FRANKLIN - The men's swimming and diving team is preparing to open its season on October 7, 2017 at the University of Louisville against six tough opponents from NCAA Division III, Division II, and the NAIA.
The Franklin men are coming off a 10–0–1 season last year and their fourth straight NCAA Liberal Arts championship where they bested their nearest competition by 202 points.
Over the last 4 seasons, the grizzlies are 40–6–1 in dual meet competition but are without their national qualifier and academic All-American, Artur Schneider, for the first time since that run began. Additionally, six major contributors graduated from last year's squad.
"Having a national-level swimmer like Artur always gave the team confidence in terms of overall score and relays," said Coach Hendricks. "We lost a lot in terms of speed and leadership, but our guys are already clicking as a team this year. The upperclassmen have stepped up nicely, and the incoming swimmers have bought in to our tradition of success immediately."
Hendricks has led the men's and women's teams since the inception of the program nearly a decade ago and has witnessed a grand evolution in the program's success since the beginning. He attributes much of the success to the athletes but cites relevant and achievable expectations along with a true sense of brotherhood that transcends that of other programs. In the last 4 seasons, Hendricks has been named as the Liberal Arts Coach of the Year three times and has led both the men's and women's teams to the Division III NCAA National championships in a remarkably short amount of time.
James Hone, Jordan Cermak, Mac Howard, Rob Warren, Jack Heim, and Sam Hall return as significant scorers and relay contributors from last year's team. Howard and Heim both made their individual marks by breaking team records in their rookie seasons; Howard in the 200 fly and Heim in the 100 and 200 breaststroke events.
The Grizzlies also return Cameron Cary, Cameron Culp, Zach Daily and Ben Doss who each has contributed significantly in the scoring column and add tremendous depth to the team. Trey Shepard, Zach Rayce, and Jacob Weir round out the talented crew with their versatility.
In addition, Will Combs and Jacob Keener return on the diving boards and will play a pivotal role in the team's success. Both Combs and Keener have each qualified for NCAA Regional diving competition in their rookie seasons, Combs in 2016 and Keener in 2017.
The upper classmen are joined by a strong group of freshmen led by Noah Tallman and Charlie Hall, the younger sibling of senior, Sam Hall. From a coaching standpoint, Hendricks noted he couldn't ask for a better group of committed student-athletes. "I have already enjoyed having these young men on the team. They are very strong students and have a solid work ethic in the pool. They help define what NCAA Division III athletics are all about."
Tallman and Hall are joined by Kevin Gast, a very strong all-around swimmer out of Brownsburg, IN as well as Alex Bowers, Dylan Harker and Adam Price. While a few are well-recognized as top swimmers in their respective states, Hendricks believes this group of young men is poised for big improvement from high school and ready to go to the next level in their collegiate debuts.
Despite being the four-time defending NCAA Liberal Arts Champions, the team finds itself in a new situation with the Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference adopting their first end-of-season championship meet in 2017-2018. Franklin will be joined by Anderson University, Manchester University, Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology, and Transylvania at this year's championship with Hanover College expected to take part in the 2018-2019 season.
In 2015 and 2016, Rose-Hulman won the College Conference of Illinois & Wisconsin Championship and finished second last year to nationally-ranked Carthage College. Rose-Hulman brings back a very strong senior class this season and will be a Midwest powerhouse for the Grizzlies to contend with. While the other teams certainly will be competitive, there is little doubt the Grizzlies and Engineers will have their hands full with each other in the inaugural championship come February.
The Grizzlies hit the pool for the first time this coming Saturday in Louisville at the Derby City Invitational which gets underway at 3:00 p.m. You can follow the Grizzlies on their road to nationals on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.