Lilly King is living the typical life of a high-level competitive swimmer. Make that a typical 16-year-old, high-level swimmer. “I make time for student council, make time for projects, I try to make German-club meetings,” King says. “It’s pretty much go to school, go to practice.”
The practice has been paying off. King, who competes with the USA Swimming Newburgh Sea Creatures, has emerged in the last two years as one of the top female high school swimmers in Indiana, if not the Midwest. King has also been climbing through the ranks on a national age-group level
“Last year was really a breakthrough for her as a freshman,” says Ginny, Lilly’s mother.
Lilly dropped two seconds off her 100-yard breaststroke time in a meet at Mount Vernon, Ind., competing for Reitz High School, to achieve a USA Swimming national qualifying time in the 100-yard breaststroke. “That made me realize I can do this,” Lilly says of stepping up in class. “Then, at sectionals, I swam out of my mind, cut another second off, (1:02.31), which was the 13 to14 age group record at the time.”
She finished fifth in the 100-yard breaststroke in the IHSAA State Meet last year and moved up to second place in that event at this year’s State Meet. The IHSAA State Meet is considered to be one of the faster high school meets in the country.
“This last season was good for her,” says Jon Hart, the Sea Creatures senior-level coach. “I think she has many of the tools to be one of the top swimmers in the nation, even internationally. She seems to always know what is going on in the swimming world. She checks out the techniques being swum by the national-level kids. She is definitely a student of the sport.”
She is serious about swimming, and where she wants to be in the sport. But it’s also easy to pick up on Lilly’s bright personality; she’s upbeat and positive in conversation. “She’s a pretty happy kid, which is great,” says Mark, Lilly’s father. “One of the things I admire about her, is she is a kid who, if something doesn’t go well, she sets it aside. She doesn’t dwell on negativity. She knows what she wants to do going forward.”
She is also very much about the team in a sport that is heavily focused on individual performance.
“She is a once-in-a-lifetime athlete to work with,” says David Baumeyer, Lilly’s coach at Reitz. “She is always early, never late. She works well with the other kids, makes them better. She is always willing to take time out of her practice time to help kids with their strokes. She’s just a pleasure to be around.”
She seems to get more serious when she gets in the water. Lilly also has discovered a top level of competition in some Grand Prix meets with USA Swimming.
Her first experience with that was in Austin, Texas, in January 2012, and with it being an Olympic year, some of the biggest names in international swimming were present.
“That’s where all the big dogs were swimming,” Ginny says. “It was a funny experience. (Lilly) is real confident. We got to the pool early, we were sitting on deck, and Michael Phelps and Missy Franklin sat down in the bleachers with her. Ryan Lochte was there. Well, she was freaking out. She was like ‘I’m not supposed to be sitting here.’ Over the weekend she assimilated to the situation, and being there gave her a couple of days to get used to that.”
Lilly later swam in Grand Prix events in Columbus, Ohio, and Indianapolis, and by the Indy meet, Lilly thought it was cool to be on deck with those Olympians. That first experience stuck out for Lilly.
“It was crazy. I’m the only one there, it was early, and there was an area roped off for the national team members,” Lilly remembers. “I was sitting close to the rope; I was just happy to be there. Then they came in, and I was like, ‘I’ve got to move.’ I’ve never been so star-struck in my life.
“There were a lot of kids and it was their first big meet. They were saying they have to go take a picture with them. I didn’t do that. They were there swimming too, and they need their space.”
That is a small sign of the maturity level that Lilly seems to have developed over the last two years while swimming at a more competitive level than she ever has before.
“I had gone to three Grand Prix meets last year, two junior national meets, and there are people there faster than you. There are good swimmers there, but I’m not used to having people’s feet in my face. It’s all right. I have the ability to do what I need to do, but the rest of it is mental.”
Moving up in competition level has brought new challenges for Lilly. She has adjusted and toughened her training. She is being pushed more in meets. She will go to another Grand Prix meet in Charlotte, N.C., May 10-12. She must get used to these new challenges as she moves toward the dream of swimming for the USA in the 2016 Olympics.
Lilly seems suited for the kind of push in training and competition she will have to make during the next couple of years. “Her mom and I both were competitive athletes in college, and we both agreed, Lilly is able to be goal-focused,” Mark says. “I don’t think she gets distracted. She has goals she wants to reach, and for kids going through that process, it can be stressful. But she can put that aside and go for what she has trained for.”
After she finished second in the IHSAA State Meet, she told her mother she realized how much more dry-land work she was going to have to do. It wasn’t an easy thing to admit. “First of all, she hates the dry-land exercises we do,” Hart says. “Our club philosophy strongly focuses on improving the athlete, not just the swimmer. That is agility, strength, and power. While she doesn’t like it, she still does it with a mission. She realizes that it will help her to her goals.
“The water is a different story. She loves to compete, in practice and in meets. It is this quality that is really hard to teach. She hates to lose. I think that mentality is what drives her and has been a pretty significant part of her success.”
A high level of competitiveness has always been part of Lilly’s personality as well.
She is more tenacious, more focused (in the water), says Michael Chapman, who coached Lilly through her age-group years and is an age-group coach with the Sea Creatures. “I don’t think I ever coached a kid who hates to lose as much as she does. I think it is part of who she is.”
“She won her first (Indiana Swimming) age-group state championship when she was 12, and that was a wake-up call for her, that she can be really good. I’ve seen kind of a step forward in terms of how hard she’s worked, how much she’s thought about strokes and technique, and it’s a natural progression of working hard and getting better every year.”
Her coaches — mainly Baumeyer and Hart, and Chapman before this past season — have always strived to work together in coordinating practice regimens for Lilly. “Her coaches all make things work for what works for her, and as a parent that is nice to see,” Ginny says. “She’s got a lot of people working for the best for her.”
Mark and Ginny made a concerted effort to not have Lilly swim too much, too soon, or with too much intensity when she was younger.
“Kind of from the beginning, her dad and I did not want her to be great when she was 14. We wanted her to be a good high school and college swimmer,” Ginny says. “My husband and I were both athletes, we went through that with kids peaking at an early age. It’s hard emotionally, and we’ve seen a lot of kids really struggle. You can be really good at 12, 13, 14, then what?
“She swam since she was eight, but we wanted her to be a kid. She really loved to swim, loved to go to practice, and we didn’t want that beat out of her. She didn’t start doing doubles until this year. Holding back her early training has let her shine.”
Lilly King’s Swimming Highlights
2012 USA Swimming US Open Qualifier
• 100 Breaststroke, 200 Breaststroke
2012 USA Swimming Junior National Qualifier
• 100 Breaststroke, 200 Breaststroke,
• 200 Individual Medley
• 2nd in the 100 Breaststroke
• 14th in the 200 Breaststroke
2013 Indiana Swimming 15-16 Girls
• 100 Breaststroke – State Record Holder 1:01.54
2012 Indiana Swimming 13-14 Girls
• 100 Breaststroke – State Record Holder 1:02.31
2013 IHSAA State Finalist
• 7th in the 200 Individual Medley
• 2nd in the 100 Breaststroke
2012 IHSAA State Finalist
• 20th in the 100 Butterfly
• 5th in the 100 Breaststroke
2013 Indiana Swimming Senior State Champion
• 100 Breaststroke, 200 Medley Relay, 400 Medley Relay
>>> Five-time Indiana Swimming Age Group State Champion
• 2009 – Long Course, 11-12 girls, 100 Breaststroke
• 2011 – Short Course, 13-14 girls, 100 Breaststroke, 200 Breaststroke
• 2011 – Long Course, 13-14 girls, 100 Breaststroke, 200 Breaststroke
>>> Indiana Swimming Senior State Record Holder
• 100 Breaststroke, 200 Medley Relay, 400 Medley Relay
>>> NISCA High School All American
• 2012, 2013 – 100 Breaststroke
• 2013 – 200 Individual Medley
>>> Ranked on the USA Swimming All Time Top 100 List for 15-16 girls
• 100 Breaststroke (31th currently)
>>> Ranked on the USA Swimming All Time Top 100 List for 13-14 girls
• 100 Breaststroke (13st currently)
>>> Ranked 6th in 100 Breaststroke in Splash Magazine’s 2012 Top 10 List