Smithson Valley’s Hunt, Nwaeze preparing for jump to Division I swimming

Rangers getting creative with pools, facilities still closed

SPRING BRANCH – In 2019, the Smithson Valley boys swim team rewrote the record books.

The 200-yard medley relay of Joe Hunt (22.49), Carter Hill (26.13), Konnar Klinksiek (21.37) and Amechi Nwaeze (20.74) combined to win the UIL State title in a new state record time of 1:30.73. It is still the only medley relay in Texas high school swimming history to break the 1:31 barrier.

Since that crowning achievement, three of the relay’s four swimmers have graduated. Klinksiek, one of the fastest sprinters in San Antonio history, was the first to leave, signing to swim for Virginia the following year. This summer, Hunt and Nwaeze are following in his footsteps, as they both prepare to swim at the Division I level at Notre Dame and Iowa respectively.

“When I first went on campus, it was amazing,” Hunt said. “My mom went Notre Dame, and my sister is at Notre Dame currently. Combined with the crazy athletics that they have and the amazing academics that they have, it’s a no-brainer why I went there.”

“I was already in contact with the coach,” Nwaeze explained. “The recruiting coach knew my club coach. I applied to Iowa, got in a week later, and the school just seemed like a great choice. The academics are really good. The statistics for students coming out with jobs are really high, and my parents and I loved that. The only thing is, I’ve never lived in cold weather before! I’m looking for a new change in my life, and that’s a great way to start.”

It’s hard enough making it to the Division I level. It’s even harder staying in swimming shape with the majority of pools and training facilities closed during the coronavirus pandemic. Both Rangers have found their own creative ways to stay active.

“I’ve been lifting a lot, and I’ve been biking a lot because, as a big guy, I feel like I need to get my strength up before I get there,” Hunt detailed. “I also started swimming at my friend’s house. She has a 12.5 yard pool, and I’m just trying to make it work with resistance bands. Hopefully we can get back in June or July, but the feeling is a really big part of it, so I’ve just been trying to stay positive and do what I can.”

Meanwhile, Nwaeze’s setup is definitely unique. “We have a pool at my house. It’s no more than three meters long, but we dug a hole straight down and drove a pole through it so we could attach a bungee to it. I swim there once every day for around an hour and 15 minutes, and then add on dry-land. I’ll run sometimes when it’s not too hot, or stay indoors so I can do cardio. It’s the most I can do right now.”

Smithson Valley's Amechi Nwaeze training at home in his own pool due to the coronavirus pandemic. (KSAT)

It may help maintain his feel for the water, but the smaller pool has plenty of setbacks. Nwaeze is currently unable to practice flip turns and push-offs, but he said that the toughest part is the lack of professional feedback on form and technique.

“I can’t tell how I’m training. Usually I have a coach who can tell me how I’m doing. Instead, I’ve been working on leg-based training more. My coach told me that that’s one of the hardest things to develop.”

As these Rangers navigate uncharted waters, they have both stayed in contact with Klinksiek, who had qualified for this year’s Men’s NCAA Division I Championships prior to the meet’s cancellation. He has shed some light on the trials and tribulations of competing in the collegiate ranks, and that advice will prove invaluable for both of his former teammates.

Regardless of what the future holds, the trio’s place in Smithson Valley swimming history is secure. Alongside their state record medley relay and numerous school marks, Hunt and Nwaeze have swum in three straight state meets and have scored 62 individual points at high school swimming’s highest level. Together with Klinksiek, their victories leave an enormous legacy for other Rangers to follow.

“The last group of guys that we’ve had has just been unbelievable, with the moments we had and the legacy we created,” Hunt said. “Having Konnar as such a great mentor and Amechi as such a great training partner, it’s the perfect situation.”

“After Konnar went to Virginia, I felt like if he could do it, then I could do it, too,” Nwaeze said. “What’s stopping anyone from doing it? I’m happy Joe’s going DI, too. I hope to see more SV swimmers in the future go DI."

Joe Hunt (left) and Amechi Nwaeze (right) after committing to swim at Notre Dame and Iowa respectively. (KSAT)

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