CULVER — The Culver Girls Academy swim program can boast plenty of impressive accolades over the course of its history.
The record board on the wall at the James R. Lowenstine Pool is lined with the names of All-American after All-American. But one bona fide that has eluded the program over its storied history is a sectional championship — until now.
CGA won a total of six events on its way to a dominant 430 points at the Warsaw Sectional Saturday, giving the program its first team sectional title, and as the Lady Eagles completed the last leg of the final relay at the meet, 24-year head coach Major Tom Duckett’s thoughts went back over the years.
“When Rory (Byrne) was coming in in the 400 free relay, my thoughts went back to all the young women that swam and had never been able to achieve what these young women did,” said Duckett with visible emotion. “You know, I could see their faces. It wasn’t about winning, it was just about what this school is.”
Granted, for most of the history of the CGA swim team, there hasn’t been any such thing as a sectional title. But 37 years is still a long time to wait for a program that has produced so much individual talent.
According to Duckett and his swimmers, it’s the concept of team over the individual that has set this year’s squad apart from those of the past and allowed it to capture the team title that has eluded it for so long.
“Team before self. They believe in that, and they’re proud of who they are,” said Duckett. “We have no All-Americans or anything like that. We just have a bunch of young women who are dedicated to each other, and that’s what allowed them to win it.”
“Our motto this year was ‘We fight,’” said junior Lauryn Robinson. “And it was a team fight. Not ‘I fight’, not ‘Rory fights’. Our whole team, we just fought until the very end to the last finish. No matter if it was by two points or by 197 million points, we still wanted to fight to the end.”
“Major talked about how he used to have a team with 17 All-Americans and how that team didn’t work together as well as we did,” said sophomore Rory Byrne. “We tried to use every single girl this year. Even if someone’s job was to cheer on the other lane or to place third, our depth was so much better this year.”
“I’d been on a lot of different swim teams back home (in Ohio) and coming to Culver I didn’t know what to expect,” echoed freshman Jaclyn Schutjer. “The team environment and experience, the girls are like my sisters away from home.”
While CGA has always been competitive at the Warsaw Sectional, a team championship seemed unlikely headed into last week’s tourney. The Eagles didn’t even know they had the title sewn up until the last event of the finals when Duckett told his girls to stay safe on their starts in the 400 free relay to avoid a possible disqualification.
When the final standings were announced and CGA’s swimmers had outpaced their closest competitor by 55 points, the Eagles set themselves apart even in celebration.
“Culver’s a little bit different. Where most teams have this raucous display of celebration and throw coaches in the water, our senior girls went in… and the trophy was presented to them and they formed up in two files and they left the pool,” said Duckett.
“One woman from the Warsaw team, she came up to me after the (400 free) relay, and she said ‘You guys must be really happy. Aren’t you going to push Major in the pool or duck some of your old pool water in our pool?’ That’s kind of a Warsaw tradition,” explained Robinson. “I remember telling her that we hadn’t even planned to do anything celebration-wise. We kind of planned if we did meet our goal to take the trophy and just leave the place with respect for the other teams and respect for ourselves and just stay classy.
“I feel like that was this whole new dynamic that we brought.”
Even on the ride home, the Eagles remained more quietly satisfied rather than boisterous about the historic win.
“The general feeling on the bus was that we did it. Major had been telling us that we had a job to do. Sectional was our goal, and we won,” said sophomore Eberle Miller. “There were comments all over Facebook about success and winning. We did it, and it was a weird feeling because none of us was all that psyched about it. Just having the feeling afterward of knowing we did our job how we were supposed to do was much better than knowing that we were so close but didn’t get it. I think (there was) just the feeling of satisfaction of knowing that we did it right.”
Along with Saturday’s team championship, CGA claimed six individual sectional titles at Warsaw.
Robinson won both the 50 and 100 freestyle swims, while Byrne took top honors in the individual medley, and Miller won the backstroke. The trio combined with Shutjer to win both the 200 medley and 400 free relays, and the foursome will thus advance in those events with junior Anna Zaccaria to tonight’s preliminaries of the 38th Annual IHSAA State Swim Finals at the IUPUI Natatorium in Indianapolis at 6 p.m. with the second round of the meet set to start Saturday at 9 a.m.
But even though they’re no longer racing as a full team, the Eagles say they’re still carrying the team concept with them.
“We’re out here together and there’s five of us and it’s not our whole team anymore, but we know we’ll go to dinner, the five of us, and we’ll walk in and see all these other swimmers and we’ll all gravitate to each other,” said Byrne before practice Thursday. “It’s still for the team. Even though we might not have 20 girls at the end of our lane at state, we know that our team is behind us, and we’re going to do the best we can and represent that.”