Hawkeyes Emerge in National Spotlight

Dec. 22, 2010

Editor’s Note: The following first appeared in the University of Iowa’s Hawk Talk Daily, an e-newsletter that offers a daily look at the Iowa Hawkeyes, delivered free each morning to thousands of fans of the Hawkeyes worldwide.

IOWA CITY, Iowa — When the University of Iowa men’s swimming team cracked the TYR/CSCAA top 25 poll last week for the first time in seven years, it symbolized more than a little national recognition; it was also the reward for a tireless climb back towards self-respect.

Prior to last year’s sixth place finish at the Big Ten Championships, it had been 14 years since Iowa placed higher than eighth at the conference championships — a fifth place effort in 1996. From 1997-2009, the Hawkeyes managed to finish eighth on two occasions, ninth 10 times, and in 2005, 10th — the equivalent of last place because Illinois does not compete a men’s team.

But today’s Hawkeyes compete with different expectations and Iowa’s head coach takes his professional success personally.

“This is my alma mater and I’m very proud of it,” said Marc Long, who is in his sixth season as head coach of both the men’s and women’s program. “It’s nice to get back to a point where the alumni are proud of the program. Glen Patton and Bob Rydze can speak of a time back in the 70’s where the team was so embarrassed to be at the Big Ten Championships they’d turn their bags inside out. That hurts and we were close to that.”

When Long took over the men’s program in 2005, he was selling his program behind the glitz and glamour of what was once the world’s largest indoor swimming pool, the Field House Pool. Unfortunately for Long, by 2005 the pool was 78 years old and the Hawkeyes were the only program among its conference peers without an on-campus long-course training facility. On top of that, the team was competing minus one scholarship after the NCAA found an infraction had taken place during the previous coaching regime.

Now in 2010, competing with a full load of scholarships in the $69 million Campus Recreation and Wellness Center, the Hawkeyes have garnered some national respect.

“I have to hand it to the senior group,” Long said of the student-athletes who committed to the Hawkeyes under unconditional circumstances. “I was sitting in their homes trying to sell them on a program that was still under investigation. The new pool was still a dream. We thought it was going to happen, but we didn’t have a whole lot to show them but the belief of where we wanted to go.

“The men were going through such an ugly time. The staff and the team really stuck it out and to get that scholarship back, to open up this pool, and to keep progressing is very rewarding. It’s not just the pool. There is a lot of work that goes on behind the scenes. We just plugged away and we didn’t want to be outworked in any facet of the game. That’s the way our team is as well.”

Max Dittmer is one of those seniors reaping the benefits from sticking to his commitment. Besides competing in a new facility and breaking into the national top 25 poll, the Muscatine, Iowa, native and his Hawkeye teammates have posted a 20-3 dual record since the start of the 2009 campaign. “This is something we’ve been working towards for a very long time,” Dittmer said of Iowa’s No. 22 ranking. “We haven’t really changed anything because we’ve always worked hard, but now we’re starting to get recognized for it.”

Dittmer is also at peace believing the program will not reach its ultimate potential until his Hawkeye days are behind him, and possibly as early as next season when Iowa hosts the 2012 Big Ten Championships at the Campus Recreation and Wellness Center.

“I joke with the freshmen, but I’m not really joking, that we’ve just started something special here. I’ll be long gone when they’re seniors, but I honestly believe they’ll be able to compete for NCAA and Big Ten titles. I know the program is heading that direction and I’m proud to say I was able to be a part of the growing years.”

Long added that though it’s nice his student-athletes speak with great expectations, it’s important to focus on today and the immediate task at hand.

“Clearly, that’s a goal of our program and something we’d like to be contending for,” Long said. “As a program we want to get to that point, but we’ll wait and see about that. We’re working hard, we’re busy recruiting and we’re busy molding these people and getting them to believe they can race against anybody. To reach this point to where they’re talking that way is really a credit to them and a testament to how far the program has come.”