Sacred Heart Caps off Season With Fourth Straight Title

Photo by Randy Whetstone Jr.

Photo by Randy Whetstone Jr.

It’s safe to say the Sacred Heart Academy swim team is a dynasty. After winning its fourth consecutive state championship at the Swimming and Diving Championships at the University of Louisville Ralph Wright Natatorium, Coach Luebbe says this one means a great deal to the program.

“It is pretty rare for a class that starts out as freshmen to win every single year that they have been in school,” he says. “Doing the four-for-four is quite an accomplishment. We talked about that as one of our goals for the season, so I think it is pretty special when you have a class that can repeat from their freshman year all the way to their senior year.”

The Valkyries now have 27 state titles, and it is the first time they have won four straight since they won six in a row between 1995 and 2000.

In this recent title run, they won seven of 12 events while setting five state records. The team finished with 435 points, a landslide over runner-up Notre Dame, who finished with 268 points.

For a team that had swimmers return for their senior year, the only challenge this season was finding that go-to leader to unify the troops. Last season, Leah Stevens, a sensational swimmer, was their catalyst. After she graduated and went on to Stanford, someone needed to step up and carry the leadership torch.

It’s a good problem to have when there’s a team full of experienced swimmers. Instead of one primary leader for the team, Luebbe says the seniors came together collectively to give the team that spark they needed to become state champions once more.

“We knew we had a special group. We returned much of the team that was dominant for the last two seasons,” Luebbe adds. “So we had confidence in the fact that the same people were returning. Every year, it is a challenge to see who is going to lead our team.

“Our senior class is an uncanny combination of talent, dedication and teamwork. I saw pretty much all three of those aspects. Once it came time to reach our goals at state, our seniors really came together. Leadership is one of our core values. If you want to accomplish something, your leaders have to take you there.”

The seniors took the team to the promised land for the fourth straight season, the first time a four-year run has happened in Luebbe’s nine years coaching. He admits though that his team never took their recent accomplishments for granted.

“A lot of kids today have dreams and want to achieve things, but it is another thing to go out there and put the time and effort into accomplishing your dreams,” he explains. “I think that is what separates our team. It is their willingness to sacrifice and to work hard for their goals. That defines this group. They are unbelievable in terms of their work ethic.”

In their 27 state titles, Sacred Heart swimmers have embraced their school and culture. It is something that has been embedded in the program, enabling athletes to perform beyond just themselves.

“I think you can accomplish a lot of things if you have the gift and the ability to swim well, but it is more important to represent your school, more important to have character and to be show good sportsmanship,” Luebbe adds. But when it comes to establishing the program’s overall mission, he says:

“We are more interested in giving them skills that will lead to life, and swimming is a good dress rehearsal for the challenges that you will meet. But we just want them to have a close-knit bond with fellow athletes and to be good representatives of our school. If they do that, then everything else will fall into place. I always challenge them to do that, and they always seem to rise to the occasion.”

There are many months until the 2016 winter season begins, but Sacred Heart will surely be anticipating next year as they look foward to defending their crown and trying to extend their championship streak to five straight years. VT