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Grizzlies making waves in pool

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If Andrew Hendricks ever wants to write a book, “How To Build a College Swimming Program” might be a good a working title.

The Franklin College men’s and women’s swimming coach has accomplished a great deal in the five years since establishing the school program, ranging from just establishing an identity to now winning major NCAA Division III meets, and even provisionally qualifying swimmers to the NCAA Championship meet coming up later in the month.

Starting any new college athletics program is a strict test of management skills. In Division III competition, where no athletics scholarships are awarded, there are additional dynamics at play, particularly when it comes to persuading top athletes in a given sport to attend the program in question.

Add to that the demands of a strong academic institution such as Franklin, and the fact that swimming is one of the most training-intensive sports around for those who want to excel. On the surface, none of these factors is helpful to a program trying to be nationally competitive in such a short time, yet here the Franklin program is.

For Hendricks, it’s all about a commitment to doing things the right way and selling this approach to swimmers talented enough to make a difference.

“In Division III, there’s such an emphasis on the student over the athlete, and the more encompassing experience as a student-athlete,” Hendricks said. “At the same time, I didn’t have much of a notion of how D-III was before I came here. I went to IU.

“From that and my business experience, I started setting expectations from the get-go; I have seen the student-athletes respond to that expectation.”

And he’s seen it happen quickly.

“When I started the program, I wanted to develop that culture right from the beginning,” Hendricks said. “It started with a few really good athletes. Once the foundation was built, we have just kept upping the expectations. The balance is precarious because the expectations remain as high as D-I, or even higher from an academic standpoint, but you see our women’s team achieving scholastic All-America status as a group, and we take as much pride in that.”

One of the most notable benchmarks for the program is its performance recently in the Liberal Arts Championship at Principia College in Illinois. The men’s team took first place and the women’s team second at the event, which serves as a provisional NCAA qualifier and holds a great deal of prestige in Division III swimming.

Just last year, the men’s team won its first gold medal in any event at the meet, when the 400 freestyle relay team of David McAfee, Alex Bariyev, Carney Gillin and Joel Foreman triumphed. This season, the team won 12 of 20 events at the meet overall, confirming the remarkable strides the program continues to make.

Hendricks was named coach of the meet for the second straight year, and freshman Artur Schneider was named swimmer of the meet after winning three individual events and being part of four winning relay teams.

Additionally, Franklin swimmers provisionally qualified for the Division III championship, which Franklin will host at the IUPUI Natatorium later this month.

The women’s team finished second at the event and also earned a Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference Invitational championship as part of a season where it enjoyed an 11-0 record in dual meets.

Hendricks identified recruiting talented swimmers and, once they are on board, training them to perform at higher levels, as key factors in building the program.

Both the men’s and women’s teams have been ranked in the top 35 nationally this season. With another good recruiting class, Hendricks is confident they can crack the top 25 by the preseason for 2014-15. As success breeds success, he is well aware of a buzz developing about the program.

“I’m getting way more applications from students around the country and all over the world,” Hendricks said. “There is definitely a buzz.”

One of the first Indiana swimmers to buy into the vision Hendricks projected for the program was Brenna Ghigliotto. Now a junior at Franklin, Ghigliotto was part of Hendricks’ first NCAA recruiting class.

Having swum for Northwood High School, just south of Elkhart in northern Indiana, Ghigliotto said Hendricks has built a culture of hard work and togetherness within the program.

“We practice hard twice a day and show a lot of dedication,” she said. “The team is big enough now that, if one of us is having a bad day, there are enough people in the pool to help us through that day and keep everyone motivated. We’re all making it to practice and keeping up with our studies.

“We’re all in it together, as cliché as that may sound.”

Ghigliotto and Carney Gillin, a junior on the men’s team who swam for Decatur Central High School, both said the college itself proves to be a major draw as Hendricks continues building the program.

“It’s cool to see how each recruiting class only gets stronger, and when you talk to people about, why they came, they all say how coach Hendricks is such a great guy but also how much they like the school,” Gillin said. “I know when I came to visit I was already committed to another school, but I fell in love with the campus.”

Hendricks knows that as Franklin gets closer to the top ranks of national programs the competition will be tougher, but he and his swimmers show no doubts that his group is capable of someday reaching the summit.

“I knew the first couple of years our results would not be as good, but that we could get here,” he said. “Moving ahead is the same. It’s about having that vision and faith and making an impact in people’s lives.”

Ghigliotto said this season’s success has helped confirm that she and others made the right decision to come to the school, adding that it will be a selling point for future swimmers as the program progresses.

“When we were freshmen and sophomores, all we heard from coach is ‘You are going to be so good, just keep working.’ He was right. It’s funny how the freshmen this year think this is just normal to have this success,” she said. “We are all like ‘You don’t even understand how far we’ve come.’ But I think we can just keep going up.”

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