklenburg’s powerhouse swim program, one of the most consistent squads at the Class 4A level, Queen agreed to coach a new team for the 2010-11 season: first-year program Hough High School. Since then, many things have changed in his life, including his morning commute, which now ends at the Cornelius school instead of Huntersville.
Still, one thing remains the same for Queen: He’ll have plenty of talent in the pool. The Huskies might not boast a senior on their roster this winter, but they enjoy the same high expectations that Queen’s North Meck teams set in the past. More than one of Queen’s new swimmers admitted that the Huskies’ boys and girls teams have enough talent to pull off a top-five finish at the 4A state meet in their first season -- and, quite possibly, a state title in the near future.
Those are big words for an upstart program, but they are well-founded. In seasons past, Huntersville schools North Meck and Hopewell stockpiled their swimming programs with talented swimmers from the Cornelius area. But after Hough opened its doors this fall, those athletes are now Huskies, diluting the Huntersville schools’ once-strong talent pool.
Of the 57 swimmers who made the Huskies’ roster, Queen said 19 are former Vikings. His familiarity with the athletes moving to Hough was just one of the many reasons Queen left North Meck. The chance to become the chairman of Hough’s physical education department was another.
“There’s a lot of kids with talent swimming at Hough,” said Queen. “We have 10 girls and nine boys from North Meck. That makes it easier because they are familiar with me and my standards.”
The Huskies collected key pieces of the Viking boys squad that finished second at the state meet last year, led by freestyler Jack Manchester. But the Hough girls benefitted most, welcoming state qualifiers such as Ali Kitchens (Hopewell) and Payton Schrum (North Meck). There are also new faces expected to make a big splash, including freshman Heather Merritt and Lake Norman Charter transfer Peter Brumm, two Swim MAC Senior I swimmers who qualified for the junior nationals, which will be held at Stanford University next year.
Brumm made his mark last winter, winning the 200-yard freestyle and 100-yard butterfly events at the 1A state meet, and has been corresponding with college programs such as Virginia, Michigan and Purdue. Brumm made the move to Hough to face stiffer competition but said he was excited to learn that Queen would take the reins of his new team. He had heard from former Vikings that Hough’s new coach worked well with year-round swimmers, allowing those athletes to keep their club-team practice schedules as long as they work once a week with the high school squad.
“I decided to go to Hough to face 4A competition,” said Brumm, “but I knew a lot of the North Meck swimmers from MAC, especially the guys from the state championship team, and I heard Coach Queen knows how to put together a team. I knew about his policy with year-round swimmers, and that was a deciding factor.”
Queen’s reputation was set after guiding the Vikings to the boys 2008-09 4A state title. The Vikings girls teams, for the most part, put forth top-10 efforts at the 4A level under Queen, too. During that time, Queen helped extend North Meck’s boys and girls conference championship streak to 24 seasons. Ironically, Queen is now charged with breaking the Vikings’ impressive streak.
In recent years, it appeared that North Meck’s days of dominance in the pool were coming to an end. Not only was Hough taking established swimmers, the Vikings were also losing Division I college talent in JT Stilley, Tyler Fleming and Jake Matysek to graduation, leaving junior Sean Corcoran, senior Jake Stilley (on the boys side) and seniors Kaitlyn Poff and Linsay Cooper (on the girls team) to carry on the team’s proud tradition of success. It was so obvious that many of last year’s swimmers approached the season as the Vikings’ final hurrah.
“We knew last year that it might be North Meck’s last conference championship,” said former Viking, now Hough sophomore, Jack Manchester. “With Lake Norman so strong and a lot of us going to Hough, we knew the streak (of conference titles) would end next year.”
But as talented as Hough is for a first-year program, it’s the emergence of Lake Norman High School – which enjoyed top-five performances in the boys and girls state meet last season – that is the biggest threat to the Vikings’ streak. The Wildcats’ loaded squad enters the season as the title favorite, putting Queen in an unusual position. No longer is his team expected to win the I-MECK 4A conference meet.
“After five years at North Meck, it’s a little weird (not to be the favorite),” said Queen. “We used to be the ones people were shooting for. It’s motivation to work harder.”
Then again, with plenty of speed in Hough’s lanes this winter, the Huskies aren’t exactly conceding to Lake Norman. Queen’s ranks are packed with young talent ready to build championship traditions of their own. A top-five finish at the state meet would be a nice to end the season, but before that can happen, the Huskies are just trying to figure out smaller details, such as their team traditions.
They can’t, after all, use the traditions from last season.
“It’s weird, but we don’t know if we are going to continue the team traditions from our other schools,” said Schrum. “In a way, last year’s traditions – such as going to CiCi’s Pizza or the ‘VI cheer’ – were ours, but I don’t know if we should take them from other schools.”
While Hough’s swimmers are considerate enough to avoid mimicking former schools in favor of making their own customs, it’s safe to say there’s one longtime Viking tradition they consider pilfering.
The up-and-coming Huskies wouldn’t mind starting a conference championship streak of their own.