For most high school freshmen, the transition from club swimming to varsity isn’t silky smooth.
But Carla Gildersleeve isn’t like most freshmen.
Her transition from club to the Franklin Community High School girls team has not only been seamless, it’s been remarkable.
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Already a multiple school record-holder, she hasn’t lost a race in her signature events, hasn’t been seriously challenged in most meets and is a likely championship contender at next month’s IHSAA Girls Swimming and Diving State Finals.
Not bad for a swimmer whose varsity career is less than one season old.
“She’s off to an unbelievable start,” fourth-year Franklin coach Zach DeWitt said. “Sometimes it’s hard for a freshman to come in and plug in right away, particularly due to the rigor and demands of a training schedule.
“But she’s been training at a high level for a few years now, so maybe it wasn’t quite as big of a daunting challenge for her.”
Apparently, it wasn’t.
An accomplished age-group swimmer who was ranked No. 1 nationally last year in the 200 butterfly, Gildersleeve is a product of the Franklin Regional Swim Team club. As an eighth-grader, she qualified for four events at the USA Swimming Junior Nationals and is a veteran of numerous national competitions.
So, no, the transition from club to varsity was not daunting. Historic, but not daunting.
“In regards to her times, easily put, she’s already certainly had the best season of probably anyone in our program’s history thus far in a season,” said DeWitt, who also is her club coach. “It’s just really a testament to her talent and more than anything to her hard work.”
For Gildersleeve, it’s simply labor of love.
A student of the sport as well as a participant, she competed in her first race at age 8 and has worked to get faster — and wiser — ever since.
She not only practices swimming, she reads about swimming, watches film on swimming and in general enjoys everything about swimming — especially the social side of varsity swimming.
“It’s definitely fun being on a bigger team, and we do a lot of things together,” said Gildersleeve, a shy but personable teen who has earned the respect of older teammates. “I like being in the water, and I like spending time with my friends.
“It’s fun to get to practice with everyone every day, because I used to not be able to do that (in club swimming).”
On the varsity stage, she wasted no time establishing herself as one of the state’s top swimmers.
Unbeaten in her specialty events, the 200 and 500 freestyles, she won the 1,000 and 200 freestyle at the prestigious Hall of Fame Classic on Dec. 5, and followed that with first-place finishes in the 200 and 500 freestyles at the Dec. 19 Johnson County Meet.
She also won the 200 and 500 at last week’s Mid-State Conference championships.
But the freestyles aren’t her only specialties.
Gildersleeve is the school record-holder in the 200 and 500 freestyles but also has the standard in the 100 butterfly. And before the season ends, she might set standards in other events, as well.
“I haven’t swam her in some of the other events. She could break the 200 IM right now,” DeWitt said. “She just hasn’t had the opportunity due to the way our schedule is.
“I’m going to let them swim in (different) events this month, so she might be adding a couple more to her collection.”
Though clearly talented, talent alone hasn’t made Gildersleeve a state championship contender. It’s not even the chief reason.
Drive, preparation, determination and plain old hard work have largely shaped her development.
“Attention to detail, wanting to get better. She’s truly a student of the sport,” DeWitt said. “She’s the kind of girl that goes home and watches swimming videos on YouTube, reads articles. I’ve never seen somebody with a hunger to get better quite like her. She’s truly unparalleled in that regard.
“I’ve certainly coached more talented swimmers, but not more driven swimmers.”
Part of her drive stems from the fact swimming runs in her family. The youngest of three siblings, both of her older brothers were swimmers. The eldest, Jake, is now in college. The next eldest, Chance, is a junior on Franklin’s boys team.
Although her brothers aren’t responsible for her success, her eldest brother is the reason she began swimming.
“I got started because my older brother joined the middle school swim team, and so I thought it wasn’t fair that he got to swim while I had to sit outside,” Gildersleeve said, laughing. “So my mom decided to have me start swimming with DeWitt.”
Mom’s decision has been mutually beneficial for her daughter and the high school team, which has never had a girls state swimming champion.
Although there are no guarantees, Gildersleeve appears on the fast track to become the first. If not this year, then maybe next.
“For the events that she’s looking at, it’s kind of a loaded year,” DeWitt said. “Both state record holders are back in the two events that she will probably be competing in, so obviously her goal is to give them a run for their money.
“I think it’s a little unrealistic to put the pressure of trying to win a state title on a freshman, but there’s no reason to think she can’t be in the top three or four right out of the gate.”
Gildersleeve agrees. Although championships are her ultimate objectives, podium finishes are, at the very least, her initial goal.
“Yes, they are,” she said. “I feel pretty good in the water. My confidence is good. But there’s no crystal ball for the future, so we’ll have to see how that goes.”
Name: Carla Gildersleeve
High school: Franklin
Specialty events: 200 and 500 freestyles
School records: 200 freestyle, 500 freestyle and 100 butterfly
Season highlights: Won the 1,000 freestyle and 200 freestyle at the Hall of Fame Classic; won Johnson County championships in the 200 and 500 freestyles; won Mid-State Conference championships in the 200 and 500 freestyles
Favorite singer: Taylor Swift
Favorite TV show: “Grey’s Anatomy”
Family: Parents are Brett and Jill; has two older brothers, Jake and Chase