Grizzly swimmers team making major waves

Franklin College’s men’s and women’s swimming and diving program is only four years old.

But as evidenced by steller season-ending performances at the recent NCAA Liberal Arts meet in Iowa, Franklin has emerged as an NCAA Division III power.

The men’s team scored a runaway victory, while the women placed second, both teams repeating their 2014 performances at the event and both improving on a series of team and individual results.

Eight women and 12 men received all-championship honors at the prestigious meet, which serves as a major qualifier for the March 18 to 21 NCAA Division III National Championship Meet in Shenandoah, Texas.

Although only sophomore Artur Schneider will swim in the national meet due to a complicated system of times and available slots dictated by meet sponsorship and underwriting, the school’s performance is punctuating coach Andy Hendricks’ point that the program is becoming a fixture nationally at the Division III level.

He points to the Liberal Arts meet in late February as a good indicator. The men’s team won last year’s meet by 151 points but this year doubled the advantage with a 308-point margin of victory. Similarly the women’s team had a higher national ranking at one point during the season than the men.

Hendricks said he believes the growth of both programs should continue because of the commitment shown by team members to his training program and overall vision.

“It starts with expectations and setting those from the beginning. As our team has improved, our expectations have grown. We run our program as if we were a D-I program. What I try to explain to our athletes is that they can be the best academic students and be the best swimmers. They don’t have to sacrifice one over the other. That comes through commitment and time management,” he said.

“Our motto is based on the school colors but is much more than that: ‘Bleed blue and swim for gold.’ That’s what they’ve done.”

The team’s success in the pool translates to success in recruiting, Hendricks said. While Division III programs cannot offer athletics scholarships, the school is able to provide academic aid for those who qualify. Good results like at the Liberal Arts meet means top recruits now see the program as offering a strong competitive platform to go with the good relationship such recruits are forming with their prospective coach.

“Success perpetuates further success. Not only are the swimmers we have getting better, but we’re drawing higher-quality athletes,” Hendricks said.

This year’s seniors are the first graduating class recruited by Hendricks. David McAfee and Carney Gillin were members of the winning relay teams at the Liberal Arts meet, including the 400 freestyle relay team (also including sophomore Nick Allen), which provisionally qualified for the Division III national meet. McAfee received all-league honors in seven events, the maximum allowed, and Gillin in five.

Gillin, a Decatur Central High school graduate, said there is a great sense of pride among his class at helping establish the Franklin program nationally.

“When coach recruited us, it was on the basis that we were going to build a legacy. That’s what he told us. He had lofty goals like going to (the Liberal Arts meet) by our senior year and sweep the relays. To be honest, a lot of us didn’t think we could make that happen; but that’s what we did. It’s a really good feeling for us to accomplish the goal coach set for us,” Gillin said.

Franklin swimmers won a majority of the 16 events contested at the meet. Bailey Willoughby, Cody Porter, Zachary Daily and Nick Allen all were part of one or more individual or relay wins at the meet. Allen provisionally qualified for the D-III National meet in the 200 backstroke.

Other swimmers receiving all-meet honors were Sam Hall, Justin Armbruster, Alex Bariyev, Joel Foreman and diver Michael Powell. Hendricks was named men’s coach of the year for the third consecutive year.

Freshman swimmer Amy McCormick took the Grizzlies’ lone first-place finish at the Liberal Arts meet on the women’s side, winning the longest race of the event, the 1,650-yard freestyle. McCormick also swam on the runner-up 400 freestyle relay team along with Regina Solik, Karlee Demsey and Haley Blaich, a Perry Meridian graduate.

Blaich finished third in the 100 freestyle, while Shelby Conrad took second in the 200 backstroke. Ellen Grogg, Brenna Ghigliotto, Carly Fernandes and Kaitlin Mans also earned points for Franklin at the meet.

On the season, Demsey and McCormick combined to break 11 school records for the women’s team.

Gillin credits Hendricks with being an excellent motivator as well as a strong technical coach. He praised the coach’s ability to recruit the type of swimmer who will put in the work of two or three training sessions per day including strength training.

“The season is long, but the morale is good through the season. In the middle, it tends to drop a little because we’re worn out with two-a-day practices all season. But it pays off to do that, and coach describes it as putting money in the bank. We wouldn’t be anywhere near where we are without him,” Gillin said.

“He’s taken guys like me, who was an average high school swimmer, and he looks at everything, technique, strength, diet and pays attention to the small details to make every swimmer on the team the best they can be.”

Pull Quote

“Our motto is based on the school colors but is much more than that: ‘Bleed blue and swim for gold.’ That’s what they’ve done.”

Franklin College swimming coach Andy Hendricks