• December 22, 2014

Allan Mandell On Sports Magical ride for Heights’ Matt Sluss

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Posted: Sunday, March 23, 2014 12:21 am

One of Harker Heights head coach Kate Eikrem’s favorite memories from this past swimming season was at the PISCA Meet in San Antonio in December.

“Our team did OK,” Eikrem said. “But what made it so memorable was that while we were down there, Matt Sluss pulled out this deck of cards and tells me to pick a card and don’t show it to him. I think it was the queen of hearts. He tells me to place it on a table and cover it with my two hands.

“Then he has me pick another card, and I look at it, then put it under his two hands. He snaps his fingers and then the queen of hearts is under his hands and the card that was under his hands is now under mine. It was incredible. Matt had the whole team laughing. I said, ‘How did you do that?’ He said, “A magician never tells his secrets.’ To this day, he refuses to tell me how he does all these fantastic magic tricks.”

Matt Sluss had a magical 2013-14 season in the water.

And Eikrem knows exactly how Sluss pulled that off.

“Hard work, focus, dedication, hours and hours of practice, and hours and hours of building up his strength,” she said.

Sluss was the only area swimmer to qualify for the state meet last month in Austin. He won four gold medals in the District Meet and finished third in regionals in the 200 free. He was rewarded with the Killeen Daily Herald’s Swimmer of the Year award.

“But as fantastic a swimmer as Matt is,” said Eikrem, “it shouldn’t be overlooked how good a teammate he was, how strong he was as a team captain and what a great all-around kid he is with a sense of humor.”

Around December, Eikrem kept hearing whistling from her top swimmer.

“Matt taught himself how to whistle this year,” Eikrem said. “And so at every meet, every practice, every bus ride, he’d be whistling the same four notes to the same song, the theme from ‘The Hunger Games’ movie. I don’t even know if Matt liked the movie but he sure liked whistling those four notes to that song. I used to pretend that it drove me nuts but, really, it just made me laugh.”

“Well, we’re at the regional meet, and Matt is standing on top of the stand receiving his medal — one of the biggest moments of his swimming career to that point — and I go over to congratulate him. And what is Matt doing? He’s whistling that same song. He cracked me up.”

Eikrem, 25, was Heights assistant coach in the 2012-13 season. Once she was given the top spot for the 2013-14 season, she named Sluss a team captain.

“I picked Matt for his incredible work ethic,” Eikrem said. “And he proved to be such an outstanding leader of our team. He became vocal, too.”

At the district meet, Eikrem was close to tears during a race involving one of her young female swimmers.

“Matt was in the middle of having this extraordinary meet,” Eikrem said. “This new swimmer of ours was competing and Matt could easily have taken the time to prepare for his next race, talk to his friends or just be cooling off. Instead Matt decides that it’s important for him, our captain, to grab this young girl’s sign with her name on it and stand in her lane and be the one to cheer her on. I’m not even sure that Matt knew her all that well. Matt just felt it was important that he be the one to encourage this girl who was new to the sport.

“It really was a special moment and I’ll always remember it.”

There is no chance of Eikrem ever forgetting Sluss.

“You have a lot of ‘firsts’ in coaching,” Eikrem said. “I hope to be doing this for many years and have many Harker Heights’ swimmers go to state. But the first swimmer to ever take this coach to the state meet was Matt Sluss.”

Just before Sluss arrived at Harker Heights High School, the record board for the swim team listed eight individual boys’ school records and three boys’ relay school records.

Four years later, Sluss has managed to pull off a disappearing act. On that school record board, seven of those eight names in the individual categories are gone. In their place reads the name “Matt Sluss.”

The name “Matt Sluss” is part of all three school relay records, too.

Yes, you could say the high school swimming career of Matt Sluss has been quite magical.

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