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Phelan still has best swimming in front of him

BY BEN ROSS | JANUARY 26, 2012 7:20 AM

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Ryan Phelan had options to swim collegiately coming out of high school.

Iowa's senior captain and all-American took official visits to Wisconsin, Indiana, and Ohio State — but his mind had already been all but made up, even before he stepped on the non-Iowa campuses.

He said he didn't know he was ready to be a swimmer at the collegiate level until he started receiving recruiting letters from schools. The first piece of such mail was adorned with the University of Iowa logo.

"I didn't know the first thing about college swimming," Phelan said. "Junior year, I started getting calls and letters and I really thought it was something I should look into and go for. The first letter I ever received was from Marc Long here at the University of Iowa. It was handwritten, and I won't ever forget it. It really meant a lot to me and opened my eyes."

Phelan maintains he didn't make up his mind to go to Iowa just because of the letter, but admitted he thinks it may have given him a push.

"When I received the letter, I didn't say, 'Hey, that's where I want to go,' " he said. "It was neat, I thought; look into this, take it a little further, and see where it goes."

Phelan ultimately committed to Iowa and hasn't looked back since. The Cedar Rapids native is a part of the 200- and 400-free relay teams that set school records at the Big Ten Championships in 2011.

His 50-free time of 19.77 seconds is the eighth-best in the country this season. The best times of the 200- and 400-free relay teams are ranked ninth and 10th in the country, respectively. Phelan has helped lead Iowa to a 5-1 Big Ten record and a No. 14 national ranking.

His prep career may have destined him to be collegiate swimmer too; he was an all-American, a two time all-state selection, and team MVP as a member of the Washington High swim team. Washington has a history as a nationally recognized swimming program; it has garnered 27 state titles in the sport.

Junior captain and fellow all-American Jordan Huff swam against Phelan in high school while at Dubuque (Iowa) Senior High. He said he thinks having Phelan on the squad is an honor, and added that the former high-school rival played a large role in his own commitment to Iowa.

"I only knew him as that really fast kid from Washington in the beginning, [but] by my junior year, we were texting back and forth before our races and stuff like that," Huff said. "My junior year — his senior year — we raced at the conference [meet] and he broke my conference record, which I never got back. But I got him back at districts and state.

"When I heard he was coming here, I really started to consider Iowa … I thought; 'You know, he's really fast. If they can attract a fast swimmer there's probably a couple other fast swimmers. I really want to be a part of that.' "

Long couldn't seem to say enough good things about Phelan; he lauded both his abilities in the pool and his strengths as a leader out of the water.

"He was stereotyped in high school as more of a drop-dead sprinter, but he's certainly much more talented than that," the eight-year head coach said. "He really takes care of business; he leads by example in terms of how he takes care of himself and his swimming. This program means a lot to him, and that shows. His family has been very supportive, and he's a very serious student.

"That all comes together to make a champion."


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