In life, there are three certainties — death, taxes and Carmel winning the state girls swimming championship.
The Greyhounds won their 33rd straight title on Saturday, and did so in convincing fashion. The race for second, though, couldn’t have been any closer — so when Franklin emerged with the runner-up trophy, it felt a lot like first.
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“It really does,” senior Scarlet Friend said. “Because you come into this and you’re like, ‘Okay, Carmel, they have everybody, they’re stacked, but second place is anybody’s game.’ So whoever’s second is first.”
The Grizzly Cubs finished the day with 167.5 points, just 2.5 ahead of both Fishers and Fort Wayne Carroll and 4.5 up on fourth-place Northridge.
And the drama lasted until the very end. Franklin had narrowly missed the championship finals in the last event of the meet, the 400-yard freestyle relay, so it had to watch and hope that none of the top contenders caught up.
Only when Fishers failed to crack the top three in that final race did the Grizzly Cubs know they had locked up the best finish in team history, along with a trophy and the promise of a banner back at their home pool.
“It almost doesn’t feel real, honestly,” senior Ali Terrell said. “As a freshman, I never would have imagined this. It’s awesome.”
The battle to stay in that top non-Carmel spot was a heated one all day long.
Franklin opened up with a second-place finish in the 200-yard medley relay, as the team of Friend, Kabria Chapman, Terrell and Gracey Payne hit the wall in 1:43.14.
Senior Carla Gildersleeve wound up fifth in the 200 individual medley, and the Grizzly Cubs got a big shot in the arm when Payne moved up into a tie for third in the 50 freestyle.
“I just felt like that set the tone for the rest of the afternoon,” Franklin coach Zach DeWitt said.
Gildersleeve then came back and placed second to Carmel’s Kelly Pash in the 100 butterfly. That pushed the Grizzly Cubs back into the No. 2 spot as a team, and they were able to hold on — barely — for the rest of the afternoon.
Franklin’s 200 freestyle relay foursome of Friend, Payne, Gildersleeve and Hoffman was third, and the quartet of Gildersleeve, Lucy Ho, Hoffman and Alea Hensley closed the Grizzly Cubs’ day with a 10th-place finish in the 400 free relay.
From that point, it was just a matter of waiting out the last race and nervously hoping they had enough to hang on.
“I would prefer to control our own destiny,” DeWitt said. “I think anyone would.”
Regardless of what was within their control, the Grizzly Cubs had to be especially thrilled with their finish after a tumultuous season full of injuries and other setbacks. Senior Jessie Fraley sat out the meet after having season-ending shoulder surgery last month, and classmate Terrell had to bounce back from the shock of not making it to state in either of her individual events after scoring points in each of her first three seasons.
On Saturday, Terrell and all of her teammates set all of the negative emotions to the side and delivered. Franklin was the lone team besides Carmel to score points in every swimming event.
“It was all over the place, because sometimes we’d go down in our seeds and sometimes we’d go up,” Friend said. “But we knew that it didn’t matter what we did in one race; we still had one more to go, and that we needed to be the best and we needed to be there for our team.”
Payne added a ninth-place showing in the 100 freestyle. Junior Sarah Hoffman finished 10th in the 200 freestyle and 14th in the 500 freestyle, and Friend was 11th in the 50 free and 15th in the backstroke.
Both Johnson County divers, Center Grove’s Kenzie Mills and Greenwood’s Faith Jackson, made it out of the morning preliminaries but missed the cut for the afternoon finals. Mills finished 18th with a score of 272.15, while Jackson was 20th with a 263.95.
It was several hours after the diving wrapped up that Franklin’s team strolled back out to its bus in unison, DeWitt smiling with a trophy tucked under his arm. Officially, Carmel again won the state title without any real challenge. But as far as the Grizzly Cubs were concerned, the championship might as well have been theirs.
“When push came to shove … we didn’t have a girl back down the entire afternoon,” DeWitt said. “This was real adversity, and they rose above it. For that, I’m more proud than the finish.
“But the finish certainly makes it sweeter.”