Like every high school sport, swimming and diving was different this season amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Safety precautions ruled and team gatherings were scarce, and in one way the sport had it tougher than others in Gwinnett because spectators weren’t allowed at competitions. It’s not the way seniors like Brookwood’s Nate Stoffle envisioned their final high school season.
“It definitely affected the season, like not being able to go to a lot of meets with the girls team, so that whole energy was out of the question for dual meets,” Stoffle said. “And social distancing, not being able to go on a lot of bus rides with the guys. It affected the season a lot, but I don’t think affected the swimming part of it too much.”
It did impact Stoffle’s season significantly, though, when COVID-19 ran through his family and he tested positive prior to the Gwinnett high school championship meet. Thankfully, the Daily Post Boys Swimmer of the Year was asymptomatic.
He worked out to stay sharp for the conclusion of the season, but he was in quarantine during the county meet, one of the highlights of the high school season.
“Missing county was tough, I would have loved to go there,” Stoffle said. “That meet’s energy is insane.”
Stoffle returned to the water in the two-week period between county and state.
“I did some quarantine workouts to try and stay in shape for state, so coming back, after a day or two, it felt good,” he said.
Stoffle capped his high school career with another impressive state meet, repeating as state champion in the 100-yard backstroke in 47.65 seconds and placing second in the 100 butterfly at 48.37, .02 seconds behind first-place finisher Tyler Schroeder of Peachtree Ridge.
“I wanted to win that 100 fly, but that’s OK,” Stoffle said. “The 100 back, I kind of didn’t expect to be as fast as I touched, I thought I was going to be 48ish. I touched the wall and I was kind of surprised, like, ‘Alright, I’ll take it.’ I don’t think it was a bad last meet.”
The 100 fly win was the third individual state title for Stoffle, who was state champion in the 100 fly and state and county champion in the 100 back as a junior. He also had strong seasons as a sophomore (state runner-up in 50 freestyle, fourth at state in 100 back) and as a freshman (fifth at state in 100 back, seventh at state in 200 individual medley) in helping Brookwood to the 2018 and 2019 team state titles alongside his older brother Aidan Stoffle, who now swims for Auburn.
“Following a brother who left such an incredible mark on his high school team just two years prior is not an easy task,” Brookwood coach Jack Gayle said. “It can’t be overstated what a pure and determined competitor Nate is, especially considering his events overlapped Aidan’s legacy. Nate blazed his own path here, carving his name on our record board and immortalizing his impact on the team in his own way. He leaves Brookwood just as decorated, just as successful and even though he’s joining Aidan at Auburn, it’ll be as a teammate, a peer and an equal. He’s one of the most mentally tough swimmers I’ve ever seen, and it has been a joy watching him grow into his considerable abilities over the past four years.”
Stoffle had other options for college swimming other than Auburn, but eventually he felt most comfortable there.
“College recruiting in general went great for me, and I really enjoyed the process,” he said. “I know it is stressful for a lot of other kids. But I personally loved it. I loved going on the trips and meeting a bunch of fast kids and coaches. What really stuck out for Auburn for me was the coaching staff. They’re kind of in a rebuilding phase after they phased out the last coaching staff. I was excited about their plans for the future and since my brother goes there, too, I know a lot of the team. So it had the family aspect to it. And they have some incredible facilities. The campus is beautiful. I loved the weather. Everything just meshed well together.”
As he looks ahead to college swimming, Stoffle admits he will miss Brookwood and high school swimming.
“It’s kind of bittersweet,” he said. “I love the team. I love the atmosphere, especially state. It’s probably the most high energy meet that I’ve been to. There’s something about that huge crowd. I think a bunch of swimmers dream about that big crowd, like a football stadium, being able to compete in front of all those people and hear the cheers. I’ll miss it definitely. But I think I’ll have opportunities in college to do that, too.”