Hawkeye swimmers reflect on all-American status

BY BEN ROSS | DECEMBER 14, 2011 7:20 AM

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People may consider swimming an individual sport instead of a team-oriented activity, but a group of athletes on the Iowa men's swimming roster would beg to differ.

Iowa's 400-freestyle relay team holds the ninth-fastest mark in the country, with a time of 2:54.78. Seniors Ryan Phelan, Duncan Partridge, and Paul Gordon, and junior Jordan Huff have been a part of the relay for the past several years, and they hope to continue their success throughout the rest of this season.

The group first earned national recognition last season at the NCAA championships in Minneapolis. They earned All-American honors after placing 15th in the 400 free relay with a time of 2:54.82, despite not initially qualifying for nationals in the event. They had been invited to Minneapolis to compete in the 200-free relay but decided to swim in the 400 free as well.

"We didn't even qualify for NCAAs [in the 400 free relay]," Huff said. "We qualified for the 200-free relay, and we were all hyped up when we got to that event. When we didn't qualify for finals for that event, it came down to that 400 free relay …"

"… And we knew we had to get it done," chimed in Gordon, finishing his teammate's sentence.

All four swimmers were heavily recruited out of high school and committed to the Hawkeyes in part because a sparkling new facility — the Campus Recreation & Wellness Center — was in the works for the school.

But the swimmers and head coach Marc Long agreed that one of the main selling points for Iowa was each other.

"We had in mind, as a staff, to turn the program around and to contend for Big Ten titles and All-American status," Long said. "But we were so far from it at the time, it took some people — like them — a lot of belief to be a part of this and see that things were going to turn and get better. That's what makes that story so unique with those guys."

Huff echoed his coach's comments but also cited a more specific reason to his commitment to Iowa.

"These three older guys are the reason why I came here," the Dubuque native said. "I really wanted to swim with them. I was really excited about the level of competition that would be in practice. It's a great opportunity to get to swim with them."

The crew has helped lead Iowa to a No. 15 ranking so far this season, putting the Hawkeyes in position to make a run at the Big Ten championships in late February. The meet will be held in Iowa City this year, giving the Black and Gold even more incentive to be competitive.

The 400-free relay is the last event of each dual meet, making it a crucial for a team's success in close competitions. The idea of having the fate of a meet rest on their shoulders is something all four of them embrace — and sometimes even hope for, they said.

"It became this vibe that was, 'Oh please, let it come down to that relay.' We would look at each other and smile like, 'Not again, here we go,' " Phelan said. "We just love being put in that position. That's what brought us so close together: putting [the team] on our shoulders, meet after meet after meet."

Long said he isn't able to describe the relay team's value, especially to the program as a whole.

"It's not just the 400-free relay," the eight-year head coach said. "They're part of a lot of the other relays; they're a part of individual performances. We still feel like they're growing and improving, which is exciting for them. They're a very confident bunch, and they have a lot of fun, and they work hard. I'm proud of them and of the guy's team.

"If you saw where we were when they committed, it's nowhere near where we are now; that's something they'll always be proud of."

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