By Chris Bavender
The last time a school other than Carmel won the IHSAA girls swimming championship, it was more than a decade before any of the athletes on the current team had even been born.
Now the team is on the brink of history. If the team wins the state title in February, it will be its 30th consecutive championship, a record for any high school team in any sport.
“Carmel High School’s girls’ swimming program has experienced an unprecedented and historic run of state championships dating back to the mid-1980s,” IHSAA Commissioner Bobby Cox said. “Their dominance reflects outstanding coaching, dedicated and talented student athletes, tremendous community support and stands as a benchmark for other swimming programs in our state to aspire to.”
Chris Plumb has coached the team since 2006. He is the team’s fifth coach in its historic run.
“(Our success) speaks to what can happen when a group of young women believe and work for something bigger than themselves,” said Plumb, a 40-year-old Buffalo, N.Y. native who began swimming competitively when he was 6 years old.
For Assistant Coach Rhiannon Sheets, coming back to coach at the school where she was a team member from 2007 to 2011 just made sense.
“This program gave and taught me so much while growing up,” Sheets said. “I wanted to be able to give back even a small amount of what I had received over the years.”
Seventy girls spend anywhere from 80 minutes to three hours practicing four times each week before school, five times each week after school and on Saturday mornings. Practices cover “cover the whole landscape of sport,” Plumb said, including strength, speed, endurance, tecnique and more.
“Mornings can be tiring, but it’s never questioned among the team. They know it’s what needs to be done and embrace it,” Sheets said. “We focus on continually finding new ways to improve – not just doing the work, but doing it well.”
Senior Claire Adams, who started swimming when she was 9 years old to make friends, said the Greyhounds’ success has been a group effort.
“I love getting to build relationships with my teammates and spend time with them,” she said. “Drawing from my teammates keeps me motivated. Their energy makes the hard days worth it.”
The goal for the team this year, Plumb said, is to be the best team they can be – and to be better than they were last year.
“Our goal is always a National Championship, but we focus much more on the process of daily improvement,” he said.
So, how did the team get to be so good for so long?
“Culture. A deliberate effort is made by coaches and athletes to cultivate and sustain a culture of excellence,” Sheets said.
Support from family and the community also plays a role, according to CHS Athletic Director Jim Inskeep.
“The support the boys and girls team receive from alumni and those not swimming in the state meet each year is phenomenal. It really is a family,” he said. “When you put so much time as a family into practices and meets from a very young age to graduation, you always want to see the teams continue to excel and reach new levels.”
If the team does bring home its 30th consecutive title, Plumb said it “speaks to what can happen when a group of young women believe and work for something bigger than themselves.”
For Sheets, she said the pride she feels in the team knows no bounds.
“The girls push themselves to the edge every day in practice, for each other and with each other,” she said. “It is inspiring to see on a daily basis, and I’m excited for them to have the opportunity to celebrate all of their hard work and dedication … at the state meet.
The ones to watch
Plumb and Sheets said several swimmers could make a big impact at the IHSAA state finals Feb. 12 and 13 at IUPUI: Veronica Burchill, Emma Nordin, Kendall Smith and Claire Adams.
“In my opinion, any one of the girls could be ‘one to watch’ come February,” Sheets said. “However, the girls mentioned all lead by example daily with their work ethic and willingness to put it all on the line for the teammates in any situation.”
The team boasts four members, including Adams, with Olympic trials. Adams swam the third fastest time in the United States last year in the 100 backstroke.
The Carmel High School girls swim team will attempt to make history by winning its 30th consecutive state title. The 2016 state finals are set for Feb. 12 and 13 at the IUPUI natatorium, 901 W. New York St., Indianapolis. Unreserved tickets cost $8 per session or $12 for both days. The championship and consolation finals will be streamed live at IHSAAtv.org. For more, visit ihsaa.org.
The next morning, a “30 Years of Excellence” brunch program is scheduled for 10 a.m. Feb. 14 in the Carmel High School freshmen cafeteria. Cost is $10 and include a T-shirt. Online registration is available through Feb. 9. Learn more at www.carmelgreyhounds.com.