Lander High Swim Team’s Historically Great Streak — 27 State Titles And Counting

Nothing seems to distract or derail the juggernaut Lander High School swim program, which has won 27 straight state championships.

Jake Nichols

May 06, 20238 min read

Lander High School boys swimmers have won 27 consecutive state titles after their domination in Gillette in February.
Lander High School boys swimmers have won 27 consecutive state titles after their domination in Gillette in February. (Lander Valley High School Swim Team)

When the two dozen or so Tiger athletes toweled off at the pool Feb. 18 in Gillette, it was more of the same. Ho-hum, another high school championship.

Lander Valley High School won six of 12 swimming events at the 2023 state swim meet. In the other six events they finished second.

It’s the same kind of domination that has come to mark the program’s Green Machine “title wave.”

Title Wave

The last time the Lander boys were not standing and dripping atop the podium at state we were all learning the “Macarena.” Since 1997, the Tigers have been dancing all over their competition, rattling off one of the longest consecutive championship streaks in high school history.

Twenty-seven straight state titles for the Lander boys swim team. It’s the high school equivalent of pro sports dynasties like the New York Yankees (27 World Series wins) or Montreal Canadiens (24 Stanley Cups). Rarified air.

To be fair, 27 consecutive state titles is not the record. A few other schools have slightly longer streaks beginning with Indiana’s Carmel Greyhound — a perennial powerhouse that, like Lander, is still adding to its streak.

That programs girls team just won its 37th straight title. It’s the longest all-time state championship streak in the nation in any sport, according to the National Federation of State High School Associations.

But in Wyoming, the path to the pool podium runs through Lander High School. The success of the swim program has reached legendary proportions, surviving the graduation of star senior athletes like Jonny Kulow, and even the untimely death of legendary coach Bruce Gresly in 2015.

Footsteps Of A Legend

Gresly started with the school in 1972 and was the architect behind the run that began in 1997. In fact, how is this for mind-blowing trivia: The last team to beat Lander before the streak began was Rawlins. On that Outlaws team was a scrawny little freshman named Shawna Morgan.

“I remember cheering on my teammates that year. We were all so excited to beat Lander and win state. Little did we know no one would do that again, ever, yet,” said Morgan, now head coach of the Lander swim program. “It’s so cool being able to see it from an outsider’s perspective, as someone who tried to beat Bruce after that until I graduated in 1999.”

Lander was the first place Morgan thought of after college as a place she wanted to begin her career as an educator and coach. Once there, she immediately gravitated toward Gresly’s coaching style when she saw firsthand how the sausage was made.

“One of his gifts was take anybody, no matter who, and make them feel they had a place in the program and in the family,” Morgan said. “He set individual goals for each kid whether they were top swimmers or just learning, so that by the time they were seniors, they were winning state titles. That was his super power.

“He was every kid’s dad or grandpa because of how important he made them feel.”

Morgan worked 11 years as Gresly’s assistant before taking over both programs. Under Morgan, Lander swimming hasn’t missed a stroke. She is always quick to credit Gresly’s indelible legacy and focus on what is truly important: meeting each kid where he’s at.

  • Coach Bruce Gresly – A legend in Lander, Gresly got the winning streak started in 1997.
    Coach Bruce Gresly – A legend in Lander, Gresly got the winning streak started in 1997. (LVHS Swim Team)
  • Coach Shawna Morgan -- 2023 3A Coach Of The Year
    Coach Shawna Morgan -- 2023 3A Coach Of The Year (LVHS Swim Team)
  • Jonny Kulow – Kulow smashed records during his time with the Tigers swim team. He’s now doing the same at Arizona State.
    Jonny Kulow – Kulow smashed records during his time with the Tigers swim team. He’s now doing the same at Arizona State. (ASU TV)
  • Chlorine in their blood? Lander swimmers put in the pool time to be their best.
    Chlorine in their blood? Lander swimmers put in the pool time to be their best. (LVHS Swim Team)

Something in the Water

If you ask Morgan about the secret to success, she’ll sound a lot like Gresly did for all those years. At first, she might answer with something off-handedly witty like, “Must be something in the water.”

But press her on what exactly is the ingredient to Lander’s aquatic supremacy and she’ll always talk less about banners and more about bonds.

“We are very family oriented. We structure goals for every kid. We are very supporting of one another,” Morgan said. “We focus on individual goals. We don't talk about winning state. That’s not our goal.

“What does success look like to us? Every single person on our team qualifying for state. That would be success for us.”

Buy-in from every athlete is a huge reason Lander is on a winning streak like this. And it’s absolutely necessary that every athlete knows what commitment looks like.

 “We have two-a-day practices all season long. Two hours in the pool every morning and 2 1/2 hours every afternoon. Then we do dry land stuff in the weight room, running and cross-training, building aerobic endurance,” Morgan said. “We work hard. The time commitment is really intensive. But we celebrate every little individual success. We bring them to the forefront so each kid sees what it takes to be successful, to win championships.”

Jonny Cool Man

Every once in a great while comes a generational talent like Jonny Kulow. The high school standout shattered records on his way toward leading the Tigers to four titles during his time at Lander (2019-2022).

Swimming for Arizona State University as a freshman this year, he helped lead the program to its first ever Pac 12 championship.

Bam! All ASU ever needed was this fast fish from Wyoming.

It’s been ridiculous,” Kulow told TV reporters after the win. “Better than I could have ever imagined or dreamed for, but dreams get made here at Arizona State.”

It might have all seemed like a dream to coach Morgan, watching all the times her stud swimmer touched the wall first in those years at Lander.

“Just thinking about that kid gives me goosebumps. All I ever was for him was a glorified cheerleader, really,” Morgan said. “He is special. We all saw it. And being able to be a part of his time here. ... I cherish that.

“I have kids still tell me how they will never forget that time they got to swim on a team with, maybe in the lane right next to, a kid who went to the U.S. Olympic Trials.”

And it’s not just Lander that got to enjoy a swimmer as exceptional as Kulow. The whole state was caught up in his wake at one point.

“That’s the beautiful thing about this sport and this state. The state is so small and the sport is even smaller, we feel like a tightknit family everywhere you go,” the coach said. “And, in a way, every coach and every swimmer in the state shares that success with Jonny.”

At Kulow’s last state meet, coaches and student athletes crammed into the pool’s spectator section whenever the senior swam, cheering him on.

“We have some of the best sportsmanship in the state in swimming. Every 4A kid wanted to watch Jonny win and maybe break another record. Every town in Wyoming was cheering for him.”

Stay In Your Lane, Lander

As special as Kulow was, he never got loved on any more than any other swimmer. And that’s what has helped the program repeat and reload year after championship year.

“Every single boy on our team means so much to me,” Morgan gushed.

As mentioned, there are three other swim teams with longer streaks than Lander, all larger private schools. For its size — around 500 students — and the fact Lander is a public school, the accomplishment of 27 straight championships is extraordinary.

And while Morgan and her coaches don't emphasize state championships as a means to an end, don't think everyone in the program isn’t acutely aware they will be gunning for 28 in 2023-24.

“We will do things to emphasis the number 28,” Morgan said. “Ask for 28 pushups in the gym or see if they can eat 28 muffins for breakfast. It will be all about pushing the 28 next year, just to get that ingrained in every single thing they do.”

The ability to reload with talent every season even after graduating star seniors doesn’t get any easier. Morgan admits to walking school halls on the lookout for anyone who might look good in Speedos.

“The program feeds itself. Success breeds success, but I do get a little nervous about lower numbers across the board, really, for athletic participation,” Morgan said. “Turnout for sports everywhere is not as high as it once was. I find myself walking down the hallways, spotting someone and thinking, ‘You are tall, you are lanky, you have feet like flippers.

“’You ever thought about swimming?’”

Jake Nichols can be reached at:

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Jake Nichols

Features Reporter