4A boys swimming: Opportunity, teamwork lead Greeley West to state title

(Dan Mohrmann/CHSAANow.com)

THORNTON — It wouldn't be uncommon to hear high school coaches say that they're players are going to give them a heart attack. For Greeley West boys swimming coach Colin Shaha, there's nothing to laugh about when thinking about that scenario.

Shaha watched anxiously, paced nervously and smiled proudly through the final day of the Class 4A boys state swim meet. When the night was over, his Spartans were state champions. But there was a point in the season where there was genuine concern that Shaha would see the season through.

There was concern that his life was in danger.

What felt like heartburn for months turned out to be something more serious than that. When Shaha finally saw a doctor, it was revealed that he had an artery with a 98 percent blockage. He wasn't having heartburn. He was having a heart attack.

"When we were first heard, I mean I was stunned," senior Nathan Kenigsberg said. "I didn't know the severity of it. I was scared and really worried for him."

A stent was placed and Shaha was on his way to recovery. Word eventually got around in Greeley and Kenigsberg and his teammates were given some good news.

"Luckily my dad is a doctor," Kenigsberg said. "I got an update fairly quickly."

Shaha felt good enough to make it to the Spartans next meet, but the doctors advised against it. He listened. And not too long later, he was watching his athletes hoist a state championship trophy, the first in program history.

And he'll quickly point out that it wasn't motivation after a heart attack that brought home gold, it was the drive and determination of the Spartans to do something special for the community.

"Greeley is a punchline to a national joke," Shaha said. "'What's the opposite of Hawaii?' 'Greeley.' I've been working around swimming most of my adult life. I think about Greeley swimmers; I think a lot about Greeley kids. And this is huge."

It took a little bit of good fortune for the Spartans to get themselves into contention. In the 200-yard medley relay, the first event of the day, two Discovery Canyon swimmers jumped in the pool at the conclusion of the race. The infraction meant they were disqualified from each of their next event.

Those DQ's took precious points on the board and Greeley West knew it had to capitalize on it.

"We got a lucky break," Kenigsberg said. "But there was nothing but happiness with the way the team put everything into it. Caden Gillmore had the best meet I've ever seen from anybody. He did incredible."

The Spartans finished with 323 points to Discovery Canyon's 307. It's the second-straight runner-up finish for the Thunder.

Broomfield's Harrison Lierz had a standout day. He claimed two individual titles for the Eagles and helped them win the 200 freestyle relay. He swam that relay race then came right back to win the 100 backstroke.

"I feel like I swam really well this week," Lierz said. "I was really happy with how I did, especially with that being like five minutes after the relay."