DeMatha swimming and diving coach Tom Krawczewicz shunned convention last season when putting together his 400-yard freestyle relay team because of Kevin Mukri.
The fastest swimmer in a relay typically is assigned the anchor leg. When a team's fourth swimmer hits the water, the team has the best shot of either holding a lead or making up a deficit.
But last season, despite the fact that Mukri had the third- or perhaps fourth-fastest 100 freestyle time of those on the relay, Krawczewicz wanted him to be the closer.
"He's so tough that it doesn't bother him if he's a little ahead or behind. The pressure never gets to him," Krawczewicz said. "He's a great person to swim anchor, because he'll do whatever it takes."
Mukri, who will attend the Air Force Academy in the fall and attempt to become a fighter pilot, seems impervious to the pressure of swimming anchor. In fact, it's a position he relishes.
"Right there, the anchor leg, is when the pressure's on you the most," Mukri said. "It's just something beyond yourself that gets you pumped up and ready to go when other people are counting on you."
This weekend, Mukri will compete in his last meet with DeMatha -- the Washington Metropolitan Interscholastic Swimming and Diving Championships (Metros) at Montgomery Aquatic Center. Though he owns the school record for his top event, the 100 backstroke (52.41 seconds) and swam the anchor leg of the Stags' record-setting 400 free relay team, he has meant more to DeMatha than fast times.
Mukri was selected as a DeMatha team captain by his teammates this year, and Krawczewicz said it's because of an attitude that the Stags "feed off," one that places team goals above individual ones.
Consider last year's season-opening meet against Gonzaga. Krawczewicz asked Mukri, who specializes in the 100 backstroke, to swim the 500 freestyle, which may be the most unpopular event at the high school level because of its length.
Although Mukri had never entered the event in a competitive meet and had never recorded a time better than 5 minutes 10 seconds in practice, he agreed to do it against the Stags' biggest rival. The results were astounding. Mukri made a point to stay with the leaders early, and at the end of the race he overtook them to win. Even more impressive, Mukri did it in less than 4:50, more than 20 seconds faster than his best practice time.
"It was amazing," Krawczewicz said. "Unfortunately for him, [the 500] was never his favorite event, but he got so good at it we couldn't not put him in it."
By agreeing to swim the 500, Mukri gave himself a difficult task at meets. He had to swim three of the final five races -- the 500 freestyle, the 100 backstroke and then the 400 freestyle relay.
Mukri prepared for this exhausting stretch with his practice schedule. Every day after school, Mukri trains with Rockville-Montgomery Swim Club for two-and-a-half hours, and twice a week he gets up at 4:30 for additional morning sessions.
The work has been worth it. In this year's season opener against Gonzaga, the Stags trailed by 18 points with five events left. Mukri, however, won the 500 freestyle and 100 backstroke and then anchored the 400 freestyle relay, the last race of the meet, to clinch a 97-89 victory.
Mukri, who carries a 3.8 grade-point average and is a member of the National Honor Society, will be integral to DeMatha's attempt to knock off Gonzaga and defending champion Georgetown Prep at Metros.
He will go for his first individual crown in the 200 freestyle and 100 backstroke, and he will anchor the Stags' 400 freestyle relay and swim the backstroke leg of their 200 medley relay.
"In four years, he's never let us down," Krawczewicz said. "That's pretty hard to say about anybody."