Iowa men's swimming leans on assistant's experience

BY BEN ROSS | FEBRUARY 07, 2012 7:20 AM

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Making it to the championship series of any sport is no easy task, even if it's an event in which an athlete has competed the past.

A handful of athletes on the Iowa swimming team have some NCAA championship experience, but even they say it will be tough to return there this year.

But Iowa has one coach with extended experience at the Collegiate Swimming Championships; he went to the big event all four years he was a Division-I swimmer.

Assistant coach Kirk Hampleman swam for Auburn from 1998-2002 and garnered a laundry list of accolades. He was nine-time All-American during his Tiger tenure and was part of the 1999 national championship team. He placed third overall at the NCAAs in the 200 backstroke in 2002, the same year he was a Southeastern Conference champion.

These accomplishments stuffed his résumé coming out of school, but Hampleman never considered becoming a professional swimmer. He said that even in 2002, the opportunity wasn't always there for swimmers.

"I think I definitely could [have gone pro]," he said. "But at the time, there were so many fewer people competing. Now, there are so many programs set up for people when they're done with college to go train. Then, those places just didn't exist."

Instead, he went to Florida State to get a master's degree in sport and administration — and he found his calling as a graduate assistant coach for the Seminoles' swimming team.

"It was a great learning experience," the sixth-year Iowa assistant said. "Coach [Neil] Harper really took me under his wing. I got to be very hands-on; I got to coach a lot of practices. After my two years were up, I knew full-time coaching is what I wanted to do."

Hampleman helped coach the Florida State women's team to its first-ever Atlantic Coast Conference championship during the two years he spent in Tallahassee, Fla.

Harper, stressing the positive effect the current Hawkeye had on his coaching staff when he spoke to The Daily Iowan on Monday, said Hampleman could find himself with a head coach title sooner rather than later.

"His inclusion on the staff has definitely been a positive on the program," the London native said. "He started making phone calls about prospects, setting up visits. He gave me input on practice, [and] organized and recorded practice film, went over video — a lot of small stuff a lot of people benefited from."

Now, on the eve of the championship season, the Hawkeyes have a valuable resource with a depth of knowledge regarding college swimming's most competitive events. The Big Ten meet will be held in Iowa City Feb. 22-25, and the nationals will be in Seattle on March 22-24.

Four Hawkeye swimmers — Ryan Phelan, Paul Gordon, Jordan Huff, and Duncan Partridge — went to NCAAs last year and earned All-American status for their performance in the 400-free relay in Minneapolis.

"He told us times don't matter," Huff said. "At the championships, it's all about racing and getting to swim. He told us not to worry about times; just worry about racing. It helped a lot because it was a little nerve-racking going up there."

All four swimmers returned this season, so it's likely Iowa will be represented at this year's meet, too. Huff said having Hampleman talk to him before the NCAAs last year greatly helped his performance, and the information he gained from Hampleman as a freshman is something he still carries with him today.

"He really helps keep things in perspective. When I first got here, he brought me up to his office and told me [there's a difference between] when it's time to swim fast and when it's time to work on technique," Huff said. "I was told that my entire career, but it really clicked when he said it to me."

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