As if the familiar
setting wasn't enough, the big, painted logo could remind the
Cicero-North Syracuse High School girls swimmers of exactly how odd
this situation was.
Here they were competing for the Onondaga League title against their off-season coach, in their off-season pool and even with the logo of their off-season team, the Liverpool Jets, staring at them.
For some, it was a little
"Going for the league title is big," said Kate Edwards, a C-NS senior and swimmer with the Liverpool Jets. "But it's kind of weird, too. You know everyone on the other team. Even the coach. It makes it more intense."
Before the meet, both teams were tied for first place in the league. Liverpool topped C-NS on Friday night, 118-68, securing a two-way tie with Auburn for the league title.
But the setting was odd, considering how nearly half the girls on the C-NS squad are coached by Liverpool's head coach Zac Mekker in that very same pool for almost 10 months a year.
Mekker is the head coach of the Liverpool Jets, an off-season club swimming team open to anyone who signs up. Though the club is based in Liverpool - and attracts almost 60 Liverpool-area swimmers - Mekker estimated about 45 of the club's girls attend C-NS.
And the same girls he helped coach over the summer were trying to wrest a league title away from him Friday.
"I love it," Mekker said of facing his old students. "Even if we'd lost this meet, it'd be worth it. Because (coaching them in the off-season) is helping swimming. It's better for the sport. All our success, it wouldn't mean anything if we had no one to swim against. So it's great to help build the sport."
Mekker has also helped build a program. A former Liverpool Jet and University at Buffalo swimmer, Mekker was hired to coach the Jets in 1999. A program that once had 130 swimmers had dwindled to almost 40, maybe four of which were from the C-NS district.
Mekker rebuilt the program to where it is now, healthy with almost 140 swimmers, about 40 of which are from the C-NS district.
"There was a lack of consistency in coaching," Mekker said of why the Jets program had grown so thin. "They went through a few years with a few coaching changes. The reason we've been able to build it up is because my assistant coach, Bill Wallace, and I have been here six years now. The coaches who were here before were not alumni. Coming back as an alumnus and getting this program back to where it was, that was a vision we had."
Another factor: Mekker became the Liverpool girls varsity head coach two years after being hired as the Jets head coach. Inheriting a 1-9 girls team (the worst in Liverpool history), Mekker worked to improve both programs. While previous Jets coaches had viewed the program as a separate entity from the school, Mekker focused on making it more of a building program.
The club grew. And Liverpool started winning again.
On Friday, Mekker and Liverpool recaptured the league title as co-champs, defeating some of the girls he helped coach and the C-NS program he indirectly helped build.
"They share things with me for 10 months out of the year, and for two months they're on the school team," Mekker said, adding how the two didn't speak much before the meet. "I don't know if they think of me as an enemy, but it's probably easier for them to keep to themselves. I know it's an emotional thing for them to face us."
Peter Chen/Staff photographer
LIVERPOOL SWIMMER Sam Liadka competes in the breaststroke leg of the
200-yard medley relay on Friday in a meet against Cicero-North
Syracuse at Liverpool High School. Liverpool won the event and the