Pool of champions

The IU Natatorium hosts international contests and the IUPUI swimming and diving team

IUPUI swimmers pose at the IU Natatorium.View print quality image
From left: IUPUI swimmers Aubrey Wing, Cameron Green and Zack Andrews pose in front of the IU Natatorium competition pool May 29 after a morning swim with the Jaguar Aquatics Club. Photo by Tim Brouk, Indiana University

IUPUI was ready for its closeup: a Jumbotron installed over the swimming lanes, lighting rigs at the ready and FINA graphics hanging everywhere. It was just another morning at the IU Natatorium.

On May 31 and June 1, the world-class swimming and diving facility on the IUPUI campus hosted a FINA Champions Swim Series competition, which saw swimmers from around the world racing each other. The event came just days after the USA Diving Senior Nationals meet.

Fresh from an early-morning Jaguar Aquatics Club session in the instruction pool, IUPUI senior swimmer Cameron Green admired the competition pool's latest international competition setup. The finance major and his teammates get to train and practice alongside the top swimming and diving talents coming through for meets and trials. Even after three years on the IUPUI swim team, it's still a bit surreal for Green.

Zack Andrews competes for IUPUI at the Natatorium.View print quality image
IUPUI swimmer Zack Andrews competed in the 100-meter butterfly Oct. 26, 2018, at the IU Natatorium. Photo courtesy of IUPUI Athletics

"It makes it easier to get up in the morning when I know I'm coming here," said Green, who competes in the 100-meter butterfly event. "It makes it easier to come in and train hard every day."

The Elkhart, Indiana, native said the Natatorium gives his team an edge. The "fast pool" is state of the art, and the pool's legacy inspires the student-athletes. Most were recruited knowing the history of 200-plus Olympians who have qualified and competed in the same lanes they are diving into.

And if they ever forget, all they have to do is look at the wall behind the diving well, which displays the hand-painted names of American Olympic legends like Greg Louganis, David Boudia and Michael Phelps.

"I was in that age group when Michael Phelps was just crushing it," said Zack Andrews, a junior swimmer who also competes in the 100-meter butterfly. "We'll be watching swim meets and hear a commentator's name, and it will be someone on the wall. It's just really cool to see that every day."

A challenge for the team occurs on the road. The swimmers revealed that other universities' facilities are not at the IU Natatorium's level.

"It spoils you," Andrews opined. "The facilities and the people who work here are top-tier."

Preparation and tradition

It might not be the most glamorous spot in the Natatorium, but it's where Aubrey Wing chooses to ready herself for meets.

"There's a set of glass doors, and I always sit in front of the trash cans over there to stretch before a race," said the junior, who is studying health care administration. "I can see everything that's going on. No one's behind me. It's just something I like to do. It's like a little nook."

She is also sure to look for the name of 2000 swimming Olympian Kristy Kowal when practicing her kick set training. While floating on the kickboard, she focuses on the red diamond that was painted in the O of "Kowal." In IU Natatorium lore, the painter added the embellishment after Kowal thanked him for painting her name.

Years after Kowal's qualification, Wing, who was in middle school, attended a Swim Across America event in Chicago, where Kowal told the story of the red diamond. The experience put IUPUI and the IU Natatorium on Wing's map.

"I always look up and look for it," Wing said.

Coach's corner

Swimming and diving assistant coach Josh Lercel finished his IUPUI career on May 31 to take a similar position at Illinois State University. As he said farewell to his student-athletes while the FINA Jumbotron was being tested, Lercel had to reflect on the gravity of the IU Natatorium.

"It's incredible," he said. "When events like this come through, you really understand the magnitude that this facility holds in this sport. I can't name you a world champion or Olympic swimmer who hasn't come through this pool."

Lercel agreed that the Natatorium enhanced his teams' performances. The majority of IUPUI's meets are at home, where they had a combined 16-5 record for the 2018-19 season. Lercel concurred that it was a "fast" pool. Perhaps that quickness was due to the familiarity and pride of calling the IU Natatorium home.

"They can close their eyes and race in this pool," said Lercel, who competed at the Natatorium as a visiting swimmer from Olivet Nazarene University in Illinois.

When Lercel comes back, he hopes to see some of his former Jaguar swimmers' names painted on that famous wall. Those names of Olympic legends could intimidate, but they've inspired his students over the seasons.

"When they walk in here, this is the best of the best," Lercel said. "It's the best facility in the world."