Former Lady Eagles Extend their Bonds at Purdue
Writer // Janelle Morrison Photography // Courtesy of Purdue Women’s Swim Team
Fans of the Lady Eagles swim team and fans of the Purdue University Women’s swim team already know that each of the programs produce some remarkable talent. What many may not know is that five former Zionsville Community High School (ZCHS) swimmers are swimming on the Purdue University Women’s swim team under the direction of Coach John Klinge.
We visited with Taite Kitchel, Cally Sampson, Cassidy Sampson, Gretta DeCoursey and Tessa Wrightson on the Purdue campus and discussed with them about how the ZCHS program prepared them for Purdue’s swim program. We also talked about how unique it is to have five former high school teammates swimming together at the collegiate level.
Klinge has been the head coach at Purdue for 10 years and admits that having five members on his team that are from the same high school swim program is rare, but they have each brought something uniquely positive to the team. He shared a brief overview of each of the Zionsville swimmers and what he thinks they bring to the university’s swim program.
“They [the girls] already have such a good rapport and camaraderie, and they’ve carried that into our program,” Klinge said. “I don’t know if there is a better example of a student-athlete than Taite [Kitchel]. To have done as well as she has in the pool, excelling and making NCAAs, a school record holder and leading the way in so many ways, she’s just the epitome of a really great student-athlete.”
Over the years, all five of the girls have formed a bond as strong as sisterhood, but two on the team are actual sisters, Cally and Cassidy Sampson. The Sampson sisters are two of Jon and Sarah Sampson’s 10 children who reside in Zionsville.
“Cally has such an upbeat positive and contagious attitude,” Klinge said. “That helps our team in so many ways in addition to her swimming. Her sister, Cassidy, follows along with Cally. She [Cassidy] also has a very positive attitude and is upbeat. She is just now learning what she can do swimming-wise, and I think she has a really bright future. Much like her sister, she has talent combined with an infectious upbeat attitude.”
Klinge and his wife swam with Gretta DeCoursey’s mother at Purdue, so he is not surprised that DeCoursey has followed in her mother’s lane.
“The great thing about Gretta is that she excelled last year at an event that I don’t think she ever realized that she was ever going to swim,” Klinge said. “She was part of the 800 free relay team at the NCAA Championships and really surprised everybody. I think it’s the beginning of a lot of things that she can do.” DeCoursey helped the quartet post the second-fastest time in program history.
Last, but certainly not least, Klinge talked about freshman Tessa Wrightson. A USA Swimming Scholastic All-American, she is a five-time IHSAA individual top-8 finisher.
“Tessa’s only been here for a couple for months and has already made a big impact,” Klinge observed. “I don’t know that I’ve seen her in practice not smiling yet. I think she has already established herself as someone who’s positive, hardworking and super talented, and we are excited to see what she can do in the coming years.”
Klinge spoke about the pack of five’s unique relationship and how it has benefitted the team as a whole. “If teammates are following their former teammates here [to Purdue], that speaks to the leadership of our older swimmers. They attract the younger swimmers because they are great role models and leaders, and that is what I like about it the most as their coach. They are all great kids for sure.”
Meet the Swimmers
Senior, Pharmacy Program
Competes primarily in the butterfly events and 200 IM
“I’m in the pharmacy program,” Kitchel shared. “It’s a six-year program, so I technically have two years left, but I joke that it’s my first senior year. Both my parents, Tom and Kendra, were part of Purdue’s athletic teams as well. My mom was on the swim team, and my dad was on the baseball team. My uncle is Ted Kitchel who played basketball for IU – there’s always one in the family. Zionsville prepared me for college. Eric [Meyer], who was my coach back home, would always remind us that he was preparing us for college, and that included getting us into the right mental state. That has transferred with me to college because you need those life skills being a college student-athlete. It is fun to look back and see how far we’ve [the Zionsville girls] have come and grown together.”
Senior, Supply Chain Information and Analytics
Competes primarily in the backstroke events
“It [Purdue swim team] is a little piece of home, though we’re not far from Zionsville,” Cally said. “Zionsville has an intense training regimen, and having been able to swim with a big group of dedicated people at Zionsville Swim Club was definitely a benefit. I was also on the cross country and track team and wasn’t a full-time swimmer until I came to Purdue. Swimming, in general, has taught me a lot of life skills that I’m going to be able to apply in the future. We have such good camaraderie with everyone here, and having some people from Zionsville here makes it fun. Some of us have been teammates since our freshman year in high school. It creates a sense of family with new members and old members, and it’s a great combination.”
Sophomore, Hospitality and Tourism Management
Competes primarily in backstroke events
“I saw how much fun she [Cally] was having with the team [at Purdue] and her success, and I wanted the same thing,” Cassidy said. “We’ve got along through high school and while doing sports together, so I saw coming to Purdue as a cool opportunity for both of us. In high school, I did cross country and track, swimming and show choir. My freshman year here, I was taken aback because it [the swimming program] was more challenging than I expected. But as the year went on, I learned to grow with the challenges and let that push me. As a team, we like to grow and push each other. Zionsville prepared me very well for John’s type of coaching. He and Eric [Meyer] know each other and have similar coaching styles.”
Sophomore, English Education
Competes primarily in freestyle events
“My mom [Ginger] swam here with John, and my dad [Matt] swam at Wheaton College (Illinois) but did some grad school here. All four of my grandparents went here,” DeCoursey shared. “My grandpa [George Faerber] played basketball here. ‘Boiler up’ is like a religion for us. IU is defiantly a bad word in our house. My brother, Kyle, is a senior at the University of Tennessee. I’m glad that we’re brother and sister and not sister and sister; it gets competitive at times. Eric [Meyer] did a good job preparing me and gave me one of the most solid foundations that I could ever get. I’ve gotten so much stronger and faster here [Purdue]. Both Eric and John [Klinge] care about us as athletes, and both understand that you can’t perform well athletically if you are not mentally and emotionally balanced.”
Freshman, Biology Pre-med
Competes primarily in backstroke and freestyle events
Wrightson’s parents are Wade and Micelle Wrightson of Zionsville, and she has a younger brother, Drew. “I was born in London, but Zionsville has been home for a good 10 years,” Wrightson said. “It has helped me to adjust, knowing a few people on the team, especially people that I really look up to and admire. Ever since Taite and Cally committed here, I’ve looked at the program because I love them as people, and if they loved the program, then I knew it must be a cool place. It’s also nice to be close to home. Back home [Zionsville], we didn’t really split into groups, but here [at Purdue], we can split into specific groups, such as sprint and backstroke [groups]. I really need to focus more on my starts, turns and underwaters, which has really been exemplified here.”