By Wil Crews
Twenty-six athletes on the Opelika Swim Team brought home numerous accolades after traveling to Huntsville, Alabama, to compete in the 2022 Southeastern Championships last weekend. The meet featured athletes from Tennessee, Alabama and Florida; head coach and Olympic gold medalist Tyler McGill called it the biggest short-course meet of the year.
Opelika’s 14-and-under group (called the Age Group Division) finished fifth overall, had four individuals place inside the top four in respective events, multiple top-eight finishers and two finish in the top three. Additionally, several relay teams medaled and a number of other individuals made the podium as well.
“The big highlight was our 14-and-under boys,” McGill said. “For us to be competing against teams in communities like Knoxville, Birmingham, Huntsville, Pensacola … for us to do that well in that age group was really exciting.”
The standout of the weekend was Max Stern, who competed in the 10-and-under boys group, finishing first in all six of his individual races and recording the seventh-best time in Southeastern Championship history for 9-year-olds in the 50-meter breaststroke. For his efforts, Stern was also awarded the Most Outstanding Individual Performer (for the entire meet) and the High Point Award (for his age group). Stern’s excellent performance garnered national attention from Swim Swam Magazine, which touted him “a true standout on the boys’ side of the meet.”
“Every time we talk about [Stern], the idea is keep it fun and you know, challenge him, and hopefully keep progressing, and he’s doing that,” McGill said. “So you never know what that could lead to, but he is certainly staying on the right track as of now.”
McGill made sure to shout out the performance from the senior boys’ and girls’ divisions, also.
“We had several of our senior boys place in the top eight, a couple of relays that scored points in the senior division, so, it wasn’t just the little kids,” he said. “The boys and girls did a great job.”
Next for the Opelika Swim Team comes preparation for the long-course season and eventual long-course Southeastern Championship, which places athletes in an Olympic-sized pool (double the length of the 25-meter pool the athletes swam in this past weekend) and will test Opelika’s skills further, as they do not have a long-course pool to practice in. McGill and the team have been pushing for Opelika to build such pool in the near future to further advance Opelika’s footprint on the Southeast and national swimming scene.