Commentary by Jeff Commings
Another memorable high school swimming season in the United States is complete, and we saw plenty of exciting moments that had people talking about the future of the sport and the athletes who will likely carry the banner for USA Swimming in a matter of years.
National high school records were broken in 10 events, one of the highest tallies in recent years. That speaks volumes about the level of competition available in the United States and, more importantly, suggests that high school swimming is alive and very well.
Following is a list of what I believe to be the five highlights of the past season.
High School Swimming Highlight #5: Two juniors up the ante in 200 freestyle
Next year’s rankings in the men’s 200 freestyle could feature two swimmers under the very tough 1:34 barrier. Grant Shoults and Maxime Rooney are on track to chase after Tom Shields’ overall national high school record of 1:33.83 next May in California after putting up some shocking swims earlier this month.
Rooney, a junior at Granada High School, swam a 1:34.58 in the North Coast sectional meet, missing his lifetime best by just one hundredth of a second. The same weekend, Shoults took down the national independent high school record with a 1:34.54 for St. Margarita High School. Had these two swum the 200 free at the inaugural California state meet (see below), we might have seen a battle that would have produced one of the most thrilling races in high school history. With the Olympic Trials on the top of their priority list for 2016, it’s not likely that they will go head-to-head at the California state meet, opting to use the time to train for Trials. But we can hope that they decide to separately go for that 1:34 barrier at some point in the season, and a chance at a bit of fame as the fastest high school 200 freestyler.
High School Swimming Highlight #4: Carmel High School ties historic record with 29th state title
It came as no surprise to anyone that the Carmel High School girls swim team won the Indiana state championship. But the 29th consecutive win carried a lot of weight for the team, as it tied Punahou High School for the most consecutive state titles. It’s great that Punahou also did it in swimming with 29 boys’ titles, but that’s a record for all high school sports.
Another reason Carmel made it a season to remember was the national high school records in all three relays. No other school in the country was able to touch Carmel in terms of times, and swims such as the 3:15.38 in the 400 free relay could be compared with the best collegiate teams. Though the race for the title of top boys’ swimming team by Swimming World Magazine could be close, it’s no stretch to think that Carmel is headed for title number four in five years.
High School Swimming Highlight #3: Katie Ledecky raises the bar higher in 200 and 500 freestyle
Mirroring the likes of Janet Evans, Amanda Beard and Missy Franklin, Katie Ledecky continued to have fun representing her high school while enjoying the stature as one of the top female swimmers in the world. As she did in 2014, Ledecky set the American record in the 500 free in prelims of the D.C. Metro championships with a 4:26.58, then blazed through the 200 free in finals to lower her national high school record even further with a 1:41.55.
Ledecky’s 500 free might be one of the most exciting swims of the high school season. She attacked the race with her usual intensity, splitting in the 26-high to 27-low range throughout. Then, a 25.95 in the final 50 yards. And yet, we know there’s a faster time on the horizon.
What a way to end a high school career. Certainly those who follow her at Stone Ridge High School – as well as her admirers across the country – will look with pride and awe at the records she’s put up.
High School Swimming Highlight #2: Richard Shoulberg bids farewell to high school swimming after 46 years
Richard Shoulberg didn’t end his illustrious career at Germantown Academy the way he wanted, but the legendary coach has moved on to new ventures. Shoulberg’s last meet was the Eastern Interscholastic championships, which his Germantown team has dominated for pretty much Shoulberg’s entire tenure. Many of the swimmers he guided to the Olympics or world championships – from Dave Wharton and Trina Radke to the Crippen siblings – competed for Germantown Academy during the high school season.
The girls team won the Swimming World Magazine national title in 1987, 1992, 1994 and 2005. Most recently, the Germantown Academy girls set the national high school record in the 400 free relay in 2013, which will go down as one of Shoulberg’s top accomplishments.
Shoulberg was not able to go quietly from Germantown Academy, as he was feted with with a ceremony at the Easterns meet in February. Shoulberg is now starting a small team in the Philadelphia area aimed at novice swimmers.
High School Swimming Highlight #1: California finally holds statewide championship
The discussion of a statewide swimming and diving championship meet in California has been in the air for many years, and it finally happened in Clovis. Though the pre-meet talk was more about those who weren’t attending the meet because the timing affected long course training, the meet itself had plenty of fast swims and exciting races. Ella Eastin was on point to set the national high school record in the 200 IM after breaking the independent high school mark a week earlier. Eastin swam at the state meet with a cut on her finger that required stitches, and that might have likely affected her performance as she fell shy of the record in her final high school meet. Others at the meet also swam slower than they did in their sectional championships, likely not prepared to hold a taper for another week. Alex Valente, a member of the USA Swimming national junior team, also had a chance to set a national record, but placed second in the 100 butterfly with a time that was about a second slower than he swam the week before.
But the meet was praised by many on social media, both for the event being held and the hosting duties of Clovis West High School. It’s likely the California state championships will have some issues in terms of attracting the top talent, but those who were able to call themselves true state champions won’t have an issue with that.