When he talks to recruits, IU Coach Ray Looze said he rates their different characteristics.
Based on that, Looze immediately knew Lilly King was special.
“There’s the physical attributes and there’s intangibles, and she was like a 10 out of 10 on confidence,” Looze said. “A lot of people sit in the office, high school seniors and they say, ‘I’m going to go to the Olympics, and I’m going to win a gold medal.’ But I believed her.”
Though when the now-senior King first arrived in Bloomington, Looze didn’t believe he’d be talking about her as an eight-time national champion.
King came to IU as a sought-after recruit that needed college coaches and facilities to jump to the next level. IU provided that and helped propel King to become the most prolific female breaststroker in NCAA history.
Winning eight national championships was a goal for King, something Looze said he feels satisfied in seeing come to fruition.
After winning the 200-yard breaststroke on Saturday, the final swim of her college career, King held eight fingers up in the air. Each finger representing one of her national championships.
No woman had ever won eight breaststroke titles until Saturday, when King became the first to do so.
“Before the race I was like, ‘I better not mess this up, it’s my last one,’” King said.
King won her seventh and eighth respective NCAA titles at the 2019 NCAA Women’s Swimming and Diving Championships. King won the 100-yard breaststroke in an American record time of 55.73 seconds and won the 200-yard breaststroke with a time of 2:02.90, just three-tenths of a second off of her own American record.
In addition to having the most total breaststroke titles, King is also the first woman to sweep the 100-yard breaststroke all four years, and she’s also the first to sweep the 200-yard breaststroke.
“The 200 has not been something that’s come easy to her,” Looze said. “In this streak of winnings NCAA titles in the breaststroke, there’s a reason it’s never been done before because you’re going to have some bad days where you get what you get. She’s won some really close races.”
King has won all of those close races. She’s rarely had a bad day. King said she didn’t feel her best as she warmed up for the 200-yard breaststroke, yet still was able to pull away in the final 15 yards and finish just slower than American record-time.
With her college career finished, King will remain in Bloomington as a professional swimmer. She’ll join an already large group of professionals that train with Looze and even with the college team.
“I haven’t really thought of this as being any sort of an endpoint for Lilly because she’s still got a lot of career left,” Looze said. “An important 2020. Honestly that’s really what we try to train for. We do these NCAAs as a step along the way."
King will be joining Cody Miller in the IU professional group. Miller is an IU alumnus and an Olympic bronze medalist in the 100-meter breaststroke. Miller has served as one of King's mentors during her college career, looking on as King made history year after year.
"Going eight-for-eight is one of the most impressive things any athlete can do. But I think the most impressive accomplishment is how many times she broke the American Record in both events. She set new records every year she swam. Thats unheard of," Miller said. Over her four years of collegiate swimming, she lowered the 100-yard breast US Open, NCAA, and American Record by two full seconds. That’s some thing that’s never been done before. Usually records are lowered by fractions of a second. Especially in sprint events."
Like Looze, Miller said that he too didn't predict what the future had in store for King. Miller said that while he certainly knew King was in contention for the Olympic team after her freshman year. Though it was going on to win Olympic gold after her freshman year and set a world record the following summer at the World Championships that set her apart from everyone else as one of the greatest breaststrokers ever.
"That’s what’s astounding," Miller said. "Once athletes reach a level of success, it’s hard to maintain the same level of focus and intensity. But Lilly hasn’t flinched even a little."