Fletcher Smith scores top times and records at State meet


With Coach Schuler’s guidance, Smith became the MHSAA state champion (Photo courtesy of Coach James Schuler).

Riley Coesens, Editor in Chief

Stepping up to the block, Milford High School Junior Fletcher Smith set out to achieve his dream in the 100 Butterfly event. The buzzer sounded, and some of the best boys high school swimmers in the state dove into the pool. After the first 25 yards, Smith was in 7th; at the halfway point, he was in 4th. With 25 yards remaining, Smith was in 3rd. It was in these final yards that Smith’s months of intense stroke and speed work propelled him to the top. He out touched the competition by mere hundredths of a second, and became the first boy swimmer from MHS to win a State Championship.

On Saturday, Mar. 27, Smith represented the Huron Valley United swim and dive team in the State Championship meet at Hudsonville High School to compete in the 200 Freestyle and 100 Butterfly events. After COVID lockdowns and restrictions began last March, the boys’ state meet was cancelled for the safety of participants; this year, many earned top times with the hope of redemption.

Aside from his victory in the 100 Butterfly, Smith placed 7th in the 200 Freestyle (1:43.09), obtaining personal bests and a new MHS and HVU team record in both. He also is the first boys swimmer from Milford High School to place in the top 16 in any event at the state level and the first All-State swimmer (Top 8) in the school history. “I love being at meets like that, and it’s always cool to watch athletes swim fast, and see them and their coaches be excited,” Coach Schuler said. “There are a limited number of athletes every year who will have the opportunity to win a state championship, and I couldn’t have been more happy that Fletcher was able to not only become a much better swimmer this season, but to seize the opportunity that presented itself and bring that championship home to Milford.”

One critical aspect of Smith’s success was his good fortune in not having to miss any practices due to COVID-related issues, as he was able to stay on schedule with his unique training plan, meant to maximize the abnormally short timeframe of winter sports seasons this year.

In the beginning of his season, Smith and Coach Schuler worked to amplify the power and volume of his strokes through conditioning sets until the transition to the performance phase began. “Since the start of our season was delayed because of COVID-19 restrictions, the season seemed kind of rushed,” said Smith. “I worked as hard as I could at each practice. The training plan that Coach Schuler had for the season had a big part in my success.” Smith had just 10 weeks to prepare, compared to the normal 15-16 weeks leading up to the state meet; nonetheless, his hard work revealed itself most indefinitely at the Oakland County meet, where he earned four personal best times and two 3rd place finishes in individual races.

Another critical aspect for this year’s competition was the format of the state meet itself. Races were run as a straight final, meaning athletes did not have to swim a prelim race to qualify for the scored heats,  but also there was no room for error because the swimmers only got one shot at each event. This meant that longer events could potentially be more difficult to pace properly, while for shorter events, it made it easier to go “all in.”

In Smith’s case, his 100 Butterfly benefited greatly from this modification. As one of four competitors seated under 51 seconds, he dominated the event with his immense endurance; in the final half of the race, he went from 4th to 1st and took the lead in the final three yards, resulting in his win.

Both Coach Schuler and Smith agreed that the best part of the meet was unquestionably his tremendous victory in the 100 Butterfly, as it was exciting to see weeks of training come down to a few thrilling moments that would change Milford’s and HVU’s expectations moving forward. “My favorite part of the meet was getting to swim against fast swimmers from all over the state,” Smith shared. “I am looking forward to a more normal high school swim season next year. I hope we are able to return to having invitationals and spectators at our larger meets.”

In his next season, both Smith and Schuler hope to fuel the team toward more individual and team successes: “I have some pretty lofty goals for Fletcher’s senior season, [and we are] now at a level that warrants those goals, and I can’t wait to start the process of working towards dropping even more time and bringing home more hardware to Milford,” said Coach Schuler.

Looking ahead, Coach Schuler is eager to aid his swimmers as he continues to build the program, enforcing a team-oriented, enthusiastic mindset among his athletes. “Going into next season, a lot of success will be predicated on embracing the challenge to be better,” Coach Schuler explained. “Through all of it, there were some great high points throughout my first season as the coach here, and given all the options, I couldn’t be happier that the last swim someone from [one of] my teams had was one that created a state champion.”