CORNELIUS – Hough High’s Jessica Merritt exited the N.C. 4A swimming championship meet with two individual titles, a relay gold medal and two state records. Mix in her second-place finish in another relay and it became an impressive chapter in a high school swimming career that’s only hit the halfway mark.
Merritt’s season-long dominance makes the talented sophomore The Herald Weekly Girls’ Swimmer of the Year. It’s often hard to stand out on Hough’s team, which is filled with year-round swimmers who erase records at the state meet. But Merritt did this fall and winter.
She won the 200-yard freestyle with a state-record time of 1:47.37. She also was state champion in the 100-yard breaststroke. Hough then set a state record (1:43.41) in the 200-yard medley relay with a double dose of the Merritt sisters. Heather, a senior, swam the first leg (backstroke), followed by little sister Jessica’s second leg (breaststroke).
Jessica Merritt also swam a leg on Hough’s 400-yard freestyle relay, which finished second in the state.
“In the 200 (freestyle), I wanted to give the other girls a run for their money,” Merritt said. “That’s what we did as a team. I had a surprising morning (in preliminary races). It set me up for a good night. I felt good in the water and it was great having my teammates behind me.”
Merritt improved plenty in the postseason’s 200-yard freestyle. Her time of 1:56.91 won the MECKA 4A conference title. She trimmed that to 1:51.63 in the regional meet, which despite finishing second, bettered the previous regional record. Merritt slashed more than four seconds off that time to win the state title.
She also peaked at the right time in the breaststroke. She won the conference title, but uncharacteristically finished fourth at the regional. That was erased by the state championship a week later.
“I wasn’t as good in the regionals, so I was a little worried about states,” Merritt said. “But I just dove in and did the best I could. I won, which always gets me excited. I was on a high there for the rest of the day.”
Merritt had four first-place championships at the MECKA 4A conference meet and three second-place finishes at the regional meet. She culminated the season with eye-popping performances at the state meet.
“Jess is a superwoman,” Hough coach Tim Queen said. “She can do almost anything you ask her to do. She swam a great breast leg on our state record-breaking 200 medley relay, then jumped right back up on the blocks and wins the 200 free. She can probably pull stumps out of the ground. She is just that strong.”
Herald Weekly 2014 Swim Coach of the Year
Hough High’s two-year reign as a swimming state champion ended, but coach Tim Queen’s Huskies hardly fell off the swim radar.
Hough finished as the N.C. 4A runner-up to Charlotte Catholic, which was competing for the first time in 4A. Catholic’s title was its 13th straight, but Hough wasn’t far behind. The Huskies won the MECKA 4A conference championship, followed by second-place finishes to Catholic in the regional and state events. That makes Queen The Herald Weekly Girls’ Swimming Coach of the Year for the second consecutive time.
Hough dominated the MECKA 4A conference meet, winning with 510 points, well ahead of second-place Concord Robinson (366½ ). No other team except Hough came close to Catholic in the final two meets. The second-place Huskies were outscored 506-408 in regionals (among 19 teams) and 360-308½ at the state meet (among 31 teams).