Feb. 21--CORPUS CHRISTI -- There's a myth at Flour Bluff that no matter how unlikely the circumstance, the swim team will always find a fourth man for its relays.
Despite that, senior Phillip Ugarte was still getting nervous when his team entered the season with only three members on the blocks.
He didn't need to be.
Arriving out of the East like Clint Eastwood's mysterious stranger in a spaghetti western came Miljan (pronounced like "a million dollars") Kekovic, a Serbian exchange student from Belgrade who enrolled at Flour Bluff and joined the team at just the right time.
Because of it, the 200- and 400-yard freestyle relays will be two of the 12 events Flour Bluff's swim team competes in at the Class 4A state meet at the University of Texas'Lee and Joe Jamail Texas Swim Center in Austin on Friday and Saturday.
"This is my first time going that high, that far (in a competition)," Kekovic said. "I was pretty happy when I heard there was a state competition here, because we don't have that in Serbia. It's real exciting."
Kekovic had never competitively swam a day in his life before coming to Texas, but having played water polo in Serbia the past five years, he was no stranger to the pool
In October, one month after arriving in Corpus Christi, Kekovic approached Flour Bluff swim coach Peter Fecht about joining his team.
"He's one-in-a-million kid," Fecht said. "Everyone on the team loves him and enjoys him. He's been a really big part of our team, he's made friends with everyone and not to mention he's extremely bright."
Kekovic dramatically improved his technique and his time over the following months -- from a 27.5-second time in the 50 freestyle at his first meet to a low 23 at his most recent -- to help the Hornets' relay team earn a No. 1 seed in the 200-yard freestyle relay at state.
The Hornets hadn't just found a fourth man, they'd caught fire.
Together with Ugarte, Andrew Byerly and Anthony Hauglum, the Hornets think Kekovic might just help the school earn its first gold in swimming since Gabby Soza won the 50 freestyle and the girls' 200-yard freestyle relay took gold in 2005.
"It's made it so much more fun, going to district and regionals and being confident (in the team) instead of being three fast guys and worrying about the fourth losing it for us," Ugarte said. "We have a chance to go All-American in both of our relays and win both relays. It's anyone's game."
A gold medal would be a pretty sweet deal for Kekovic, but it wouldn't be his greatest takeaway from his time on the team.
What he's really won in the pool is a group of fast friends.
"No matter how we do at state, whether we do get first or if we don't, this team has evolved to the point that we'll have fun no matter what," Ugarte said. "It's really neat being around someone and learning with someone completely different from what I'm used to."
South Texas can be a pretty strange place to an outsider -- let alone one from the opposite side of the world -- but Kekovic said it's more or less what he expected.
"I expected (Texas) to have a lot of ranches and be all cowboys and when I came here I saw it really is like that," Kekovic said. "This is America and (I expected) everything will be perfect and really nice and it met my expectations."
Meeting expectations and being a comfortable fit don't always go hand in hand, though. The food took some getting used to -- until Kekovic discovered his love for "taco" -- and Kekovic might just be the first person to ever complain about southerners talking too fast, but he eventually found his home away from home on the team.
"Those guys from relay are my best friends here," Kekovic said. "They introduced me to everything."
STATE SWIM MEET QUALIFIERS
Schedule: Friday, Saturday at Lee and Joe Jamail Texas Swim Center, Austin
Online: Finals only, beginning at 9:30 a.m. Saturday on FoxSportsSouthwest.com.
200-yard medley relay -- King (Zach Ward, John Camacho, Michael Garcia, Zach Kudlicki; alternates: Henry Aguirre, Sam Barre, Neal Nacci). 200 freestyle -- Dale Lowder, King. 200 IM -- Jacob Huerta, Carroll. 1-meter diving -- Trevor Hazlewood, Carroll. 100 butterfly -- Huerta, Carroll. 500 freestyle -- Lowder, King. 200 freestyle relay -- King (Ward, Lowder, Kudlicki, Aguirre; alternates: Garcia, Nacci, Barre, Camacho). 100 breaststroke -- Michael Garcia, King. 400 freestyle relay -- King (Ward, Garcia, Barre, Lowder; alternates: Kudlicki, Aguirre, Nacci).
200 medley relay -- King (Cecelia Croman, Amanda Galvan, Maegan Leeton, Sierra Kudlicki; alternates: Claire Croman, Priscilla Moralez, Audrey Hamilton). 200 freestyle -- Cecelia Croman, King. 50 freestyle -- Kudlicki, King. 100 freestyle -- Kudlicki, King. 500 freestyle -- Claire Croman, King. 200 freestyle relay -- King (Kudlicki, Cecelia Croman, Galvan, Leeton; alternates: Claire Croman, Moralez, Hamilton). 100 backstroke -- Cecelia Croman, King.
200 freestyle -- Jack McLaughlin, Calallen; Phillip Ugarte, Flour Bluff. 50 freestyle -- Anthony Hauglum, Flour Bluff. 1-meter diving -- Tristan Perry, Flour Bluff. 100 freestyle -- Hauglum, Flour Bluff. 100 butterfly -- McLaughlin, Calallen. 100 breaststroke -- Andrew Byerly, Flour Bluff. 200 freestyle relay -- Flour Bluff (Phillip Ugarte, Byerly, Miljan Kekovic, Hauglum). 400 freestyle relay -- Flour Bluff (Ugarte, Byerly, Kekovic, Hauglum).
200 medley relay -- Flour Bluff (Kristina Prewit, Allison Carroll, Kaila Byerly, Marika Nuss; alternates: Lillia Pogue). 200 freestyle -- Caroline Abraham, Gregory-Portland. 50 freestyle -- Prewit, Flour Bluff. 100 freestyle -- Prewit, Flour Bluff. 100 breaststroke -- Byerly, Flour Bluff. 400 freestyle relay -- Flour Bluff (Prewit, Byerly, Nuss, Pogue).
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