INDIANAPOLIS – Twenty-five months ago, they contributed to the fastest high school girls swim team ever assembled. Now the Big Three from Carmel – Amy Bilquist, Claire Adams, Veronica Burchill – return home, each on one of the nation’s top college teams.
If anyone was waiting for them to flop outside the Carmel cocoon … well, they continue to wait.
“You always hear that, ‘Well, they’re so good now, they’re going to wash out. Blah, blah, blah,’ ” Bilquist said. “I don’t think that’s true at all.”
Bilquist is a sophomore at No. 2 California. Adams and Burchill are freshmen at No. 3 Texas and No. 4 Georgia, respectively.
They are in Indianapolis for the women’s NCAA Championships, which begin a four-day run Wednesday night at the Natatorium at IUPUI.
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All three said Carmel prepared them for college, both as swimmers and students. And they have continued to improve times. Bilquist and Adams are seeded Nos. 4 and 8, respectively, in the 200-yard backstroke, and Burchill is 16th in the 100 butterfly.
Carmel coach Chris Plumb dismissed concerns about his swimmers declining. He said Carmel Swim Club aims to prepare them for college.
“I don’t think anyone is saying, ‘Well, Katie Ledecky is pretty tapped out,’ ” Plumb said.
Burchill said the three Carmel swimmers developed later than some peers. They were “slower to get fast,” as she put it. All three have responded emphatically to disappointments at last year’s U.S. Olympic Trials.
Burchill was 29th in prelims of the 100-meter butterfly. Adams broke her hand and didn’t reach semifinals. Bilquist finished third and fourth in the 100 and 200 backstrokes, or .08 and .41 away from Rio de Janeiro, respectively.
“In a way, it’s always in my face,” Bilquist said. “But at the same time, what are you going to do about that? Are you going to cry every day, or work harder?
“Hopefully, 2020 will be my time.”
Bilquist, at 18, would have been the youngest swimmer on the U.S. team. Cal coach Teri McKeever suggested being an Olympian at that age might have ruined Bilquist’s career.
“Would I have been too comfortable to get any better?” Bilquist asked.
She nearly made it to Rio despite two impairments: a mysterious stomach ailment and recurring stress fractures in her legs.
Medication has relieved abdominal distress. The stress fractures are chronic. She must wear a walking boot from time to time, and she is learning to detect signs of flare-ups.
“I do hate it a lot. But at the same time, I had to accept it,” Bilquist said. “If I want to keep swimming, it’s something I’m going to have to deal with.”
Adams had to deal with calamity just days before the Olympic Trials. She struck a lane line while training, breaking her right hand. She was seeded No. 4 in the 100 backstroke and finished 46th in the heats.
She said support from Carmel coaches and teammates helped her through that ordeal. Upon arrival at Texas, the incident was in the distant past.
“It wasn’t something I was dwelling on, by any means,” she said.
Adams, who set a world junior record in 2015, is not even the top backstroker at Texas. That is Tasija Karosas, who has been an inspiration to the Carmel swimmer.
Karosas is seeded ninth and Adams 11th in the 100 backstroke, although that is deceptive because Texas swimmers did not taper for the Big 12 meet. The Longhorns were still lifting weights that week, Adams said.
“It’s OK that I’m not going in No. 1 or No. 2,” Adams said. “Because that gives me someone to chase.”
Including relays, Adams was 16-of-16 in state titles in high school. Burchill was 15-of-16.
Including relay splits, Burchill had arguably the best state meet ever by an Indiana high school swimmer in 2016, nearly breaking a national record in the 100 butterfly.
She remains closely connected to Carmel because her sister, Sammie, is a senior there and coming off a state record in the 200 individual medley. Veronica was not there but watched via Facetime, thanks to a friend who was at the state meet.
“I was watching on my laptop and screaming,” Veronica said. “It was cool to watch that happen.”
She will be joined by her sister next year at Georgia, which has won three of the past four NCAA team titles. Veronica said that dry-land training – pushing sleds on the football field and running stadium stairs – was an adjustment but that she now feels like Georgia teammates are family.
Georgia coach Jack Bauerle said he calls her “V” for victory instead of Veronica.
“You can tell she came from an excellent program at Carmel because of her work habits,” Bauerle said. “She never complains or questions anything.”
She works hard and competes hard, the coach said. It is a familiar formula. With a foursome featuring Bilquist, Adams and Burchill, Carmel’s national record in the 400 freestyle relay was fast enough to have placed seventh at the 2015 NCAAs.
Call IndyStar reporter David Woods at (317) 444-6195. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidWoods007.
NCAA women’s swimming and diving
When: Wednesday through Saturday, 10 a.m. prelims and 6 p.m. finals. (Only event Wednesday is 800-yard freestyle relay at 6 p.m.).
Where: Natatorium at IUPUI.
Webcast: Live on ESPN3.com, Friday and Saturday nights. Live Thursday, along with Friday and Saturday mornings, on ncaa.com and indianasportscorp.org/ncaasd.