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Darden would do it all over again, if he had the chance

By Rudy Coggins
Published in Sports on May 10, 2012 1:48 PM

Chase Darden and his dad sat down one day during the summer and talked about the Wayne Christian athlete playing four sports his senior year.

The idea didn't seem too far-fetched.

Darden embraced the challenge and set personal goals like he had done each of the previous three seasons on the soccer field, basketball court and baseball diamond. Only this time, he added swimming -- a sport his father excelled in during his high school days.

As usual, Darden exceeded his expectations.

He signed a commitment letter to play soccer at Division II Catawba College, set the standard for future Wayne Christian sprinters in the swimming pool and helped keep a long-lasting legacy alive in the baseball program.

Darden earned an academic scholarship to Catawba and had the intentions of playing with former teammate Gregory Johnson. Johnson, however, plans to transfer to N.C. State in the fall.

"It was between them and Mount Olive," said Darden, who will pursue a degree in physical therapy. "It's a great college ... not big. I think it's my happy medium. I love the guys. They're like a family instead of a soccer team."

Catawba concluded the year 9-9-2 overall and lost to in-state rival Lenoir-Rhyne in the South Atlantic Conference tournament semifinals. Darden, a three-year all-conference performer, joins a team that will have a considerable number of underclassmen next season.

Darden finished his prep career with 67 goals.

With one sport wrapped up, Darden faced the daunting task of juggling swimming and basketball. Once classes ended, he attended swimming practice for two hours and then headed back to Clifford Gymnasium for basketball workouts.

"At first, I didn't think I would be able to go through with it," Darden said. "I think I learned I was a lot stronger than I actually was. I wasn't your traditional swimmer because of basketball games and practice. It was definitely tough on me in general as a student and an athlete."

During his first-ever swim meet, Darden qualified for the NCISAA state tournament in the 50- and 100-yard freestyles. He stayed consistent throughout the season, and logged top-30 finishes in both events during the state championships.

The Eagles struggled on the basketball court, but Darden knew spring was just around the corner. It was up to him and fellow seniors Chandler Harrell and Ryan Cooke to lead a young team that had no juniors and sophomores on the roster.

Wayne Christian fashioned an unbeaten record in Carolina Christian 1-A Conference play, and won an unprecedented eighth consecutive tournament championship. Darden earned league player-of-the-year and tournament MVP honors for the Eagles, who recorded two mercy-rule victories in the CCC tournament.

"I was kind of shocked about the (tournament) MVP because you normally don't get that when you get player-of-the-year," said Darden, who stroked a third-inning grand slam against Grace Christian of Sanford in the title game.

The CCC rivals meet again Friday in opening-round action of the 16-team, NCISAA playoffs.

Although the emotions of a possible last at-bat have yet to surface, Darden has responded superbly to the challenge he set for himself last summer.

"I am super happy with everything that has happened this year," Darden said. "If I had the chance to do it all over again, I'd love it."