By Terry Jacoby/weloveannarbor.com
Head coach Maureen Murrett sees something different in Matthew Lee. There is a confidence and determination there that is ready to make a big splash for the Skyline varsity swimming and diving team.
“Matthew is zoned in this season like never before,” says Murrett of her standout senior swimmer. “He has natural speed and is adding strength and power to the mix. He works every day to stay healthy and be there for our team.”
He was certainly “there” during a recent meet with rival Pioneer. Lee won the 50-yard freestyle with a blazing time of 21.42 seconds. He also was third in the 100 free and swam on two winning relays – the 200 free and 400 free.
Lee swims into his final season with the Eagles ready to fly to new heights. He says Skyline swimming is “going to make some noise.”
“We all know what we want this year,” Lee says. “After getting fourth place at States last year we all knew what to push for this season and that’s to win it all. When coach MoJo texted us a picture of her posing right in front of an empty space next to our old state championship banners captioned “just so you know… I left room for another banner,” it added even more fuel to the fire. It’s something that we’ve been stressing every day at practice this year. This team is heavily motivated and I’m so happy to be a part of it.”
Lee is not only a swimmer but he is a Skyline swimmer and believes – in his heart and in his actions – that being an Eagle is something very special.
“One of the main reasons I’ve stuck with this team for all four years is because of the people,” he says. “I’ve never held a group of guys so dear to my heart like the Skyline swim team. The memories I created with the team are some of the best in my life. From screaming about stories in the locker room to cheering each other in the pool, there is something special with this group of guys that I will forever treasure.”
Lee is part of a senior class destined to leave its mark.
“The class that I entered the team with is extremely special,” he says. “Every single person in my grade is what keeps me going. They have been a part of my entire high school journey, and some of them even before that. Through all the hardships I was able to get through it all with this group of guys and I’m so grateful for the time I’ve spent with them.”
Being named a captain has only added to his appreciation of his final lap with the Skyline swim team.
“Being a captain is more than keeping everyone accountable,” he says. “You learn a lot from other people and want to always consider everyone’s opinion when speaking on their behalf. Honestly, though, being a captain gives me an excuse to talk to all my teammates more which is exactly what I want. Team togetherness is the most important thing to me and being a captain gives me opportunities to bond with them more.”
Lee first jumped into the pool before he could even walk.
“I’ve been in chlorinated water since I was a baby,” he says. “I still remember taking private lessons and diving for toys that sank to the bottom of the water. It was something that I did for fun at the start of the journey, but then I started to realize the potential for trying it out competitively. My sister started competitive swimming for Mack at age 8, at this point I was 9, and my mom encouraged me to join her. I’ve been around the pool ever since.”
Lee admits his freshman year with Skyline was probably the most difficult time he has experienced in the water. He had to swim a lot of 100 freestyle with little improvement through the entire season.
“It was hard,” he says. “I couldn’t break 50.3 even though I trained for 12 weeks straight for it. To add more heartbreak, I was benched from the 200 free relay which meant I did not swim anything at states freshman year. It really hurt, and I was angry at myself. I took the offseason as an opportunity to train and get back to that spot on the relay… and I did. I came back that next year with a vengeance.”
His sophomore year was a little inconsistent, mostly because of an ankle injury. He had to often sit out but was still able to get in the water and chase his goal of a relay spot. “I still remember the greatest point of that season, when I was finally able to get over the hump and get an individual state cut,” he says. “Everyone watching and cheering me on, and to see the scoreboard after finishing was the greatest feeling to that point.”
After a strong showing at the SEC tournament, the state finals meet was canceled because of COVID. “I hated the fact that I couldn’t show how a year after being benched added so much fuel to the fire,” he said. “It especially was frustrating because that was the end of the season … with no fanfare or farewell.”
His junior year was another challenge. With the shortened season, they only had eight weeks together. His ankles wore out after the second week and he had to sit out until the final week of the season.
“It was such a horrible time for me,” he says. “Watching everyone swim their butts off while I had to sit on the bench just aching to get back in. I spent more time in the ice bath than in the pool that season and I hated that I couldn’t contribute to the team.
“I returned at the end of the season and gave it my all. I went back to the 50 free and swam in all three relays. I broke a 20.76 out of nowhere which was amazing. It goes to show how I was so ready mentally.”
Matthew, 17, the son of Won Jae Jung and Jae Seung Lee, is a cinema buff when he’s not in the water.
“I’ve been watching over 2,000 movies and have developed a true joy for cinema,” he says. “I spend a lot of my time watching movies and making little reviews. I get super passionate about the way the camera works in movies and it’s something that I’m very interested in pursuing in college.”
At the end of this season, he will be “officially be done with swimming.”
“As hard as it is to let go of something that has been a part of my life since I was 2, it’s finally time to let go of it,” he says. “I hope to go to either U-M or MSU to go to film school. I’m eyeing NYU for grad school. I want to stay close to home for now just because I want to stay close to friends and family.”
Before he takes on the next challenge, he has a few more challenges to chase – especially in the pool.
“I hope to leave a long-lasting impression,” he says. “I’m eyeing the 50 free varsity record. That is the biggest goal I want to achieve. To see my name representing the event that I’ve been training for five years now would mean the absolute world to me.”