Writer / Ray Compton
Within a few days and nights, many countries in the world will celebrate a day formally known as the Feast of Saint Valentine. Here in America, we have shortened the title for Feb. 14 to Valentine’s Day.
Lovers and friends will exchange hugs, kisses, cards, chocolates, flowers and other items designed to show love and passion. The day will be celebrated by millions across the world.
Certainly Valentine’s Day will be toasted in Carmel too. But not just for romantic reasons. In all likelihood, glasses will be hoisted on Feb. 14 for the Sisters of Swim at the local high school on Main Street.
We love to talk about streaks in sports, an additional area that soak our attention: winning streaks, losing streaks and consecutive days of rain or freezing temperatures. Sports fans are always talking about streaks.
Think about these numbers which are etched into the many of the computers that rest in our personal minds. Who has the longest hitting streak in baseball? Indeed, Joe Dimaggio at 56. And who played in the most consecutive games in baseball? Of course, Cal Ripken with 2,632 straight games.
But baseball is not alone in the streak business. Rocky Marciano once won 49 straight heavyweight fights; Coach John Wooden and his UCLA Bruins won 88 straight basketball games during a four-year stretch; and, recently, the Connecticut women’s basketball team reeled off 90 victories in a row. On the other side of the ledger labeled losing streaks, the expansion Tampa Bay Buccaneers lost their first 26 NFL games; Prairie View State dropped 80 consecutive college football games in a nine-year period; and, of course, there is that streak owned by the Chicago Cubs. The Cubbies have not won a World Series in 106 years.
There are even noteworthy streaks in other quarters of entertainment. The Phantom of the Opera has played on Broadway since 1988, stretching beyond 11,000 straight days, and Matt Dillon and “Gunsmoke” rattled off 635 episodes in 20 years. Oh, yes, it once rained 79 straight days in a placed called Otis, Oregon.
Many of those streaks may be unbreakable or even challenged in this century. But there is one winning streak that is under serious threat. It expects to be tied on Feb. 14, 2015. It probably will be broken on Feb. 13, 2016 by the Sisters of Swim at Carmel High School.
28 and Counting
So where were you in February, 1987? Ronald Reagan was in the White House; Bon Jovi was singing “Livin’ on a Prayer”; and something called “Howard the Duck” was voted the worst movie of the year. The Berlin Wall was still up and Geraldo Rivera had a television show that featured opening Al Capone’s hidden vault. (Geraldo only discovered moonshine.)
But 29 years ago, the Sisters of Swim discovered something special in that month of February. The Greyhounds won the IHSAA swimming and diving championship at the Natatorium on the IUPUI campus. The triumph marked only the second title won by the Carmel girls swimmers since the state championship was started in 1974.
But that victory did more than end a dry time. Twenty eight years later, the Sisters of Swim have not lost the Indiana State Championship. Competitors have swam and gone. Opponents tried and failed. The consecutive state championship streak is at 28 and rising.
Look Out BuffinBlue
Besides possessing one of the most nicknames in the United States and a unique alumni base, the boys swimming team at Punahou holds a streak that has been the envy of every high school athlete, coach and team in the country. The BuffinBlue once won 29 straight high school swimming championships in a heaven called Hawaii.
In some ways, the Punahou and Carmel schools have many similarities. Both have large enrollments and each has won a slew of championships, though the BuffinBlue have captured three girls wrestling state championships (girls don’t wrestle in Carmel). Ponahou is on the outskirts of Honolulu and Carmel rests on the border of Indianapolis. Each have glittering alumni bases. Former BuffinBlue include LPGA star Michelle Wie, former Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o and former Olympian and Tarzan Buster Crabbe (class of 1927). And maybe most well known is President Barack Obama (class of 1979)
But here are two major differences. There is an annual tuition fee of $20,700 for Punahou students. And the boys swimming team saw its consecutive championship streak halted at 29. No one can predict the end of the Carmel reign in the pool.
When Chris Plumb was looking for a college to swim competitively and a place to obtain success in the classroom, the Buffalo, New York native fell for Indiana University. The 1997 biology major also fell in love with his future wife, Emily, a state champion diver from Pike. Soon, after graduation, he discovered the depth of the swimming programs at Carmel.
“This is just an incredible opportunity here,” said Plumb, whose two sons, William, 12, and Nicholas, 9, are swimmers. “The foundation was built when I came here. There is a winning culture throughout the high school and community.”
There is also another community partner that plays a big role in the continuing success story in the high school. There are over 450 participants that belong to the Carmel Swim Club, which uses the high school pool when the high school teams are idle.
“That allows us to work with the same team and same swimmers,” said Plumb, who is also the head coach of Carmel’s boy’s team and CEO of the Swim Club. “The uniforms are different, but the athletes are the same.”
The Swim Club travels the country, showing its swimmers in places such as Nashville, Cincinnati, Louisville, Columbus and California. The swimmers aren’t strangers to the national picture. The girls have won back-to-back national championships where state championship times are compared and counted.
“We don’t go into a season to only win the state,” admitted Plumb. “We want to win the national championship. This year’s team can leave quite a legacy if we can do that again.”
Don’t bet against the Sisters of Swim: Sensational Juniors
They started leaving their footprints as freshmen, or – as the case with most swimmers – as youngsters in youth programs. Now, Claire Adams and Veronica Burchill are chasing national headlines with their swimming capers. Not only did each pocket numerous relay and individual championships in the 2013 state meet, but each qualified for the National Junior Team with their showing at Greensboro, North Carolina in December. Adams recorded the third best time in U.S. history by a 15-16 year old in the 200-meter backstroke, while Burchill won the 100-meter breast stroke in the national juniors last August.
“As a parent, you feel lucky,” said Betheny Burchill, the athletic director at the Carmel Dad’s club who sits by herself during meets to calm her anxiousness during meets. “I do get nervous, but it is something that I totally enjoy.”
The same is true for Todd Adams as he and wife Kimberly trail the swimming pools that host Claire and her teammates.
“We really had no idea what we were getting into when she started swimming,” said Adams, who confesses there have been countless 5 a.m. trips to the pool for daughter’s practices. “But it has been rewarding for all of us.”
Each girl had a different path to the pool. Veronica followed her mother’s route, a former swimmer. “It’s a lot different now,” said mother. “There are so many better ways to train.”
As for Claire, she and her family discovered the pool while living in Houston, Texas. “It was so hot that everyone went to the pool,” recalled father.
For both families, the setting at Carmel has been a perfect match.
“The swimming team has really helped Claire navigate high school,” said Adams. “She has found friends and for us we have been able to network with the other parents. And the coaches have been great. They are so dedicated to the kids.”
“This is a great setting for the athletes and parents,” noted Burchill. “There is a high standard in this community and families love their sports. They will do the extra thing for their kids.”
Both parents are waiting for what could take place at the Natatorium this February. Last year, Claire shattered state records in the 200-meter freestyle and 100-meter backstroke. Astonishingly, her time in the 100-meter backstroke was 13 seconds under the winning time in the first state meet 40 years ago.
Veronica was a member of three Carmel championship relay teams in 2013 and has took home seven first-place finishes in her two seasons of high school competition. Meanwhile, there is another budding Sisters of Swim star in the Burchill family. Little sister, Sammie, is turning in spectacular numbers in the backstroke arena.
The Arizona Transfer
When Brent Bilquist was looking to move his family from Arizona to Central Indiana two years ago, he knew there was a top priority for his daughter, Amy.
“I remember he peeked into my office that summer,” said Plumb.
Bilquist, who had worked for Kroger in Missouri and Minnesota, knew he needed to find the right swimming program for his youngest child. Amy had migrated from the volleyball court to the swimming pool and the family desired the right pool.
“It was very important to us,” he remembered. “We had a little exposure to the program at Carmel and we were always impressed with the team and athletes.”
The marriage has worked.
“The community has been very welcoming,” Bilquist said. “It is easy to make friends here and you have everything you need in Carmel. It has been easy to be accepted.”
And Amy’s swimming has opened doors. The future University of California-Berkley swimmer has turned heads both in Indiana and the country. She notched IHSAA records in the 50-meter freestyle and 10-meter freestyle in 2014. She scored big in the 18-and-under junior nationals in California last summer, winning the 50 and 100-meter freestyles and the 100-meter backstroke.
All three girls will draw attention as they move to competing for the 2016 American team in the Rio De Janeiro Olympics.
“To be an Olympian, it wouldn’t be just for myself and for my family,” Amy told the Indianapolis Star in August. “I’d want to do for the Carmel Swim Club. I cannot repay them for all the stuff they do for us every day.”
Father remains cautious of the potential Olympic opportunity.
“We feel very fortunate that she may have the opportunity,” said Bilquist, a water polo player at Princeton. “But it’s a long shot for anyone. It is just fun to think about it.”
And it will be fun for all of the girls of the Sisters of Swim when Feb. 14 arrives. No. 29 is beckoning.
Don’t Forget Them
It takes more than three girls to land a state championship. It takes a village of swimmers.
For instance, major contributors this season have included junior Kendall Smith, sophomore Emma Nordin and freshman Trude Rothrock. Not to be lost are Caroline Schultz, Morgan Grout, Claudia Sherman and Peyton Mosbaugh. In fact, Sherman (Emory) and Mosbaugh (Miami of Ohio) will be future college swimmers.
Plumb appreciates the entire roster.
“We have a lot of quality athletes,” the coach assessed. “They know the work ethic that it takes to win and how hard it is to be in our lineup. I really believe that top to bottom this is one of our best teams ever assembled.”
Look out. Sounds like another day of celebration in the pool for Plumb and others.
Perhaps it is now time to look at the cold facts about the girls swimming team at Carmel. The numbers splash off the water:
• The streak of 28 state titles probably enlists almost 300 different swimmers. The swimmers may come and go, but the accomplishments keep mounting.
• Five coaches have led Carmel during the amazing streak. Ray Lawrence started the streak in 1986-87 and collected four more trophies before turning the duties over to Tony Young. Young’s teams stroked their way to nine titles from 1991-2000. Ken Stopkotte and Tom Burchill’s squads notched three titles each. Current coach Chris Plump is a perfect 8-0 in snaring girls titles.
• The Greyhounds have scored over 400 points on five different championship Saturdays. Those are the highest point totals in the 40-year history of the tournament. In 1996-97, Carmel outdistanced runner-up Richmond, 420.5 to 178.
• Overall, Carmel has grabbed 119 championships in the state meet. The next highest total (Ben Davis and Columbus North) is 20.
• Of the top 25 medal winners in the tournament, 15 hail from Carmel. Former Greyhound Emily Ayers holds the lead in medals with 14 earned from 1992-95.