These days, Matt Sluss spends most of his time on the baseball diamond.
Sluss hasn’t played competitively since eighth grade, but in his first and only season on the Harker Heights varsity, the senior has become a mainstay in the Knights’ lineup.
His immediate impact has been impressive -- but not as impressive as what he was able to accomplish between his baseball stints.
During that time, Sluss gave up his first love, baseball, for a new love, swimming.
And this past season, Sluss achieved a goal he set his sights on years ago as he qualified for state in the 200-yard freestyle.
For his accomplishments, Sluss has been named the Killeen Daily Herald Swimmer of the Year.
Sluss is the first swimmer from Heights to qualify for the state meet, a fitting end to a long journey.
Heights head coach Kate Eikrem can remember the first time she met Sluss two years ago, when his focus and dedication set him apart.
“I had them write goal sheets and his were ‘make it to state,’” Eikrem said. “That was his goal, and it was right at the top of his goal sheet and I remember sitting there thinking, ‘All right, this kid is serious, and he wants to achieve that,’” And from Day 1, whether it was tryouts, whether it was
practice, everything he’s done since then he’s held himself to an incredibly high standard.”
When asked the amount of time he spends in the pool outside of baseball season, even Sluss was unable to put a number on it.
“I don’t know. At least probably 12 hours a week times 52,” he said. “Whatever that equals.”
But when Sluss failed to qualify for state last season, Eikrem talked to the disappointed junior about honing in on smaller goals — winning district, then regionals — and letting them eventually take him to state.
“So, every single meet he took it as ‘this is my goal for this meet. I want to break this record at this meet or I want to win this relay at this meet,’ and then he did that at district, regionals and all the way to state,” Eikrem said. “He was very focused on each individual goal as it came.”
Sluss’ senior season had its memorable moments, including winning four gold medals at the District 12-5A meet, but Sluss said reaching state, where he finished 13th in the 200 freestyle, was the undisputed highlight.
Whether he knows it or not, his feat was just as meaningful to Eikrem after all the hard work and dedication she saw him put in the past two years.
“It meant a lot to me,” Eikrem said. “I learned a lot from coaching him. And I was just so proud of him. He deserved it.”
Now, Sluss is applying that same focus to baseball, where he still hopes to improve despite his quick transition.
“It’s definitely different switching from water to land,” he said with a laugh. “It’s definitely a hard thing. But I feel like I’ve caught on a little bit. I definitely have a lot to catch up on, but I’m doing my best.”
After he graduates from high school, Sluss will swim competitively again, whether it is for the varsity team at Southwestern University or the club team at the University of Texas.
But for now, his focus is on the diamond.
Until it shifts back to his new first love.