By Joey Bennett
TERRE HAUTE — Two Terre Haute natives have done the improbable, if not the impossible, by walking on to become highly-successful members of Purdue University’s swimming team.
Tyler Gertz, a sophomore from Terre Haute South, is a member of Purdue’s 19th-ranked men’s team while Terre Haute North’s Katie Guell is a freshman on the 22nd-ranked Boilermaker women’s squad.
Also, Terre Haute North freshman John Huster leads a pack of five other Wabash Valley area grads competing in collegiate pools this winter, currently ranking as the top swimmer for Rose-Hulman in four different events.
On Saturday, Gertz placed third in the 200 backstroke with a season-best time of 1:51.94 as Purdue defeated Michigan State in both men’s and women’s action.
Also Saturday, Guell placed sixth overall and third for Purdue in the 500 freestyle with a time of 5:13.45 in the women’s victory.
Gertz earned a letter last year as a freshman, recording a personal-best time of 1:56.09 in 200 IM, finished seventh in 200 backstroke with a season-best 1:50.41 clocking and in 100 backstroke after touching wall in season-best time of 50.89 vs. Indiana on Feb. 7.
This season, Gertz placed third in the 100 backstroke in 53.09 at the Indiana Intercollegiates, finished second in the 200 backstroke at Eastern Michigan in 1:53.31, and swam the fourth leg of the fifth-place 400 free relay team against Eastern Michigan.
Purdue men’s head coach Dan Ross is a big fan of Gertz and his efforts.
“Tyler is fast becoming the definition of a Boilermaker swimmer,” Ross said. “He gets good grades, has an outstanding moral fiber and brings it to workouts everyday. He is a coach's dream.”
Guell went to West Lafayette in the fall following a stellar career at North in which she was a four-time state qualifier and a consolation finalist at her final two state meets. She was twice named to the All-Metropolitan Interscholastic team, was named Team MVP her junior and senior seasons and was an academic All-American.
Guell finished fifth in the 500 freestyle in the Indiana Intercollegiates in 5:13.78 and also was fifth in the 200 free relay in 1:45.18 (swimming the second leg). She was fifth in the 1,000 freestyle at Eastern Michigan with a time of 10:30.15.
Purdue women's head coach John Klinge is similarly impressed with his program’s Terre Haute product.
“Katie’s work ethic, attitude and dedication have really added to our team this season,” he said.
• Huster pacing Engineers – Huster went to Rose-Hulman this fall following a tremendous career at North in which he placed 10th in the state meet in the 100 backstroke in his senior year.
Rose coach Keith Crawford knows that his Division III program was extremely lucky to get someone of Huster’s talents.
“He’s one of the best incoming swimmers ever to come to Rose-Hulman,” Crawford. “I definitely knew I was getting one that was really good. He is certainly off to a good start……the scary thing is that he probably has a lot more potential than we have seen yet.”
Huster has posted Rose’s top time in the 50 backstroke (25.84), the 100 back (55.21), the 200 back (2:04.15) and the 100 butterfly (54.48).
He had one of his best days of the season so far at the DePauw Invitational last month, placing sixth in the 100 backstroke (56.71) and seventh in the 100 butterfly (54.48).
Crawford loves the fact that one of his top swimmers is just a freshman and has a long career ahead of him.
“I’m thrilled to death to have him on the team, and really excited about what he can accomplish in his Rose career,” Crawford said.
Crawford feels that Huster eventually has the potential to qualify for the NCAA Championships, but in a sport where seconds sometimes seem like hours it’s not going to be an easy task.
“He has to drop quite a bit of time yet before he can do that, but he can do it,” Crawford said. “He’s been 53.3 lifetime in 100 back, and he has to get down to 52.0 to have a decent chance to make the meet. He’s capable, but he’s going to have to have a successful drop.”
Other area athletes competing this winter are:
• Kristy Shew (Terre Haute North), Sr., Valparaiso – Led the Crusaders in the 500 freestyle last month with a time of 5:30.15 in the Calvin Winter Invitational, finishing 24th overall.
• Emily Richards (Terre Haute North), Fr., Ball State – Finished fifth overall in a three-way meet against Findlay and Grand Valley State on Nov. 21 in the 50 freestyle in a time of 1:02.83.
• Andrew Bretscher (Greencastle), Sr., Ohio State – Placed 28th in 100 freestyle 46.72 in Ohio State Invitational.
• Lainey Poor (Greencastle), Fr., Millikin – Helped the Big Blue to an eighth-place recently in the 400 Yard Freestyle Relay, swimming the third leg as the team had a time of 4:03.24.
• Donny Brush (Terre Haute South), assistant head coach, Indiana – Brush is in his fifth year at IU and holds the title of Assistant Head Coach for Coordinator of Training and S-A Development. Hoosiers are currently ranked 12th nationally among women’s teams and 20th nationally in the men’s poll.
• Emily (Morris) Oilar (Terre Haute North), assistant coach, Rose-Hulman – The former North and Indiana standout is in her first year as a volunteer assistant at Rose.
She placed statewide in the 200-individual medley as a senior and had a successful collegiate career. Oilar is a certified USA Triathlon and USA Cycling coach and has participated in the United States Olympic Trials as a cyclist.
Oilar and her husband, fellow triathlete Ryan Oilar, operate the Forward Motion Athletics training program in Terre Haute.
“It’s been a pleasure to have her on deck helping this year,” Engineer Coach Crawford said. “She’s been helping 2-3 times a week, and it’s certainly been nice to have another set of eyes here on the deck. Emily is someone who’s very good working with kids on stroke technique and several other things.
“She’s certainly helped us quite a bit, and I’m hoping to have her with the program for years to come.”
Joey Bennett is a former Tribune-Star sports reporter and copy editor who now teaches and coaches at Northview High School in Brazil. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.