Any team that wants to overtake the Charlotte Catholic girls' swim team at the state meet might have to wait at least three more years.
On Feb. 12, the Cougars won their 10th consecutive state championship at the N.C. High School Athletic Association 3A state meet at the Triangle Aquatic Center in Cary, in large part due to impressive performances by the team's freshmen.
Charlotte Catholic won six events and broke three state records on the way to scoring 417 points, 121 more than second-place Marvin Ridge.
"I was excited just being part of the team and just being there, winning 10 in a row," said junior Ashlyn Koletic.
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Koletic broke an 18-year-old 3A state record, winning the 100-yard freestyle with a time of 52.12 seconds. She was the anchor on the state champion 200-yard medley relay with freshman Maria Sheridan, sophomore Allison McDonough and the only senior to win a state title this year, Erin Gaeckle, who led-off the relay.
"It's kind of neat, your senior leading off the first leg of the first relay to set the tone of the meet," said coach Brian Gross.
Sheridan also won the 100 backstroke, and Cougar junior Cara Gilligan finished second in the event. Freshman Lauren Rhodes set a 3A record in winning the 50 freestyle with a time of 23.41, and Koletic finished less than half a second behind her, in second place. Sophomore Lauren Stiegler finished fourth.
The Cougars also won the 200 freestyle relay, breaking their own 3A record from last year (1:39.71) with a time of 1:39.13. Sheridan led-off the event, with Gilligan second, Stiegler third and Rhodes as the anchor.
In their first state meet, the freshmen weren't sure what to expect.
"None of us were really expecting (to win) because we were freshmen," said Rhodes. "We just went in there to help our team and to have fun, and we just tried our best."
They also said team chemistry had a lot to do with their success.
"It was probably the most exciting meet I've ever been to, because our team is so close," said freshman Elsa Welshofer, who finished second in the 100-yard butterfly and fourth in the 400-yard individual medley. "Everyone wants to swim fast and everyone supports each other, and even though there was pressure, you didn't really feel it because you were so excited to go fast."
"The energy around the pool keeps everyone going and helps everyone try to swim fast and uphold the tradition," added freshman Nicole Emrey, who finished second in the 200 individual medley.
Gross said the team had a lot of depth and partly credits the work swimmers do on club teams year-round for the success. The depth made decisions harder when the Cougars prepared for the 3A West Regional (which they also won) and the state meet.
"With the talent that we had this year ... the problem is, where do you put them?" he said. "And who do you put in relays and what makes the most sense, and how do you maximize (their talent)?"
Talented freshman also kept several swimmers who competed in last year's state meet from making the trip this year.
"In the beginning, when I started this, I said, this is going to be a program that you have to earn your swim at states," said Gross, 36, in his eighth year coaching at Catholic. "It's a privilege to go represent the school, and if you're not one of the fastest when we put the puzzle together at the end, you're not going to go. The mentality of the program is built on that."
But the young talent shows Catholic will continue to be one of the top programs in the state for several years. The swimmers said next year's freshman class also should be talented.
"We're going to have a good team for a while," said Rhodes.
Gross said he doesn't go in expecting his team to win each year, but he is happy with the results.
"It sits very nice with me," he said. "I'm honored to work here at the school and coach the program.
"Who wouldn't want to win 10 in a row?"