Sam Tate got into swimming at four years old when his parents put him in a summer league. However, the Maryville senior’s love for the sport wasn’t exactly instant.
“My dad was the coach, so I was pushed to be on the swim team at a young age,” Tate said. “It was definitely something I grew into. Now, I couldn’t imagine not going to practice.”
Fortunately for Tate, he won’t have to envision his future without swimming after recently signing a National Letter of Intent to continue his athletic career at Berry College in Georgia.
This feat came as no surprise to Maryville coach Jenna Johnson, who said she immediately saw potential in Tate to compete beyond high school.
“Ever since I met Sam, I felt like he was college material,” Johnson said. “He’s a fierce competitor, and he’ll always take it to the next level.”
Tate has grown up with plenty of competition to push him. He had two older brothers who swam for Maryville before he and his twin brother, Wes, joined the squad in 2018.
Tate and his siblings played no small role in helping Maryville take substantial steps forward as a program. In this season’s TISCA state meet, Maryville placed second behind Baylor — the longtime powerhouse from Chattanooga — for the third straight time.
The Maryville boys finished fourth with 148 points — up from 10th place a year ago.
“My parents pushed us (into the sport) because it helps you work on life skills, like hard work and having dedication,” Tate said. “They gave us a little push at the beginning and then we kind of took it from there.”
Individually, Tate took seventh at state in the boys 200-meter individual medley (1:55.26) and eighth in the 100 breaststroke (58.38).
He also swam on the Rebels’ 200 freestyle and 400 freestyle relay teams, which both placed fourth.
“I just love swimming the relays with my teammates,” Tate said. “I like being able to swim not only with my guys, but for my guys. (When I swim relays), I’m not doing this for myself, I’m doing it for my team.”
This season was unlike any other because of the pandemic. The Rebels didn’t have access to the University of Tennessee’s Allan Jones Aquatic Center like usual, so many of their meets were held in Alcoa or Kingston instead.
The state meet was also different — it was hosted by four separate venues across Tennessee, which produced a much tamer atmosphere than is typical for that stage of competition.
Johnson said Tate’s positivity and upbeat demeanor was even more valuable given the unique circumstances surrounding the season.
“He’s just one of those kids who would do anything to get the team going,” Johnson said. “He’s just so funny and unique. I think he’s going to bring a lot to any team that he’s a part of.”
Tate attributed Maryville’s growth as a program to the bonds formed between the Rebels.
“It’s definitely the relationships that swimmers are building with each other,” Tate said. “When they’re swimming, they feel like they’re not just swimming for themselves — they’re swimming for the team, and I think that really helps you be committed to it and get better in the water.”
As for why Tate selected Berry, he said his love for both the campus and the coach were selling points for the program.
“I felt like this is what would make me happy and that it would be a good fit for me,” Tate said. “It means a lot — I just love the sport of swimming. I definitely wouldn’t be where I am right now without my teammates and my coaches.”
“I feel like the sky’s the limit for him,” Johnson added. “At Berry College, he is going to be a huge leader on that team eventually. He’ll shine, and I think he’ll continue to get faster and faster.”
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