As the premier 1A all-around athletic program in the state of North Carolina, there aren’t many sports where Mount Airy is not at or near the top of the Northwest Conference.
One of those sports is girls’ swimming, where the Lady Bears turn in solid performances, but almost always find themselves looking up at East Surry and Bishop McGuinness at the end of the night.
Things change, however, when the girls in navy blue and white send their Best out there.
In a pool full of Cardinal red and Villain gold, Mount Airy’s Sierra Best is the exception to the rule. Last January, at the Northwest 1A Conference girls’ swim finals, she was the lone swimmer not from those schools to win an individual event, beating out a rival from East Surry for the league’s 100-yard breaststroke title.
She went on to qualify for the state championships for the third straight year, representing the Lady Bears in the 100 breast, 200 individual medley and in the 400 free relay. In the 1A/2A state finals on Feb. 11 at the Cary Aquatic Center, Best just missed All-State honors in the 100 breast, placing sixth (and first among 1A traditional school swimmers). She had a role in nearly all of the 16 team points that Mount Airy earned.
Her ability to stand out against two powerhouse programs in her own conference, along with 2A schools in the regional and state meets, hasn’t gone un-noticed. Best’s hard work in the pool, which includes year-round competition as a member of the Star Aquatics team and even some appearances for the Reeves Rapids of the Blue Ridge Swim League during the summers, was rewarded on Monday, when she signed a national letter of intent to join the swim team at Catawba College next year.
Best chose the Indians over a number of other suitors, with Wingate and Lenoir-Rhyne also in the mix. However, she felt most at home in Salisbury.
“Coach (Michael) Sever first called me and got me interested in the school,” she said. “I looked up their swim program and how they were doing, and then I went on a tour. I loved the campus, and I love the team and the coaches, and I feel that is where my heart is.”
A natural athlete standing 5’10”, it would be easy to imagine Best as a dominant player on the Lady Bears’ powerhouse basketball team or as a member of the school’s volleyball team. But she took to the water six years ago while in middle school, devoted all of her energies to that sport, and has been a standard-bearer for Mount Airy swimming ever since.
“My freshman year, after states, I really felt like I wanted to swim in college,” said Best. “I knew I wanted to swim for the rest of my high school career, and then in college, because I really love it.”
In high school, Best has been the leader on a Mount Airy team with quality talent but low numbers. The Lady Bears’ coaches make the most of her talent by deploying her as the anchor on as many relay events as they can. She credits much of her success to the encouragement that her coaches and teammates have given her over the years.
“I want to thank all of my coaches and my teammates, because they pushed me every day and helped me to get where I am,” she said. “I’m ready to see what the whole team can do this year, and hopefully go to states again.”
Best said that her showing last year in the state meet has been the highlight of her career — so far. She hopes, and plans to make it back to the state finals in February and do even better.
“When I got sixth in the 100 breast. It felt really, really good,” she said. “Hopefully, I can do even better this year. This year, I just want to keep pushing, and every time I get into the pool, to do my very best.”
When she joins the Indians, she will likely have the opportunity to try some other events.
“Coach Sever told me he likes to move freshmen around, because a lot of swimmers only swim about two events in high school,” she said. “He likes to see all of your talents, and see where you fit in best.”
She said she is undecided on a major, but leaning toward something in the environmental science field.
The first official meet of her senior season will see the Lady Bears host Bishop next Monday.
Reach John via Twitter at @johncate73.