Carmel High In a Class of Its Own: Girls and Boys Sweep Swimming World Mythical Team Titles

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Carmel High In a Class of Its Own: Girls and Boys Sweep Swimming World Mythical Team Titles

The depth and star talent of the swimmers at Carmel High School in Indiana has helped Coach Chris Plumb’s girls’ and boys’ teams develop into a program that is unequaled in terms of national—as well as international—success.

Over the decades, Carmel, Ind., has established a reputation as one of the premier high school swimming programs in the country, particularly with the girls’ team boasting a streak that transcends swimming: 37 consecutive state titles. The Carmel women were overall national champions in 2011 and then five years straight from 2013 to 2017 before reclaiming the top spot in 2021. Carmel’s boys, meanwhile, won in 2004 and 2019 before taking first place in 2021 for the school’s first-ever sweep of the honors.

Months after the Indiana high school championship performances that secured the Greyhounds these two titles, Carmel coach Chris Plumb and his swimmers watched as the first Carmel alumni reached the highest level, with Drew Kibler and Jake Mitchell each qualifying for the 2021 U.S. Olympic team. Two years later, the first female Carmel swimmer and the first active Carmel swimmer qualified for a senior-level international competition as Alex Shackell made the American squad for the World Championships, with Kibler, Mitchell and Plumb also joining the U.S. delegation to Fukuoka, Japan.

And in high school waters, Carmel remains unmatched. In 2022, Carmel swept the titles as the top public school teams for both girls and boys for the third consecutive season (not counting 2020, when no teams were honored because of the COVID-19 pandemic) and fourth time in five seasons. Now, Carmel is the top overall team for the second time, claiming the girls’ and boys’ titles in 2023.

“Anytime I think you win both, it’s a great feeling to know you’re equally balanced across genders,” Plumb said. “Having comparable performances at the right time, that’s hard to do in Indiana with the meets being two weeks apart. That’s certainly a challenge there, so when you get it right, it feels good.”

TWO DIFFERENT PATHS TO VICTORY:

Carmel Dominates Girls’ Competition

Plumb stays aware of the times that rival schools around the country post at their respective championship meets, and he knew the boys’ competition would be extremely close this year—indeed, Carmel won by only two points, with a total of 144 narrowly besting a Keller High School (Texas) team led by Maximus Williamson.

But on the girls’ side, not so much.

A dominant performance in the mythical national rankings saw Carmel score 235 points, 70.5 clear of 2022 winner Santa Margarita Catholic (Calif.). The second-place public school, Brookfield East (Wis.), was 97 points behind Carmel.

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Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

On the way to winning the national crown, Carmel’s 37th consecutive Indiana state title in February resulted in the most points ever scored in the state’s history. Carmel won every swimming event except the 100 yard free and earned 15 individual top-three finishes (out of a maximum 24 in eight individual events). And Carmel won all three relays in dominant fashion, two of them with national records.

“I thought it was great to see how balanced we were from the distance to the sprints and IM,” Plumb said. “The amount of points we scored was the best thing about that. Knowing the teams we’ve had in the past, and to score the most points in Indiana history, I just love the fact that our team came together and was so deep and so good across so many events.

“In high school, it’s a challenge when you’re going three to four events in a day. Eventually, you end up doing seven or eight events in 24 hours (including prelims and finals), given how the schedule works. To do that, it’s just a tribute to the girls and the work that they put in. And the fact that our girls are young, having a lot coming back, also feels good.”

The 200 medley relay performance was magical, with Berit Berglund (Sr.), Molly Sweeney (Fr.), Shackell (So.) and Meghan Christman (Sr.) clocking 1:36.98 to annihilate the previous national record of 1:38.13 set by Fossil Ridge (Colorado) in 2018. Berglund led off in 24.36, with Sweeney following in 27.46, Shackell going 22.74 and Christman finishing in 22.42. The time ended up 2.70 seconds faster than any other team in the country.

Later on, Sweeney, Grace Dougherty (Jr.), Christman and Shackell went 1:30.23 for another record in the 200 free relay, with Shackell coming home in a ridiculous 21.79 to clinch the triumph. However, that overall national record would not last, as Santa Margarita swam the first-ever sub-1:30 swim (1:29.61) during California’s spring high school season. However, the Greyhounds’ runner-up time in Swimming World’s mythical national championship remained as the public school record.

As for individual events, Carmel was propelled by a trio of underclassmen. Combined, only five freshmen and sophomores swam top-three times in the country—and three of those swimmers were from Carmel. The standout, of course, was Shackell, who swam the No. 1 time in the 100 fly at 50.89 while ranking third (behind a pair of seniors) in the 50 free with her 21.93.

Sweeney, meanwhile, excelled as a freshman. She swam the country’s second fastest 200 IM, her 1:55.88 ranking behind only Teagan O’Dell’s national record, and she was also second in the 100 breaststroke (59.63). Additionally, sophomore Lynsey Bowen ranked third nationally in the 500 free (4:42.81) and fourth in the 200 free (1:45.49).

“Both those girls I’ve known since they were young. I’ve watched them come up through the program. Each of them is on a little different path, but each had an older sibling in the program,” Plumb said.

“Lynsey put in a lot of work. The distance events, they’re never easy. They’re grueling. Her doing the 500—and for Molly, taking down some fast records…. Her and Alex race a lot. They race a lot in the IM. They don’t do it at the high school meet. They push each other. There’s a lot of good competition going on in practice, which I think helps elevate the whole entire team.”

Additionally, Carmel senior Berglund placed sixth nationally in the 100 backstroke (51.80) and 13th in the 100 free (49.09). Lexie Ward, another sophomore, was ninth in the 500 free (4:46.36). An all-senior team of Christman, Erin Cumins, Berglund and Vivian Wilson swam a time of 3:21.84 for the country’s second-best time in the 400 free relay behind Brookfield East’s 3:18.95. (Santa Margarita actually had the fastest time, 3:16.84 with Teagan O’Dell, but it was non-scoring since national high school rules allow swimmers a maximum of four events—including relays—with no more than two individual events.)

Greyhounds Win Boys’ Title by 2 Points

For the Carmel boys, the swimmer who spearheaded the national-title run was another Shackell: Alex’s older brother, Aaron. A senior already committed to swim for Cal, Aaron Shackell had broken out during the 2022 summer season when he won gold at the Junior Pan Pacific Championships in the 200 meter fly. But on the high school level, it was mid-distance freestyle in which Shackell made the most significant impact.

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Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

In prelims at the state meet, Shackell broke the national record in the 200 yard freestyle, swimming a time of 1:32.85 to beat the previous top mark of 1:32.99 set by Carson Foster in 2019. Shackell also broke the previous state and team records of 1:33.30 set by Kibler before he became one of the country’s best over 200 meters.

On the elder Shackell, his coach had a blunt take: “He came to us in the middle of his sophomore year. He wasn’t very good,” Plumb said. “He was 1:43 (in the 200 free) and 4:42 (in the 500 free). Honestly, he just needed to put in training and work and be around people, and I do think Drew (Kibler) helped him a lot as a training partner, as someone to push him and someone to chase. I think him chasing Drew let him know what was possible and what was out there.”

Shackell ended up with the country’s top time in the 200 free, just ahead of Haddonfield Memorial (N.J.) swimmer Henry McFadden, whose 1:32.97 also broke Foster’s previous record. That duo is sure to square off plenty in future years, with Shackell bound for the Golden Bears and McFadden swimming for San Francisco Bay Area rival Stanford. Shackell also placed second nationally in the 500 free in 4:15.35, with only a national record (4:12.70) from Rex Maurer (Loyola, Calif.) ahead of him.

Also scoring individually for Carmel was the swimmer sure to keep it going in the middle-distance events for Carmel next season: Gregg Enoch, a junior, finished fourth in the country in the 500 free (4:19.44) and seventh in the 200 IM (1:45.55).

Relays were a huge strength, with the team of Sean Sullivan, Brandon Malicki, Shackell and Michael Gorey leading the national standings in the 200 medley relay at 1:27.83. Sullivan, Gorey, Malicki and Enoch were 11th in the country in the 200 free relay (1:22.50), and Carmel finished fifth in the 400 free relay in 2:59.52, with Shackell anchoring in 42.96. Leading off that relay was a third Shackell sibling, sophomore Andrew (Alex’s twin), while Enoch and AJ Robertson handled the middle legs.

All that produced a second national overall title for Carmel and another reminder that this program is no longer just a powerhouse in girls’ swimming.

“Ten years ago, there was this kind of undercurrent that we were a girls’ team or this or that. It was true from the results, but I didn’t think it was true from what we were doing. I knew that the boys could get there,” Plumb said. “ We needed people to believe and to work hard and to do the things necessary. To see that part of it come to fruition has been great.”

SUCCESS BEYOND HIGH SCHOOL

And while high school titles are a significant goal for Carmel, the true barometer is national and international success in long course. After the previous generation of Carmel stars—Amy Bilquist, Claire Adams and Veronica Burchill—paved the way, alumni and now current Carmel swimmers are getting it done internationally.

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Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

Two years ago, Kibler qualified for the U.S. Olympic team as a member of the men’s 800 freestyle relay squad, while Jake Mitchell, only one year removed from high school graduation and training back at home with Carmel over the summer, got onto the team in a 400 freestyle solo time trial. Mitchell had finished second in the individual 400 free, but missed the Olympic “A” cut, but in his second chance, he crushed the time required and ended up making the final in Tokyo.

This time around, as Alex Shackell joined the two Carmel legends on the Worlds team, they hit their worthy results in back-to-back A-finals at U.S. nationals. Shackell, not known as a 200 freestyler, had just missed qualifying for the Worlds team one day earlier in the 200 fly after swimming in second place for most of the race before fading down the stretch to fifth.

She actually swam the 200 free simply because she had no other events to race that day, and she ended up dropping more than three seconds in prelims and another second in finals to qualify for the Worlds team in fifth place as a relay swimmer. How was that possible? “I would never put anything past her,” Plumb said.

Shackell was considered a longshot to race for the U.S. women’s 800 free relay in the final, but a personal-best split of 1:56.05 in prelims vaulted her onto the squad. Knowing the chances for U.S. gold were marginal behind a loaded Australian squad, the coaches chose to frontload the relay, leaving Shackell to anchor against Australian Olympic champion Ariarne Titmus. Given a lead of only 9-hundredths, Shackell never had a real chance of holding on, but she acquitted herself nicely in her senior-level debut with a 1:56.38 performance.

“I attribute a lot to her consistent dedication to excellence,” Plumb said of his young star’s breakout year. “She comes in every day ready to work. She’s excited to be at practice. She wants to make changes. She’s upset when her stroke doesn’t feel right, and she’s willing to work on it. She sets really high standards for herself, and she doesn’t let things get in the way of what she thinks she can accomplish. She’s fearless in terms of her ability and willingness to go out after races. You saw it this summer. I love the fact that those things we’ve believed in for a long time, when somebody embodies it and lives it, you get that result.”

Now, Shackell will stand a very good shot at qualifying for her first U.S. Olympic team in 2024, with chances at individual swims in the butterfly events along with possible relay swims. And this could end up as an Olympic team with plenty of Carmel flavor: Kibler and Mitchell remain among the favorites in the men’s 200 free, and Aaron Shackell has moved himself into contention, with chances at qualifying for the 800 free relay and also the individual 400 free, where his top time of 3:47.00 ranked fourth in the U.S. this year.

Carmel alum and University of Texas veteran Kelly Pash cannot be ruled out as a factor in the butterfly events. On the other end of the spectrum, it would not be surprising if Bowen and Sweeney found their way into a final after both qualified for the U.S. team bound for the World Junior Championships in Netanya, Israel—Bowen in the 800 free and Sweeney in the breaststroke events.

Meanwhile, the Olympic Trials could provide special moments for hundreds of Carmel swimmers as the meet comes to Indianapolis for the first time in 24 years, with the meet set to take place in a football stadium for the first time. Carmel’s decades of success in high school swimming and now on the national level have seen younger swimmers consistently coming in to fill the shoes of graduated stars, and the next possible group of those swimmers will be inspired watching the special moments of Trials.

“There will be younger athletes inspired and motivated like that. We’ve always taken a group of athletes on a bus to the Olympic Trials to watch. That was only 50-something kids. Now we’re going to have hundreds of younger athletes and a city that’s going to get excited about swimming. To be one of the prominent programs in the state, in the country, and to have this community excitement around the sport, it’s going to be tremendous for our program and younger athletes.” Plumb said.

“And to watch our own athletes compete—with Drew, with Jake, with all the kids that we have in college now, all the athletes we have who will be competing in the meet—they’re going to be watching stars, but Alex is one of those stars today. There’s so much power in, ‘Hey, they did it. I know them. I see them come to practice every day. I can do it, too.’”

 

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SwimmyJimmy
SwimmyJimmy
8 months ago

Swimcloud has Hinsdale Central ranked higher

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