By Mike Tenney
New eras are underway at both Bellaire and Lamar high schools.
In the past couple of years, two of the wisest and most veteran swimming and diving head coaches in not only Houston ISD, but the entire region and the state, have called it quits. Both cited double-digit years in the water, thousands of early, early-morning workouts, and it was clear that they were ready for a lifetime of coaching to give way to rest and relaxation.
So now their predecessors are poolside, with each hoping to take the mantle they’ve been given and hold it high, like those before them.
And for both, swim season is here with a couple of preliminary intrasquad battles lined up before they dive into meets against other people just before Halloween.
First, Cardinals head coach Kris Wingenroth decided to retire after nearly two decades at the helm and then earlier this year, longtime Lamar HS coach Steve “Mac” McDonald said he was stepping aside, leaving both schools at crucial times in their programs’ histories.
At Bellaire, head coach Jason Schmidt is entering his second year as the skipper of a program that now has a brand new sparkling, shiny swimming pool. Like all new coaches, he gets a pass on last year because of the unusual circumstances he had to deal with due to the pandemic.
And on Westheimer Road, Dwayne Davis is the new man replacing McDonald — taking over the Lamar program (and its dazzling year-old aquatics center) at a time when the Texans have a large number of young male and female swimmers returning from a group that won the district championships last winter. He also inherits a water polo program that has seen the Lamar boys team make two consecutive trips to the state tournament.
If nothing else, both men have to be happy that this year everyone can get in the water as a team, unlike last year when COVID-19 issues first left them 1) wondering if they were going to have a season and 2) holding virtual practices and workouts once they were able to start to begin preparing for a season.
For everyone it was a difficult situation that they simply tried to make the best of, but for Schmidt, it had to be almost overwhelming because here he was starting a new job with new swimmers that needed to be checked out and evaluated and coached up. He couldn’t do any of that in person — at least not right away. Instead, he had to get creative, like everyone else, and just make sure all his swimmers and divers were as prepared as they could be when they finally could congregate and actually start to participate in meets.
His legendary predecessor, Wingenroth, was also the former head swimming and diving coach at Rice University before coming to Bellaire and is still ranked nationally as a competitive swimmer in the women’s over-60 age group. She knew the new pool was coming thanks to the 2012 HISD Bond Program, and when she retired, she said her successor could count on the new facility to attract new swimmers and divers. And that, one year after everything was so difficult, is a nice perk for Schmidt.
One thing that promises to be fun for the Cardinals this month is their annual red-and-white scrimmage to start the season, which for the first time, will be held at their own pool. In the past, they’ve held it at Lamar High School or St. Thomas, but now they can have it on campus in their own eight-lane aquatic center.
Dwayne DavisDespite the challenges of the pandemic, Lamar’s boys’ and girls’ teams won district championships in February. (Lamar Aquatics/Twitter)At Lamar, Davis takes over the reins at a program that has seen a district championship on either the boys’ or the girls’ side, and sometimes on both, each of the past 25 years. And the cupboard is hardly bare this year with a large number of swimmers returning from both the boys and girls’ teams that won the 18-6A championship last year.
Junior Iban Christensen is the fastest swimmer as the defending district champion in both the 50-yard and 100-yard freestyle champ after winning both those events as a sophomore. Junior Mack Nuval looks to remain the best in the 100- breaststroke after taking the 18-6A gold medal in that event last year as a sophomore. Shkarbul Danii, Alex Klubunde, and Yung Hoa Foo are other juniors who medaled at the district meet last year.
On the ladies’ side, senior Lauren Ho was the 200-yard medley relay district champion in March, and she and classmate Naomi Rhoe appear to be the foundation that Davis will use to build his girls team.
The Texans scheduled some fun stuff this month — their own pentathlon and time trials set for Oct. 16 and their first-ever Trick or Treat Meet set for Oct. 30, followed by their first dual meet five days later, when they host next-door neighbor St. John’s in a competition.
Nice kickoffs and a fresh start for both Lamar and Bellaire’s standout water-based athletics programs this year.