Ashland University's swimming and diving teams, featuring just two seniors and 28 underclassmen, are prepared to learn what it's like to compete against the best of the best this week.
"We know the future is going to hold different things for us," said Ron Allen, who is in his first year as the team's head coach. "But as long as we stay healthy, I think the level of success our swimmers are going to get as a group this week will be very high. The emotional content needs to be there right away on Day 1 in order for us to be successful."
During the 2016-17 season, two Eagles earned marks in individual events that rank top 10 in the conference. Junior Grace Reichard finished the 100-meter freestyle in 53.76, putting her 10th in the GLIAC, and junior Ryan Deemer is ranked seventh in the 1,000 free with a season-best time of 9:52.49.
Reichard and Deemer are the only current Eagles to have won gold at GLIAC meets, both doing so as freshmen in 2015. Reichard won the 200 free, and Deemer was victorious in the 1,000 free and the 500 free, landing him GLIAC Freshman of the Year honors.
Two Ashland relay teams posted times ranked fifth in the conference this season. Sophomores Ben Keilholz and Keegan Goeke teamed up with junior Joshua Nixon and senior John Scalli to complete the 200 free in 1:27.68. And in the 400 free, freshman Charles Sutton joined Keilholz, Nixon and Scalli to finish in 3:17.73.
"We don't have any set goals as a team for placing," Allen said. "We're just focusing on what it takes individually to be successful, and the rest will fall into place. If we start showing the rest of the teams that we can have larger time drops than them right now, then that is going to put us on the map."
The Eagles have yet to have a swimmer reach an NCAA Division II nationals "B" cut this season. And this week's championship meet is the last opportunity Ashland will have to do that before the national meet, which is set to take place March 8-11 in Birmingham, Ala. Despite that fact, Allen says that the championship committee members made changes that will allow more Division II swimmers to be invited to nationals this year than ever before.
"With some of our athletes that were even on the bubble of being considered for nationals," Allen said, "they have a better shot now. There are a few kids that really stand out for us, and there are about eight more that can explode on the charts if they have the meet of their life this week."
"I have gone to nationals ever year that I've been a coach," continued Allen, who is in his 20th season as a collegiate head coach. "I don't want this to be the first time that it doesn't happen."