CHICAGO, Ill. - The 2016-17 season will be one to remember for the Illinois Tech men's swimming and diving team. A journey that featured a national ranking and numerous school records culminated in a third-place finish at the Liberal Arts Championships, the team's highest finish since 2013.
"The men's team has really started to take shape these past couple of seasons," said Head Coach Kyllian Griffin. "This year was a defining moment for the direction the team is heading. These guys put in 100% effort at every single practice and every single meet, and it showed at the Liberal Arts Championship this year. We are thrilled with the progress we've made and have our sights set on bigger and better things for 2017-18."
At the LAC Championships, an astounding 15 of 18 of the team's swimmers scored points, the highest percentage the team has had during Griffin's three-year tenure as Head Coach. Eight of the 15 point scorers finished in the top three of their respective events.
Individually, the Scarlet Hawks finished the LAC meet with four conference champions. Karsen Diepholz capped off his phenomenal freshman campaign with victories in both the 500 Yard and 1650 Yard Freestyle events, breaking school records during his 1650 swim (1000 Yard record of 9:44.64, 1650 Yard record of 16:02.14). Each record was previously held for a decade, as Diepholz's times surpassed the old marks by over 10 seconds in the 1000 and over 21 seconds in the 1650. To top off his astounding LAC meet, Diepholz also placed in the top three of the 200 Yard Freestyle.
"Karsen had an incredible first year with us," said Griffin. "As a freshman, he proved to the conference that he is a force to be reckoned with in the distance events. This is just the beginning for Karsen, and we're excited to see what he can accomplish over the course of his collegiate career."
Also standing out at the LAC meet was Brendan Howley. Coming to Illinois Tech this season as a junior transfer, Howley's impact was apparent all season and led to an outstanding weekend at the Championships. He placed first in both the 100 Yard and 200 Yard Breaststroke events while also earning a top-three time in the 50 Yard Freestyle. Both Breaststroke swims also set school records of 55.55s and 2:02.37, which surpassed record times he had set earlier in the season.
"There is no doubt that Brendan is an exceptional swimmer, and he showed that off at the 2017 meet," Griffin added. "It's been great to see him adapt to a new team and truly thrive in both the pool and the classroom at Illinois Tech."
It was also an impressive LAC meet for Jay Korhonen, as the Tech veteran placed in the top three of the 400 Yard Individual Medley. In addition, Three of Tech's relay teams (400 Yard Freestyle Relay team of Diepholz, Julian Escasa, Howley and Luke Workman, the 800 Yard Freestyle Relay team of Diepholz, Workman, Korhonen and Zachary Bonson, and the 200 Yard Medley Relay team of Ryan Lakner, David Polzin, Howley and Escasa) all finished in the top three at the Championships. In all, eight Scarlet Hawks earned spots on the conference's All-Championship team.
While the conference meet was the highlight of the season, the road to the Championships featured several notable achievements. Tech ended the season 5-2 in dual meets, placed fifth of 12 at The University of Chicago Phoenix Fall Classic, and first of five at the Ted Erikson Invite. The team racked up several honors, winning three D3 Independents Student-Athlete of the Month awards (Howley for October and January, Diepholz for November), four LAC Player of the Week awards (Escasa, Howley, Polzin, and Diepholz) and one Collegeswimming.com Player of the Week award (Howley).
All of the success turned into national recognition, as the Hawks became Illinois Tech's first team to be ranked in the nation's Top 25 since entering the provisional phase of NCAA Division III membership. Tech was ranked 18th in the country by Collegeswimming.com for one week in November.
"It was exciting for these guys to be recognized nationally for all of their hard work," Griffin explained. "We had a phenomenal mid-season meet and it was nice to see that we made a few waves, pun intended, on the Division-III national level."
The Scarlet Hawks also achieved in the classroom throughout the success in the pool. The team earned Academic All-American status from the College Swimming Coaches' Association of America by having a 3.10 GPA for the fall semester. Also, Louis German was named All-Academic by the United States Collegiate Athletic Association.
"It's incredibly tough to be a student-athlete in college, let alone at a rigorous school like Illinois Tech," said Griffin. "Academic success is by far the most important piece of the college experience, and I am very proud that this team puts in the time and effort to be successful academically and athletically."
With all the accolades and improvement, the 2016-17 season was a memorable one for the Illinois Tech men's swimming and diving team. It also leaves the program wanting more.
"These men work hard every day to push themselves to the absolute max," said Griffin. "While we are very happy with a third place finish at the Liberal Arts Championship, this team is hungry for a conference championship in the very near future."