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MISHAWAKA – Entering the 2023-24 school year, Penn High School senior Lily Christianson was one of the top swimmers in the state of Indiana.

By the end of the season, she was one of the state’s all-time best players.

With three championships at the IHSAA state finals in February, Christianson won six victories in her career, cementing her status as one of the best swimmers not only in the history of the South Bend region, but the entire state of Indiana. For this reason, she was named the 2024 Female Athlete of the Year by the South Bend Tribune.

“Honestly, it’s awesome,” Christianson said of the honor. “It was great to represent this area. I definitely couldn’t have done it without my friends and my coaches, so it was great to be able to represent them.”

More: This “consummate competitor” is one of the Tribune Co-Athletes of the Year 2024

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She ended her high school swimming career in style

Christianson’s high school career was already a stellar one entering this season. She had won a state title in each of her first three years: the 50-yard freestyle as a freshman and sophomore, followed by the 100-yard freestyle as a sophomore.

Christianson faced little competition during the regular season, consistently winning four events in every meet she entered, including Northern Indiana Conference and regional competitions.

This set the stage for the state finals on February 9 and 10 at the IU Natatorium in Indianapolis. After advancing to the championship races in the prelims on Friday night, Christianson ended her prep career with a bang on Saturday afternoon.

Christianson nearly won four titles, as in the first race of the day, she and her Penn teammates Avery Woods, Annika Guenther and Alayna Riggins finished second in the 200-yard medley relay. This would be the last high school race Christianson did not win.

After losing her crown in the 50-yard freestyle last year, Christianson reclaimed it with a national record time of 21.72 seconds. An hour later, she won the 100-yard freestyle with a time of 48.45 seconds.

Twenty minutes later, she teamed with Riggins, Kaia Podlin and Molly Barnes to win the 200-yard freestyle relay in an impressive 1:31.94. It was the first time Penn had ever won a relay race at the state finals.

‘Perfect ending.’ Lily Christianson of Pennsylvania High School finishes her career with 6 state swimming titles

“I’m proud of my team, proud of myself for doing what I wanted to do and getting where I wanted to go,” Christianson said. “There’s also this feeling of relief. All year long there’s been this pressure to get it done… But I would say that Saturday on the bus ride home I felt a sense of relief, ‘OK, I did what I needed to do for this team.’ It was a peaceful feeling.”

As a team, the Kingsmen finished second at the state level for the third time in program history.

“To be honest, the team success was perhaps more important to me than the individual success,” Christianson said. “I know how important this team is to everyone. We train very hard together so that we can win together, and that’s how we became runner-up. It was a great feeling to hang a banner in the billiards room.”

Christianson’s six state titles are the most by any Penn swimmer in school history. Among area athletes, she trails only Elkhart Central’s Lindsey Benko, who won 11 state titles before winning gold medals at the 2000 and 2004 Olympics.

“Lily has raised the bar and is Penn’s most accomplished swimmer in school history,” said Kingsmen swim coach Jess Preston. “She has always inspired her teammates, and that inspiration will continue into the future.”

Next comes college. And then the Olympics?

Christianson’s swimming career is not over yet, as she is heading to North Carolina State to compete for the Wolfpack in the ACC.

This summer, however, Christianson swam in Indiana one more time before college, as she competed in the Olympic Trails at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. The Penn graduate competed in the 100-meter freestyle, 100-meter butterfly, 200-meter individual medley and 50-meter freestyle swimming events.

Although she did not qualify for the U.S. Olympic team in any of those events at next month’s Olympic Games in Paris, Christianson hopes to use her experience to improve her chances of making the 2028 Olympic team.

“I didn’t swim as well as I wanted to, but in that atmosphere, you definitely feel like, ‘This is where I want to be in four years,'” Christianson said. “It motivates you to keep going. … Being there motivates you to want to be one of the best.”