(SULPHUR, La.) — The Aqua Wolves just made history. “This is the most successful year we’ve ever had,” said Rachel Peak, St. Paul’s swim team moderator, after the Wolves placed third at the LHSAA State Swim Meet taking the team further than it has ever gone.
On the Friday before the school dismissed for the Thanksgiving Holiday, the St. Paul’s Swim Team made the four hour drive to Sulphur to take part in the grueling, two-day state finals. “It’s really tough to get to State, the hardest meet of the season. The atmosphere in the Sulphur Aquatic Center is suffocating,” said junior, Christian Kramer. Hundreds of people squeezed into the indoor pool. There were spectators and coaches packed from the walls to the edge of the pool deck.
A majority of teams at the meet were 30-40 swimmers strong and took up an entire section of the bleachers on their own. These schools even had banners that stretched from arch to arch. The St. Paul’s team took up less than half of a bleacher with a sign that could barely be seen from across the pool. The more swimmers a team has the greater their chances are at scoring points to win the meet. Right from the start, the SPS Aqua Wolves faced a numerical disadvantage that would be insurmountable for most teams. By Saturday, the 14 man team was narrowed down to 10 men after the finals qualification portion of the meet.
The 10 swimmers from St. Paul’s took the meet by storm, finishing with the most podium finishes at the state finals in school history. Many of those podium finishes were decided by absurdly close finishes. The 200 Yard Freestyle Relay team of Jesse Cheng, Austin Peak, Cameron Smith, and Scott Messa finished second place. The Catholic High team narrowly beat the wolves by seven tenths of a second. In the next relay, the Wolves took third in the 300 Yard Medley Relay with Austin Peak, Drew Putfark, Cameron Smith, and Jesse Cheng.
It was the team captains Cheng, Peak, and Putfark whose remarkable individual performances put St. Paul’s at third in state. Cheng, a senior, ended his St. Paul’s swim career by breaking Meyers Morgan’s school record in the 100 Yard Freestyle while he also picked up a third place in the 50 Yard Freestyle. Peak, the sole junior captain, placed third in 200 Yard IM and fourth 100 Yard Backstroke. Putfark ended his five year St. Paul’s swim career with a second place medal in the 100 Yard Breaststroke.
Cheng, who has been on the team for five years, was quick to remind how far the team has come. “When I first joined the team in eighth grade, we were tiny, even more so than we are now. Now, we’ve recruited some guys in and we’ve really bonded,” Cheng said. When asked about the future of St. Paul’s Swim Team, Cheng said, “I’m excited to see what comes next. Emmitt’s a great coach. There’s some real talent coming in from the eighth and ninth graders. I’m hopeful and I wish them the best.”
This team became the third best in Louisiana, an unthinkable feat for a group its size, and made school history in the process. The first and second place finishers, Catholic High and Jesuit, were all qualified teams quadruple the size of the Wolves. “Getting third in state with what? 10 guys? I think we did pretty great,” said Cheng.