The Wakeland boys swim team has been a juggernaut in Texas over the last decade and this year is no different.
The Wolverines are headed back to state as a team following a first-place finish at the Region 3-5A meet two weeks ago and look to add some more hardware to their illustrious mantle.
A year ago, Wakeland advanced to the state meet and surprisingly placed second after a few unexpected disqualifications, but the mood heading down to Austin this time around is much different.
This year’s team has been on a tear going back to its dominant performance in the district meet last month followed by an impressive showing at regionals in which Wakeland reeled in five victories.
Led by seniors Jack McKenna and Ryan Gilbert and junior Brendan Debergh, the Wolverines have much greater expectations this time around with the state competition slated for Friday and Saturday at the Lee and Joe Jamail Texas Swimming Center in Austin.
“This year, we kind of have a chip on our shoulder,” McKenna said. “Basically this entire year I’ve been looking at numbers and have told the team we have a shot to bring home a medal. Right now, it’s a little bit nerve-wracking, but we’re definitely ready.”
It’s no coincidence that the Wakeland boys team has been a force to be reckoned with over the last decade with five district titles, second-place finishes at state in 2013 and 2015, as well as a state title in 2014.
Prior to this year’s district race, swimmers from other Frisco ISD schools had already taken notice to Wakeland’s success and some even convened with some of the Wakeland swimmers, including Jack’s younger brother, sophomore Conor McKenna.
According to McKenna, Memorial’s Andrew Guziec and Heritage’s Michael Mitsynskyy believe that to be successful in any team sport in Frisco, but mainly in swimming, a program must contain three things: an amazing coach, great team culture and some luck with zoning.
That criterion was then labeled as the “Triangle of Success” in which Wakeland is thought of to have just that – and the Wolverines agree.
There is no choice of school in Frisco and wherever you are zoned to attend is where you must go, and not only does the team all happen to live nearby one another, some like Debergh and the McKenna brothers even live just down the street from each other.
“I met Jack and Conor the day they were moving into their house in 2014,” Debergh said. “My mom went over to meet their mom and when she found out that they swam she came and woke me up. I went outside and met these guys and here we are.”
That bond dates back nearly six years and has contributed greatly to the chemistry of the team, along with the arrival of Gilbert just over two years ago.
“We have better chemistry now and getting second place last year really helped build that up,” Gilbert said. “This year we have more of a team mindset and are focused more on winning.”
Although he disapproved of the move to Texas at the time, Gilbert and his family came from California to Frisco during his sophomore year, and he claims the relationships built within the team helped make the transition much smoother.
According to Gilbert, what made the move better at the time was the presence of Wakeland head coach Melissa Howard, who helped open the school back in 2006.
“The first thing my mom wanted to do was meet the swim coach,” he said. “I didn’t want anything to do with anything being here, but I wouldn’t have gone to Wakeland if it wasn’t for her.”
Jack McKenna, who is off to swim at Army West Point next year, also attests that Howard is the backbone of what makes the program so great.
“I’ve gone through a lot of coaches in swimming, and I would have to say coach Howard is the best I have ever had,” he said. “There’s nothing really revolutionary about our workouts, but what separates her is that she is more than just a coach. When you wake up super early to come die in the pool, you want to be around someone you like and trust; coach Howard is just that. She is like a second mother and is going to be at my wedding.”
Wakeland fits all three bullet points that come with the “Triangle of Success,” and only time will tell if that can translate to the pool this weekend in hopes of another state championship.