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Monday, June 24
The Indiana Daily Student

sports swimming & diving

Ray Looze and Lilly King have ushered in an era of breaststroke dominance at IU

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It was a normal practice for Lilly King. 

King, a child of around 10 years old at the time, was practicing the breaststroke as she normally did. On this day, she was practicing against high school kids. 

And all of them were behind her. 

“That was the day I realized, ‘Hey, maybe I’ve got the hang of this,’” King said. 

It was on that day that King realized her talent — a talent that would go on to alter the flagship university of her home state. 

Now a senior at IU, Lilly King has done everything in the book. She’s won Olympic gold medals, set world records, won national championships and so much more. Although she garners the attention and the headlines, King, along with IU Coach Ray Looze, have turned the IU women’s breaststroke into the nation’s most dominant group, and dubbed IU, “Breaststroke U”.

“We won every single breaststroke event at NCAAs last year,” King said. “I don’t know who else would have that title if we didn’t.” 

How the program reached this level of success is simple for Looze.

“I’d say two words: Lilly King,” Looze said. 

IU had success in the breaststroke before King committed to IU, but mainly on the men’s side. Cody Miller, a two-time Olympic medalist, led the breaststroke on the men’s side, dominating the event at the NCAA level. 

The women’s side of the breaststroke didn’t match up to what the men had. 

Then King committed to IU. 

“There was a very large breaststroke deficit before I got to school here on the women’s side,” King said. “And then my class was a very large breaststroke class.”

Along with King, Mackenzie Atencio and Laura Morley came to IU as breaststroke swimmers in the IU class of 2019. While Atenico and Morley haven’t had the success that King has, both have been key in building the foundation for the breaststroke on the women’s side. 

In August 2016, though, is when the women’s breaststroke group at IU truly took off. 

King, who had just finished her freshman year, was in Rio de Janeiro, ready to compete in the 2016 Olympic games. On August 8, King pulled away from top riva Yulia Efimova in the final 15 meters to win gold with an Olympic record time of 1:04.93, wagging her finger at Efimova after the race. 

It was a victory, and a controversial celebration, which gained King international notoriety, and in turn put IU swimming on the map for the top breaststroke swimmers in the country. 

“People want to swim with the best swimmers in the world,” Looze said. 

Since the Olympics, King is now a six-time NCAA champion, two-time Big Ten female athlete of the year and three-time IU female athlete of the year as she leads the way for the breaststroke at IU. 

“Lilly can win not having her A game, not having her B game, not having her C game,” Looze said. 

King’s success has brought top talent to IU. Because of the talent Looze and King have attracted to IU, not only is the breaststroke team talented, but it is deep. 

In IU’s first meet of the 2018-19 season, a quad-meet against Notre Dame, Kentcuky and Missouri, four of the top six finishers in the 100-yard breaststroke were from IU. 

At the same meet in the 200-yard breaststroke, four of the top five finishers were from IU. 

“We’ve gone from having just me win events, and maybe just having the rest of the breaststrokers place fourth, fifth, sixth at dual meet to maybe now we are going one, two, three, four at a dual meet,” King said.

King’s dominance certainly leads the group. This season alone, she has the top times in the nation for the 100- and 200-yard breaststroke, and has already hit NCAA A cuts in those events, automatically qualifying her for the 2018-19 NCAA Championships in Austin, Texas. King has posted even faster times in her relay splits, pushing toward her goal of breaking 56 seconds in the 100-yard breaststroke. 

The rest of the group behind King is filled with swimmers including sophomore Abigail Kirkpatrick, senior Bailey Andison, and a promising freshman, Noelle Peplowski.  

Peplowski finished second in the 100-yard breaststroke and third in the 200-yard breaststroke in the Hoosiers' first meet of the season. At IU’s meet against Texas and Florida, Peplowski finished third in both the 100-yard and 200-yard breaststroke. 

“When I started taking visits here, and talking with the coaches, I absolutely loved it," Peplowski said. "I knew I wanted to come here when I talked to them." 

Peplowski was pretty set on IU throughout her recruitment process. The coaches were a huge factor for Peplowski, along with a number of other factors, including the success Looze and King brought. 

Looze is highly regarded among the IU swimmers as one of the key reasons they came to IU. Peplowski said his passion is one of the factors that makes him such a great coach.

“He’s just super intense and he’s on 100 percent of the time,” King said. “There’s no complacency in the program and in his coaching style, and that just works for me."

On top of being a passionate and knowledgeable coach, Looze is regarded for his training methods. Starting with Miller, Looze used many modernized training methods, taking advantage of modern technology to help his swimmers be faster. 

IU’s success in meets and innovative training methods have been key reasons why the program has been able to build the breaststroke into a dominant group. IU has grown into a recruiting power, and it has been able to pull the best breaststroke swimmers from across the continent. 

Of the seven current breaststroke swimmers on the roster, two are from Indiana, two are from Illinois, one is from Ontario, one is from Colorado and one is from the Bahamas. 

It’s work that built up to the success of the 2017-18 season, during which IU established historic levels of dominance. The Hoosiers became the first team in history to sweep all four breaststroke events at the NCAA Championships — the women’s and men's 100-yard breaststroke, and the women’s and men's 200-yard breaststroke.

“It’s a journey for sure,” King said, “but I think it’s definitely getting the recognition and the success that it deserves.”

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