The progress of the Franklin College swimming programs will be measured in the northeastern corner of Iowa this week.
Starting Wednesday, Grizzlies men’s and women’s squads compete in the Liberal Arts Championships at Luther College, in the small town of Decorah.
The objective is to post a time or score that qualifies a swimmer or relay team for the NCAA Division III Championships. The meet, scheduled from March 21 to 24, is at the IUPUI Natatorium — with Franklin College serving as host school.
“This liberal arts meet moves from year to year, but it’s usually between 11 and 13 teams competing,” said Andy Hendricks, the only coach the men’s and women’s programs have known since they debuted in the 2008-09 season.
“It gives us the platform to compete at the highest level. On the high end, we’re looking to qualify seven for nationals, but seven could easily be one. Or zero.”
The 19th-ranked Franklin College women’s team finished with victories in each of its 10 dual meets. Only one was close, with the Grizzlies’ average margin of victory being 104 points.
Over the weekend, the women picked up the inaugural HCAC team championship at the three-day meet in Terre Haute. Senior Amy McCormick set school, conference and meet records in the 1,650 freestyle with a time of 17 minutes, 20.34 seconds.
Freshman Jessica Halsmer shattered the Franklin College women’s standard in the 200 backstroke with a 2:03.88, the nation’s 19th-fastest time in the event this season.
Brynna Sentel, a freshman from Sullivan, Illinois, swims the 200- and 500-yard freestyle, 100 backstroke and 400 medley relay. She has already established new Franklin College and Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference records in both freestyle events and lowered the Grizzlies’ standard in the 100 back.
Sentel said the support she and her teammates display for one another goes a long way in helping the men’s and women’s programs succeed.
“A lot of it is the atmosphere we have. Everybody kind of uplifts everybody,” she said. “We just do everything together, and, I personally have never been part of a team this close. I think it’s pretty unique.”
Sentel is the leader in points this season for the women. She is followed by McCormick, sophomore Cady Mehringer and Halsmer.
For the men, sophomore James Hone, who hails from Melbourne, Australia, leads the Grizzlies in points scored this season. Senior Sam Hall, sophomore Jack Heim and freshman Noah Tallman, a product of Center Grove High School, are having outstanding seasons as well.
The Franklin College men, who finished second at the HCAC meet, are taking 17 swimmers and three divers to Iowa for the Liberal Arts event. The same is true for the women.
Hendricks said the past decade has gone fast, which doesn’t always allow him ample time to admire how the Franklin College swimming and diving programs continually evolve.
“It’s our ninth NCAA season, so yeah, when I reflect on it I guess I am surprised,” he said. “I like to give all the credit to the kids. We run the program like it’s a Division I program. It’s really about trying to make it the best experience of their life.
“If that doesn’t happen, I’m not doing my job.”