WAXHAW – Over the past six seasons, the Marvin Ridge swimming and diving team has become the gold standard in the NCHSAA’s 3A classification.
Part of that has to do with the arrival of coach Melissa King-Pierce, who came to Marvin Ridge seven seasons ago and has since helped lift the already successful boys and girls teams to even new heights.
King-Pierce uses a different approach than other coaches, starting at the top with her stars, including senior 100-butterfly and 200-freestyle swimmer and North Carolina commit Ellie VanNote, senior freestyle specialist Charles Rothenberger and junior 100-butterfly and 50-freestyle swimmer Boyd Poelke.
“I make these guys clean the bus up because if the freshmen see them cleaning the bus they won’t leave any trash,” King-Pierce said. “I lead from the top down instead of bottom up because it just works better.”
King-Pierce holds her swimmers accountable, but all involved say it’s the culture that’s led to the success of both programs.
Last season, the boys added to their rise of prominence with their second straight 3A title after finishing second in 2016 and third in both 2014 and 2015.
The girls have been just as dominant. In 2014, the Mavs ended Charlotte Catholic’s unprecedented 12-season string of state titles. Since, they’ve won championships in 2015, 2016, 2017 and were second last season to Charlotte Catholic.
So what is the biggest factor why the Mavs have been able to be so good and so consistent? That depends on who you ask.
“It’s the accountability that we hold each other to throughout the season to get to our end-of-season meet,” Poelke said. “You’ll see me on the deck, not yelling at people, but definitely encouraging people to really try their best. You know you have this end goal and that should be the driving force, but you should also have fun doing it, of course.”
The Mavs all say the bond among each other is the strongest aspect of the team and the biggest reason for success as the seniors pass down traditions and expectations.
Pierce-King remembers one swimmer she had who also played lacrosse and football, but said he told her there was no team as tight-knit and impactful as his time on the swim team.
“I think it’s a family,” she said. “They all have their club teams and do that, but high school is so different than club, whereas if everyone does well, everyone is successful. It’s not so individual like it is with their club teams. That cultivates team building and everyone wanting everyone to do their best.
“We have had success in the past, but it’s the legacy the seniors leave behind that I think is the driving force and keeps propelling it forward.”
The boys pulled off their second straight title last year behind Poelke and Rothenberger, who have been default senior leaders each of the past two seasons.
Rothenberger was third in the 100 freestyle, fourth in the 200 freestyle and teamed with Poelke now sophomore Nicholas Piscitelli and current senior Josh Stablein in the 200 freestyle relay to set a new 3A state record.
Rothenberger, Poelke, Stablein and Matthew Shen, who graduated, combined to beat the meet record in the 400 freestyle, and Connor Charette, Piscitelli, Brayden Brewer and Stablein all scored individual points.
Poelke is a national swim recruit who is ranked No. 3 in the state and within the top 90 in the nation by Collegeswimming.com.
In addition to the relays, Poelke won the 50 freestyle and was second in the 100 butterfly.
For the girls, VanNote is the unquestioned leader.
Like Poelke, she’s already been through the recruiting process, signing with North Carolina over a number of suitors interested in her as Collegeswimming.com ranks VanNote 11th in her class and among the top 240 swimmers in the nation.
“It was a lot of pressure with the recruiting process happening earlier and earlier,” she said. “A year ago, I was really stressed out the same way Boyd probably is right now. But I’m really happy with my decision and I can’t wait.”
Last season, she was second in the 100 butterfly – but would have set a new state meet standard had she won – and third in the 300 freestyle.
In addition, the Mavs return Sydney Hayes, Madeline Tessin, Sydney Geada and Susan Mumford, who all scored relay points last season while Gaead, Caroline Duhamel, Anna Beth Scalise, Gianna Reinhart, Tessin and Mumford added individual scoring runs.
“They’re all back,” King-Pierce said. “They’re faster and we’re OK. We lost some point scorers, but not real heavy and we gained a lot.”
While the Cougar girls, who beat the Mavs by 58 points in the finals last season, lose three top-tier swimmers and around 80 points off the top – not including relays – both Marvin Ridge teams come back stronger.
Girl newcomers include swimmers Charlotte Kaduson, Abby Ormiston, Grace Wagner and Lara Jaworski. The boys got one point from diver Elias Gonzalez last season, but added six divers including Luca Mangione, Sammy Olsen, Josh Giles, James McKenna, Dylan Macleod and Ryan Banash to make that a big strength and source of points.
“We had a very strong team last year, but I think we’re even better than last year,” Rothenberger said. “We did not lose any depth from our seniors, really. Our three relays are going to be really strong and our underclassmen are getting much faster. Boyd and I have made a lot of improvements since last year.
“We’re sitting comfortably, but we can’t let that get to our heads. Any given day someone can show up and take us by storm, but I think we’re all really confident in ourselves. At our last meet, we all swam really well and I think we talk a lot together and talk about what it takes to win states. And we know what it takes to do it.”
The Marvin Ridge boys will be favored to win the state meet for a third straight time while the girls will compete with Southern Carolina Conference foes Weddington and Charlotte Catholic for statewide supremacy.
Pierce-King knows her teams will need contributions from everyone up and down their lineup, but in the end, it will likely come down to Rothenberger, Poelke and VanNote to power the Mavs again this year.
“They’re leadership has been great,” King-Pierce said. “I’ve kind of been grooming them for a while to be leaders and Boyd is only a junior, but he’s stepped up, too.
“They’re three amazing swimmers. They don’t have to swim high school swim to make it to college. I get top swimmers here every year, and the fact that they all want to swim every year and come out. I think that goes back to the culture of the team. I have chills just sitting here because they’re all great kids.”