The Carmel girls swim team is the best high school sports program in the nation—ever.
In February 2016, the Carmel High School Lady Greyhounds captured their 30th consecutive Indiana High School Athletics Association [IHSAA] swim title, setting the national record for most consecutive state titles in any sport. Carmel had been tied with Honolulu Panuhou—Barrack Obama’s alma mater—which won 29 straight titles from 1958 to 1986. The mark had been much talked about in swimming circles for years and came as no surprise, yet it lifted a huge weight off the program’s shoulders. “In so many respects, it’s a relief,” said Carmel coach Chris Plumb. “We knew we could do it, but until we did it?”
With an enrollment of approximately 4,800 students, Carmel High School is the largest secondary school in Indiana. Established in 1887, it is the alma mater of ESPN anchor Sage Steele and College Football Hall of Fame quarterback Mark Herrmann. Located in an affluent suburb just north of Indianapolis, Carmel is the fifth largest city in Indiana and was voted “Best Place to Live in the United States” by CNN Money magazine in 2012. CHS is the city’s only high school and is an athletics juggernaut. Carmel has won state titles in 18 of the 20 sports in which it competes and has collected more than 130 IHSAA championships. In 2016, the Greyhounds won state crowns in football, boys swimming, boys tennis, boys track, girls cross country and girls swimming.
The Carmel Swim Club is the school’s feeder program. Headed by Chris Plumb, it is the top club program in Indiana and one of the best in the nation. CSC has 16 coaches—seven of whom are full-time—and during Plumb’s tenure, club membership has doubled, from 230 to 460. Carmel Swim Club has won two of the last three junior national womens team championships. The high school and club programs share a pool at the Carmel Aquatic Center. Located on the school campus, the center features a competition pool with a ten-lane Colorado Timing system, a Daktronics Galaxy Scoreboard, and a diving tank that includes one three meter and three one-meter diving boards.
When the Lady Hounds’ streak started, Ronald Reagan was President, the minimum wage was $3.35, and Three Men and A Baby was the top-grossing movie in America. Three decades later, they are the best high school swimming program in the nation. The 2016 team made history. Senior Claire Adams became the first-ever Indiana prep swimmer to win 16 state titles [never losing a race in four years] while also becoming the first woman to win the 100-yard backstroke four straight years. Adams, who won a silver medal in the 2016 World Junior Championships in Singapore, also took home the Mental Attitude Award as the outstanding senior in the state swimming and diving tournament. Senior Veronica Burchill set a state record in the 100-yard butterfly, then teamed with her sister Sammie, a junior, to capture the 400-yard freestyle relay in the meet’s last event and the final swim of her high school career. Dozens of former Carmel swimmers converged on the Indiana University Natatorium in Indianapolis campus to witness the historic record they helped create. “It felt like old times,” said Elizabeth Tucker, who swam for Carmel from 1988-90. “We were all nervous, even though we weren’t swimming. It all came back.” At the conclusion of the meet, the team jumped into the pool together, holding hands and screaming. They then counted down from 30 to one, signifying each championship.
At the 2016 state championships, Carmel won nine of 11 events and made it look easy, amassing 438 points. And it was not even Carmel’s best-ever team. The 2015 squad also won nine of 11 swimming events at the state meet but broke national records in all three relays and finished with 445 points—the most in the 41-year history of the Indiana state high school swimming championships. Their 226-point margin of victory over second place Fishers High School was also a record. The Lady Greyhounds’ 400-yard freestyle relay team broke the national record by more than six seconds! In a sport often decided by fingertips, the Carmel girls won by more than half a pool length. The Lady Hounds have won six of the past seven Swimming World magazine national high school swim titles, including the last four in a row.
Indiana may become known more for swimming than basketball. How good is high school swimming in the Hoosier State? The 2016 IHSAA runner-up, Hamilton Southeastern, is ranked number four in the nation. Fishers, which Carmel clobbered en route to the 2015 state title, has the 15th fastest high school girls team in America. The Lady Greyhounds are so good they could compete at the collegiate level. In 2014, the times posted by the Carmel girls would have placed them seventh–behind six teams, ahead of six others—at the Big Ten Championships. Three swimmers from the 2014 team were among the nation’s top ten in the 100 meter freestyle among 18-and-under girls.
In 2006, Chris Plumb was promoted from age-group coach to head coach of the Carmel Swim Club and high school program. The Buffalo, New York, native was a six-time All-American swimmer at Indiana University [Daily Dose, 12/28/16]. Carmel’s slogan is FTT: For The Team. Expectations are high at Carmel, and Plumb ends every email he sends with FTT. “Swimmers will train harder for the team than for themselves,” said Plumb, who is the fifth coach CHS has had during its run. Carmel swimmers dream big. Last year, swimmers trained in caps printed with “Rio 2016” on them. The competition in the pool during practice is fierce, and fast begets faster. “We pride ourselves on creating a positive team culture that puts the team first,” explains Plumb, “a culture where everyone is encouraged to take risks and maintain high standards.” Swimmers train twice a day, covering a combined 20,000 yards before school and 22,500 in the afternoon. That’s more than 24 miles per week. Carmel swimmers work on starts, kicking, technique—and place a special emphasis on dryland training. “We take our dryland program as seriously as we do our swimming,” says Plumb. “We understand the importance of longer-term athletic development. We believe you need to develop both in and out of the pool.” The process works. In addition to 30 state girls titles, Carmel has won five of the last seven IHSAA boys swim championships. In 2012, CSC sent 17 athletes to the United States Olympic Trials.
“The speed of the leader dictates the rate of the pack.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson.
In August 2013, Emma Nordin relocated to Carmel from Fargo, North Dakota, where she had been a champion swimmer. Upon arriving in the Heartland, she and her mother, Natasha Montes, investigated the Carmel Swim Club website. They pulled up the times and laughed. Everyone was so much faster. “You can rise to the occasion,” Montes told her daughter, “or you can go back to soccer.” IHSAA rules only permit three swimmers from one school to compete in the same event at the state championships. In her first year at Carmel, Emma Nordin did not qualify to swim in the state meet. The following year, she set the state record in the 500-yard freestyle during the prelims. One day later, she won the 2015 IHSAA title. Chris Plumb believes 20 of his Carmel athletes can swim collegiately. This fall, Emma Nordin will enroll at Arizona State, where she will swim for the Lady Sun Devils.
This Friday and Saturday, February 10-11, the Carmel High School Lady Hounds will attempt to capture their 31st consecutive title at 2016-17 IHSAA Girls Swimming & Diving State Tournament, at the Indiana University Natatorium in Indianapolis.