Determined Grizzly Cubs evolving into premier program


The same blue-bloods can be found atop the standings at the IU Natatorium just about every year.

Carmel is usually at the top — or always at the top, at least on the girls side — with the usual suspects following behind. It’s a club that Franklin has been looking to join in recent years.

On Saturday, the Grizzly Cubs made a pretty strong case for membership. They scored in every non-diving event and finished fourth with 163 points, just two back of third-place Hamilton Southeastern.

It was a huge leap forward for the Franklin girls, who nearly doubled their point total after narrowly missing out on their first top-10 finish a year ago.

“I’m elated for the girls; they worked so hard year-round,” coach Zach DeWitt said. “We are not a traditional power, and so for us to be mentioned among some of these people is pretty humbling.”

This could get to be habit-forming — the Grizzly Cubs lose just two seniors (Anna McCahill and Ella Pheifer) from their regular lineup, and they had two freshmen (Kabria Chapman and Gracey Payne) earn individual medals.

Junior Carla Gildersleeve, who made four trips to the awards podium Saturday and will be the state’s top returning swimmer in the 100-yard butterfly next year, is confident that Franklin’s first top-five showing won’t be its last.

“It’s going to be a big confidence booster for everyone knowing that we can run with those girls now,” Gildersleeve said. “We were kind of like the underdogs, but now we’ve made our name known, and we’ll just continue to keep it up.”

The program’s growth has come by leaps and bounds lately.

Three years ago, when McCahill and Pheifer were freshmen, Franklin didn’t score any points at the state meet. A year later, the arrival of Gildersleeve, Ali Terrell and Jessie Fraley helped the Grizzly Cubs pile up 58 points, with appearances in the consolation finals of all three relays.

After scoring 83 points last year, Franklin nearly doubled that figure over the weekend, notching a number of program firsts in the process. There were three top-eight relay finishes — including a second-place showing in the medley relay — and Chapman and Payne became the first Grizzly Cubs other than Gildersleeve to crack the top eight as individuals.

“It’s amazing how far we’ve come,” Pheifer said. “This team has changed and evolved so much, and it’s become a great team. The relationship between each other is the strongest it’s ever been, which in turn also helps how we swim.”

DeWitt has six swimmers coming back that scored in multiple events, and that group will form the foundation of a team that expects to do even bigger things in 2019.

“We’re definitely deeper than we ever have been before,” Terrell said. “We’ve proved ourselves that we can do it and we belong in the top five.”

It’s a feeling the Grizzly Cubs could get used to.