North Lincoln heads to state meet this weekend

by Aaron Burns

When Adam Fier took over as head swim coach for the North Lincoln High Knights five years ago, he had a vision for how he wanted his boys team to be.

They needed to work together, dedicate themselves to the sport and push themselves to improve.

While Fier admitted his first four boys swim teams showed plenty of flashes, none have put it all together like this year’s squad.

Entering the Class 2A state championship on Friday, Feb. 10, at Triangle Aquatic Center in Cary, the Knights have shattered nine of 11 school records and boast a top four–senior Brett Malmstrom, juniors John Biondi and Paul Regan and sophomore Bennett McDonald–that could take home top honors in several categories.

“All the credit goes to the guys on this team,” Fier said. “They started practice with intense focus and they haven’t let up. Coaches talk about trying to get kids to buy into the program, and every person on the team has done just that.”

That kind of attitude has worked wonders for the Knights, who sport an 11-3 overall record entering the state meet. Every school record time has been bested except 100-yard butterfly stroke and 500-yard freestyle.

But the success the team has enjoyed came as no surprise to Malmstrom, the Knights’ top competitor in 200- and 500-yard freestyle races.

“We’ve been psyched up ever since after (the) state (meet) last year,” Malmstrom said. “We’ve been training as much as possible to get better so we can win. Last year our rival was East Lincoln but this year we’re going after Carrboro.”

North Lincoln’s second-place finish to Carrboro a year ago in the 200-yard medley relay left the Knights with a bad taste in their mouths, Malmstrom added.

“Right after that, the very next day, I went back to training,” said Malmstrom. “We got back on a Friday and I was back in the pool practicing. I’ve been determined to help us win as many events as possible when we get to (Cary).”

But Malmstrom hasn’t been the only one who worked off his frustration in the pool. Biondi and McDonald also swim year-round, and their intense training regimens away from North Lincoln have paid off.

In years past, Fier would have seasonal swimmers like Regan swim 6,000 yards in two hours. This year, Regan and the rest of the Knights swim 8,700 yards in about an hour and 50 minutes at practice. It’s the kind of dedication Fier was looking for out of his team, he said. But it wasn’t just at his insistence; the team showed initiative on its own.

“The (number of) yards they put in is incredible,” Fier said. “They’ve shown a lot of commitment, and the four guys who are in our medley relay have kind of led that.

“You don’t go into swimming because it’s fun. It is fun, yes, but it’s a lot of following the black line. But consistently from our top swimmers to our beginners on the team, everybody’s been working hard,” Fier said.

The reward for all the Knights’ hard work has come in the results. Sure, the records are great, Fier said, but the results in meets are the most important statistic. And as is the case with the school’s record books, the Knights are blazing a trail in the pool.

In the Lincoln County Meet on Jan. 21 at the Fitness Center at Birkdale, North Lincoln displayed its considerable pace, scoring 107 points to take a rousing victory over Lincoln Charter (76) and East Lincoln (67). The win was especially sweet for Fier, who graduated from East Lincoln.

“For our guys to go out there and win in a meet where all three coaches had ties to East Lincoln, that was pretty cool,” Fier said. “I’ve got a lot of respect for those two programs, and it meant a lot to go out and win it.”

But now, it’s time for the Knights’ final act of 2012: the chance to avenge close state meet losses in 2011. Biondi (fourth in last year’s 200-yard individual medley), Malmstrom (ninth in 100-yard butterfly) and Regan (fourth in 100-yard backstroke) will have an opportunity to improve. While the finishes were solid a year ago, more has changed within the team than just its training and focus. The Knights are more of a cohesive unit than they’ve ever been out of the pool–which only adds to the fun.

“When we’re not in the pool we’ll be hanging out together and working out,” Malmstrom said. “We’re the best group (of friends) there is.”

Added Fier: “Those four are essentially like brothers. They support one another like family, and they genuinely enjoy each other’s company.”

On many occasions, if a team has a solid core of great competitors, a rivalry will break out. But for the Knights, that’s never been a problem. Biondi, Malmstrom, Regan and McDonald all compete in separate events, which is a positive in two ways: no one tries to beat someone else, and the team has its best swimmers in different events, not two in the same race.

“That’s something else that makes this team special,” said Fier. “It’s been incredibly satisfying to see the team come together in every way. To see us win meets and break records is all I could’ve ever wanted.

“They’re 100 percent committed to going as far as they can.”