FRANKLIN, Ind. (Feb. 13, 2017) – Not long ago, Franklin College did not offer a men's or women's swimming and diving program. But in 2009, administrators at the college expanded the athletic offerings at the school. Initially, the men's and women's teams were club teams, and the college hired Andrew Hendricks to be the school's first ever swim coach.
Since then, the teams have been on a steady and perhaps unprecedented upward path.
On Saturday, the men won their fourth straight Liberal Arts Swimming and Diving Championship, while the women won their first.
The top five women's scores after Saturday's final round at Principia College in Elsah, Ill. were: Franklin College 635, Luther College 540, Illinois Institute of Technology 461.5, Coe College 416 and University of Minnesota Morris 361.
The swimming events began on the morning of Feb. 9 after the women got diving kicked off the night before. Brianna Gunning (Whiteland, IN) finished 10th in the 1-meter competition to get Franklin on the board and later finished in 6th place on the 3-meter board, breaking her own team record.
In the first swimming event, Franklin's 200 freestyle relay team of Payton Thomas (Clinton, IN), Sarah Taylor (Floyds Knobs, IN), Amy McCormick (Floyds Knobs, IN) and Haley Blaich (Indianapolis, IN) qualified first to set up an exciting final that evening. Franklin's women won their very first relay at the championships last season when McCormick and Blaich were joined by Karlee Demsey (Jeffersonville, IN) and Regina Solik (Clayton, IN) to take gold in the 200 freestyle relay and 400 freestyle relay. The foursome would go on to repeat that feat at this year's championships, and the team would add two more relay titles to their accomplishments as well. The women won four of the relays at the championships.
The 400 medley relay team of Mackenzie Dwyer (Longmont, CO), Kaitlin Mans (Louisville, KY), Demsey and Solik won first place, as did the 800 freestyle relay team of Dwyer, Taylor, Blaich, and McCormick in new team record time.
"We have built a tradition around our relays at Franklin and take a lot of pride in that regard," Hendricks said. "The swimmers know how to step up and race big. Unlike many teams, we take the time out of practice every week to work on the little things including relay exchanges. Our program isn't about yardage. It is about swimming fast and fine tuning the process to do things right. It is about inclusiveness, family, and keeping our academic priorities in perspective."
Franklin uses its roster to its advantage as well. With such a talented group of women, Hendricks typically uses a different foursome in the qualifying heats than he does at night for the event finals.
"Giving more girls a chance to step up and qualify the team is an important part of the process for us," he said. "It also gives our women a huge mental advantage knowing we come back with nearly a completely different group of four at night. The extra rest for our big guns doesn't hurt either. Other teams don't necessarily have that luxury or strategy."
Overall, Franklin's women won 10 of the 20 possible events and broke 12 team records. Dwyer, Demsey and Solik were all double event winners. Dwyer took gold in the 200 individual medley and 200 backstroke. Demsey won the 100 backstroke and 100 butterfly. And Solik lit up the weekend winning gold in both the 50 freestyle and 100 freestyle.
After a tough preliminary swim in the 50 free, Solik's goggles filled up with water off the start, inhibiting her ability to clearly see the wall. She managed to scratch out 5th and make it in to the event final later that night.
"She was pretty upset about her swim, but I had all the confidence in the world in her," Hendricks said. "Regina has been fast all year, and I knew we were getting ready to see something special."
After the morning session, Hendricks gave Solik some technical advice and had her practice a few starts to get her confidence under control.
"Regina is a fierce competitor. I knew it wouldn't take much," he said. "You don't over-coach her. You have to let her unload sometimes."
In the night's final event, Solik was out on the field from the start and was nearly a body length ahead by the finish, touching in new record time of 23.58. The time was not only good for gold, but it also was under the NCAA provisional National qualifying time. This was the first time a Franklin female swimmer had achieved a national time standard.
"Our women's team has been just as strong as our men's team each and every year. It shows the balance in our program and the commitment we all share to one another," Hendricks said. "I am very proud of Regina and all of the girls, this season in particular."
Hendricks is very humble about his teams' success and prefers to let results speak for themselves. He says that other coaches and officials are often shocked when they learn the size of Franklin College, but he believes that size makes Franklin what it is by providing distinct advantages for the students and his swimmers over larger institutions.
"Franklin College is a tremendous academic institution, prestigious in its own right, with an intimate learning environment offering a hands-on experience you can't find at many colleges or universities," Hendricks said. "Everyone at the college shares in our mission and supports the swimmers. With morning practices and a rigorous schedule, the swimmers are quite recognizable on campus."
Hendricks has made much out of little and has the hardware to prove it. This year, Hendricks was named Men's Swimming Coach of the Year for the third time in four years at the championships and was also awarded Women's Swim Coach of the Year for the first time. This was also the first time in the recent history of the Championships that a coach was awarded Coach of the Year for both men and women.
Regina Solik – 50 freestyle, 100 freestyle
Karlee Demsey – 100 butterfly, 100 backstroke
Mackenzie Dwyer – 200 individual medley, 200 backstroke
Team Record Breakers
Brianna Gunning – 3-meter diving
Regina Solik – 50 freestyle, 100 freestyle
Kaitlin Mans – 100 breaststroke, 200 breaststroke
Mackenzie Dwyer – 200 backstroke