Carmel Girls Claim Seventh National High School Team Title in 2021

The Carmel girls after clinching its 35th consecutive Indiana high school state championship -- Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

Carmel Girls Claim Seventh National High School Team Title in 2021

(From September’s Swimming World Magazine)

After a two-season absence as Swimming World’s girls’ high school national champions, Carmel High School (Ind.) has returned to claim its seventh overall team title since 2011.


The Carmel girls’ swim team is one of the country’s most tradition-rich programs. So many accomplished swimmers have passed through the school, and in February, the team captured its 35th consecutive Indiana high school state championship.

Additionally, they are Swimming World’s overall high school national champions for the seventh time. Previously, the Greyhounds won the honor in 2011 and then five years straight from 2013 to 2017. Carmel has also been named the national public school champion in 1995, 1996, 1998, 2009, 2010 and 2019.

With Carmel’s boys being named men’s overall team of the year for the second time, 2021 marks the first year that both Carmel teams are national champions. They’re only the third school to do so since the magazine first recognized an overall national high school champion for both boys and girls in 1987. The other two schools with that distinction are Peddie (1990 and 1991) and Bolles (1998 and 2000).

The Carmel Sense of Togetherness

But even though his girls’ team has achieved significant success for so long, this squad stood out to Carmel head coach Chris Plumb because of its sense of resilience and togetherness through one of the most unorthodox swim seasons ever.

During the months preceding the high school state meet, the swimmers and coaches were concerned the meet would never happen because of COVID-19 restrictions. Even when the meet eventually did happen, the typically raucous crowd was absent, leaving the swimmers to perform in front of an empty, cavernous IUPUI Natatorium. But they managed to push through those concerns thanks to an exceptional sense of togetherness.

“There were really no egos on this team,” Plumb said. “They loved each other. They cared for each other. They were just a united team. I don’t really know how to say it. They really enjoyed each other’s company, and they really got behind each other, and it’s fun to be a part of.”

Plumb credited assistant coach Rhiannon Sheets for putting together the activities that prioritized team bonding. “From being a former Carmel swimmer herself, she kind of understands all those things,” Plumb said. Among the activities the Carmel staff employed to bring their team together: a lip-sync contest, karaoke and charades. The coaches would ask the swimmers to share their two most important values. And every week, the team would hold a winners’ circle, where each member of the group would share positive feedback about a teammate.

“I just try to get them to a place where they all have to put themselves out there in front of each other and make themselves vulnerable,” Plumb said. “I think this team was willing to share their vulnerability with each other. We did a lot of stuff on Zoom, too. It was weird because your training went down, but you spend a little bit more time creating these bonds outside of the pool on Zoom.”

The pandemic limited in-person events such as team dinners, but the newfound excursion into the virtual world allowed Plumb to bring back accomplished alumni such as Amy Bilquist, Claire Adams, Veronica Burchill and 2021 Olympic Trials finalist Kelly Pash to speak with the team, to share their experiences and lend their insights into how to handle challenges in the sport.

Time for Some Fast Swimming

Whatever Plumb & Co. tried, it worked, as the team performed brilliantly at the state meet. Carmel scored 479 points, more than double the total of second-place Fishers (200). Carmel won all three relays handily, and junior Gretchen Lueking won the 200 yard freestyle in 1:45.48, the third-fastest performance in the nation. Sophomore Berit Berglund topped the 100 backstroke in 52.09, also the country’s third-fastest time. Plumb called junior MacKenna Lieske’s narrow victory in the 100 breaststroke by four hundredths of a second his biggest surprise of the meet.

“I think (we showed) just the overall depth in the way our team swam from top to bottom. We certainly have our stars. But (junior) Hayley Reed was third in the 100 fly. That’s a huge swim for her. She’s come so far. Just those swims were the fun part about the meet,” Plumb said.

“Obviously, Berit Berglund’s 100 back, I knew she could do it, but to see her go 52.1—and is that the No. 1 time in the country?” When Plumb learned that Berglund had ended up third, he said, “Two girls ahead. OK, let’s go. We’ve got motivation for next year.”

In the national rankings, Carmel scored 166 points, well ahead of second-place Neuqua Valley (Naperville, Ill.) at 134, and the Greyhounds were propelled by Lueking, Berglund and the Christman sisters. Lueking also posted the 11th-fastest time in the country in the 100 freestyle (49.46), while senior Madelyn Christman was 14th nationally in the 200 IM (1:59.27) and 11th in the 100 back (53.22). Sophomore Meghan Christman finished eighth in the country in the 50 freestyle (22.59).

Carmel’s 200 medley and 200 freestyle relays each recorded the country’s second-fastest marks (1:40.38, 1:31.21), while the quartet of Lueking, Berglund, Meghan Christman and Madelyn Christman swam a 3:18.84 in the 400 freestyle relay for the country’s fastest time by nearly two seconds.

Looking Ahead

And while Carmel was the national champion this year, the Greyhounds might be preparing for another run atop the national rankings with rising ninth-grader Alex Shackell preparing to join the high school team. Shackell is already almost fast enough to rank among the top 16 in the country in the 100 butterfly, and her improvement curve since her last short course race has been stunning.

After barely qualifying for Wave I Olympic Trials in the 100-meter fly, Shackell dropped more than a second at the Speedo Summer Championships in Greensboro to win the event in 59.61.

“She’s an up-and-comer, no question,” Plumb said. “She’s got an ability to race and compete, and she’s just consistently trying to get better and learn.”

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