When the Lone Peak swim team came into the swimming pool for the 6A state meet at BYU and started preparing to compete, the Knight athletes had the initials “CM” written in black on their shoulders or chests.
Their former teammate, Cole Merrill, may not have been able to be there to swim with his friends, but they made it clear he would not be forgotten.
Merrill, who died in a bridge-jumping accident in July of 2018, was part of the 2017 and 2018 Lone Peak swimming teams (as well as the Knight football team). Lone Peak head coach Celeste Tiffany said Merrill’s times made her fairly certain he would’ve been one of the Knight state qualifiers once again this season.
The Lone Peak swimmers said they were determined to honor Merrill’s memory.
“Cole was one of my best, best friends,” Knight junior Josh Griener said. “He lived in my LDS ward, we swam together since we were little, we played football in eighth grade together. He was one of the greatest guys I’ve ever known. It was so shocking when the accident happened. Once I heard, I knew I wanted to do this for him. He deserved to have the chance to come out and win here.”
Griener already honored his brother and former Lone Peak swimmer who had died, Stephen Kenneth Griener, by writing his initials, “SKG,” on his wrist. That idea became a concept the entire Knight team embraced as they prepared for the state meet.
“We were going to come out and dominate for a goal bigger than just winning,” Josh Griener said. “We wanted to show him we love him, show his family we love them. He’s not here but he is still with us, still competing.”
Josh Griener explained that having those memories drive him to be better in the pool.
“I love having a reason to swim,” he said. “Having those initials inspire me, makes me go faster, because I’m swimming for someone else. It helps fill the hole, although it will never be fully filled. It’s a special experience.”
Lone Peak head coach Celeste Tiffany said she started coaching many of the juniors on the Knight team with Merrill when they were 8 years old.
“Cole always brought a lot of life out onto the pool deck,” she said. “His smile was huge and every time he left the pool, he would say, ‘thank you.’ He won the first state title for Lone Peak as a freshmen, then did it again as a sophomore. He put the rings in his home and said he was going for four. It wasn’t about the titles as much as it was about what it represented for the boys.”
Tiffany said that she has seen a different side to her swimmers as they have dealt with the loss of their teammate.
“It’s great for these teenage boys to look outside themselves,” she said. “It’s helped them see the bigger picture.”
Lone Peak junior Jordan Tiffany — Celeste Tiffany’s son — agreed that keeping Merrill’s memory alive with the team in 2019 has been a powerful experience.
“He means a ton to us,” Jordan Tiffany said. “He should be here and doing this helps us feel like he is still part of the team.”
Jordan Tiffany had a tremendous meet on Saturday, demolishing Utah state boys swimming records in the 200-yard individual medley (breaking the record by three seconds in a time of 1:48.75) and the 100-yard butterfly (breaking the record by one second in a time of 47.74).
“It felt really good,” Jordan Tiffany said after breaking his first state record. “With where I am at now and how I shaved for this race, it felt good to break Jake (Taylor)’s record. I have really worked on the mental game. Everyone looks at the physical game but where you win is on the mental side. Pushing yourself mentally is harder than pushing yourself physically. I didn’t know I would get a 1:48 but I knew it was a good swim.”
Tiffany added a pair of relay victories to his two individual wins, teaming up with Griener to get wins in the 200-yard medley relay and the 400-yard freestyle relay. Griener also won the 100-yard breaststroke.
Those performances spearheaded a solid team effort as Lone Peak ended up winning their third straight state boys swimming title over second-place American Fork and fourth-place Westlake.
“This is the third year in a row and they value it as much as the first,” Celeste Tiffany said. “They came together to earn it and they’ve done that tonight.”
Other superlative individual boys showings were put up by Pleasant Grove senior Devin Bunnell (who won the 200-yard freestyle and the 500-yard freestyle), Westlake senior Greg Simonsen (who won the 50-yard freestyle) and by the Thunder 200-yard freestyle relay team.
On the girl’s side, the depth and talent of the American Fork team was too much for any other team to challenge as the Cavemen finished with a big lead over No. 2 Lone Peak.
“Everyone — both the girls and the boys — swam with heart and soul in real team fashion,” Caveman head coach Kathy King said. “They were so unselfish. They understood the bigger picture and all bought in to being one team. With the new format, we told the girls that the meet couldn’t be won on Friday but it could be lost. They came ready to battle.”
American Fork was led by sophomore Allie Hill, who won the 200-yard and 500-yard freestyle races. The Cavemen also won the 200-yard and 400-yard freestyle relays.
The Westlake boys swim team was also honored as the 6A academic champion with a team GPA of 3.77.
For complete results, go to http://UHSAA.org.