Story and photos by Jay Cook
Not too many girls can say they have had the same high school experience as Caroline Gmelich. After coming to Trinity Hall as part of the inaugural class in 2014 and being one of a handful of girls on the school’s swim team, she has seen everything grow in unison. Trinity Hall will graduate its first class later this spring, and the girls swim team is already one of the top squads in the state.
“We’ve been making a swimming culture basically, because swimming is the most successful sport so far,” Gmelich said before school let out last Friday afternoon. “I think that’s exciting, but we don’t want to take away from the other sports.”
The soft-spoken Rumson native, who also swims year-round with New Jersey powerhouse Central Jersey Aquatic Club (CJAC), is ecstatic about the progress Trinity Hall has made during her senior season.
Last February, with no upperclassmen swimmers beyond their junior year, Trinity Hall captured their first ever state championship as the girls went on to beat Villa Walsh Academy of Morristown, 100-70, for the Non-Public Group “B” title.
Headlining that meet was Gmelich, who showed versatility by personally winning the 200-meter individual medley and 100-meter backstroke. With her teammates, she was par t of the 200-meter medley team and the 400-meter freestyle relay.
With talent galore, Gmelich noted that keeping an even-keeled attitude helped the swim team along their championship run.
“We knew what to expect, we didn’t try to get our hopes up too high,” she said. “We were really confident in our abilities as a team.”
That success has transferred over to 2017, where Trinity Hall has established themselves as one of the premiere girls swimming squads in New Jersey. Currently, they sit atop the Non-Public Group B division at 5-1, and already have captured a gold medal this year.
On Jan. 6, Gmelich was also a key force behind Trinity Hall’s co-champion effort at the Monmouth County Championship meet. Her four first place finishes in the tournament mirrored her results in last year’s state title win over Villa Walsh Academy perfectly.
“Last year was such a successful year, and we didn’t have anybody graduate – we had no seniors last year,” said Trinity Hall athletic director Ken Santos. “We knew coming back into this year, this could be something special.”
So, who exactly is the girl behind the goggles?
A look back provides all the answers.
Her mother, Victoria, was an accomplished Ivy League swimmer for Dartmouth College. Victoria was paramount to her daughter’s love for swimming, who as a 14- month-old, was receiving her first real lessons in the water.
With CJAC, Gmelich has been able to tour the country, one pool at a time. Although she has swam competitively in North Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee and Ohio, her favorite aquatic center is right here in New Jersey, at Rutgers University.
She holds a New Jersey record in the 15/18 age group for the 100-meter backstroke, and the 13/14 year old bracket records for the 100 and 200-meter backstroke, both long course and short course.
She felt that it was almost too cliché to say Olympic greats Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte were some of her influences, yet did not shy away from a fellow Rumson native who won a silver medal in the 2016 Rio Summer Olympics – Connor Jaeger, a former CJAC swimmer.
“He came and gave a talk to us at our club team and he said all we have to do is work hard and focus, so that’s kind of what I do.”
And considering her college choice, it seems like her favorite colors are blue and orange, the same as Trinity Hall.
“My goal personally was to commit to college – which I did. I’m going to the University of Virginia,” Gmelich said.
“I committed there late September, and then I signed in October,” she continued. “It was kind of really fast, but the other schools just didn’t compare to UVA. It is an amazing campus, and their team is phenomenal – the energy on the team is amazing.”
Gmelich made two visits to the school – one officially – and fell in love with Charlottesville almost immediately. The ACC swimming powerhouse should be thrilled to have her on the dive board for next season.
Over a decade of CJAC swimming and a high school career of running on Trinity Hall’s cross country and track teams have all helped her create a style of swimming, which she considers to be aggressive.
Still with a large chunk of the swim season left in 2017, she hopes to finish strong with her team. A number of tournaments remain for Trinity Hall, who are in the midst of Year One in the Shore Conference.
A few goals are still floating in the water for Gmelich. She wants to avenge her second-place finish in last year’s Meet of Champions tournament, and hopes another Non-Public Group B trophy will arrive in February.
Beyond those accomplishments, she also wants to ensure she leaves the swim program set up for future seasons to come.
“We’re going to graduate a lot of girls this year, but hopefully our reputation continues to be strong, because I know my siblings and my cousins are going to come through here, and they all swim,” Gmelich said.
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