Croatan senior Colby Loveless, seated center, is signing on to swim at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy in the fall. Others in the photo are, left to right: sitting, father Donald Loveless and mother Mary Loveless; standing, Scott Hooley, Beaufort Bluefins coach Tom Mason, Grant Kelley, Croatan swim coach Mikaela Edge, Croatan Athletic Director Dave Boal and Croatan Principal Kay Zimarino. (Zack Nally photo)

OCEAN — Croatan senior swimmer Colby Loveless couldn’t resist a little fun Friday, Jan. 10 when announcing his college of choice.

With five hats in front of him representing five schools offering scholarships, the three-time state champion played “duck duck goose” before finally settling on one – for the U.S. Coast Guard Academy.

Loveless will head there this summer after graduating from Croatan. The standout swimmer will get a taste immediately of military life with eight weeks of boot camp, followed by classes, but that’s just what he prefers.

“I went to their summer program last year, as well as the one at the Naval Academy, and I thought the Navy one was a lot easier,” Loveless said. “They didn’t really expose you to what the academy experience would be. With the Coast Guard, the minute you got there, they were yelling at you and getting you to do pushups. I really liked how open it was.”

Inspired by neighbors and Coast Guard veterans Scott Hooley and Keith Stegall, Loveless knew immediately after his visit that the Coast Guard Academy was for him. The small-school setting matched what he was used to at Croatan, plus it would galvanize the soon-to-be freshman and his peers.

“It’s a small school, and you get to know the people that are around you,” he said. “They say, ‘Misery loves company,’ so you get really close to the people you’re there with.”

Loveless will be joining a Bears men’s swim program that last year placed second in the New England Women’s and Men’s Athletic Conference (NEWMAC), sent seven swimmers to the NCAA national championships and had head coach John Westkott named Conference Coach of the Year.

“I think Colby will do exceptionally well swimming in college,” Croatan swim coach Mikaela Edge said. “He has always kept a packed schedule in high school, and this will serve him well going to the Coast Guard Academy. I cannot wait to see how he does there and what path he takes after graduation.”

Loveless will take with him a solid slate of success at Croatan, with his senior season still unfinished. Last year, the boys swim team placed fourth overall at states and won a state championship in the 200-yard medley relay. Loveless joined Jack McCabe, Matthew McCray and Will Barker to clock a time of 1 minute, 36.83 seconds, two full seconds faster than the second-place team.

Loveless also placed third in the 50-yard freestyle in 21.60 seconds.

“Colby is a born leader and works well with his teammates,” Edge said. “He does a great job of helping others reach their full potential.”

The Cougars placed second in the state overall in 2018 and 2017 with Loveless in the mix for both seasons. He teamed up with John David McCray, James Reindl and Barker to win two state titles in 2018, the 200 medley (1:37.75) and the 400-yard freestyle (3:17.91).

Loveless is the younger brother of Ethan Loveless who also enjoyed a successful swim career for Croatan before graduating in 2017.

This season, younger brother is gunning for another state championship or maybe two.

“We’re all really excited about it,” he said. “I want to get at least two rings this year. I think we can take home the 200 medley and the 400 free relays, and I’m really hoping to get there for the 50 free.”

Loveless also swims the 100-yard freestyle for the Cougars. He will graduate this spring after spending four years heavily featured in the lineup. His final regional meet will be Friday and Saturday, Jan. 31-Feb. 1. The state meet is slated Thursday through Saturday, Feb. 6-8.

“I really love being a part of Croatan,” Loveless said. “It’s a small school, so you get a lot of individualized attention in the classrooms. Everyone here has your back. I’ve known some of these kids since kindergarten. It’s just a good environment to be in. The academics here are insane. It forces you to push yourself to be a better student.”

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