South Charlotte

Cougars hope to make a splash this season

Erin Gaeckle, Ashlyn Koletic and Cara Gilligan said they don't think they are leaders on the Charlotte Catholic swimming team.

Coach Brian Gross disagrees.

"The girls don't know they're being leaders...but as a coach they are the girls you want on your team," he said.

Gaeckle, a senior, and juniors Koletic and Gilligan, will be important parts of this year's Catholic girls' swim team that's going for its 10th straight state title.

Last year, the team beat second place Chapel Hill 432-246 in the 3A state meet. Koletic and Gaeckle set a 3A state record and earned All-American honors with seniors Christen McDonough and Dana Pruitt in the 200-yard medley relay.

Gaeckle also earned All-American honors and set a 3A state record in the 100-yard backstroke, beating the second place swimmer by almost five seconds. She also won a gold medal and broke a 3A state record with the 400-yard freestyle relay team and won an individual gold in the 200-yard freestyle.

Koletic took home golds in the 50-yard freestyle and the 100-yard freestyle, and Gilligan was a part of the gold-medal winning 200- and 400-yard freestyle relay teams for Catholic. Both were also All-Americans.

"It was a huge honor," said Gilligan about qualifying as an All-American. "I was so surprised and it meant a lot to me."

Despite their individual accomplishments, Gaeckle said she was more worried about how the team would do.

"I tend to not look at times," she said. "I just wanted to win."

As a senior captain, Gaeckle is integral in helping the team win again this year, said Gross, 36, who is in his eighth year coaching at Catholic.

"To me (being a senior captain) is really important," he said. "It's not something we just hand out."

Gaeckle, who is considering continuing her swimming career at Tennessee, Maryland or Rutgers, "loves the sport and brings that out in everyone else," said Gross. He also said it's been fun to watch Gaeckle, Koletic and Gilligan grow from quiet, shy freshman to vocal leaders in the pool.

The three started swimming competitively on club teams in elementary school and currently swim at SwimMAC. Club swimming is more competitive, they said, but they like high school swimming because it's more relaxed and you have a team behind you.

"Everyone is cheering for you," said Koletic.

But while high school swimming is more relaxed, Gaeckle said the Catholic swimmers want to win and know what it takes.

"We're all here to get business done and win," she said.

Gross said a large part of the success of the program has come from good swimmers who want to be a part of a strong program.

"We attract talent," he said. Catholic "attracts the kids that want to be a part of a championship team."

With nine straight titles, Gross said championships are "starting to become expected" by the school and program. After losing just four swimmers who competed in last year's state meet, the Cougars have a good chance for the championship. The team also has 12 divers this year, which will add depth.

"I think we're going to be really good," said Gilligan.

The three said they push each other and want to do well because they don't want to let the rest of their team down.

"It makes me swim faster," said Gaeckle.

"We're motivated to get better," she added. "I think we have a pretty solid team."