TERRE HAUTE —
John Craig Huster was already doing pretty well as a member of Rose-Hulman’s swimming and diving team heading into his senior season.
Then a 17-year-old hotshot freshman from Dublin, Ohio, came along last fall and raised the bar for Huster and his teammates.
This “new kid in town” would be Orion Martin, who immediately made a splash by winning the 100-yard butterfly in his first college meet — the Purdue Invitational at West Lafayette back in October. His time was 50.09 seconds.
“I knew he was fast coming in, but I wasn’t expecting him to win that event,” admitted Huster, a 2009 Terre Haute North High School graduate, who represented the Patriots in the state finals as a senior with a 10th-place finish in the 100 backstroke.
Before the 2012-13 season, Huster’s best time in the 100 butterfly was 49.87, good enough to be a provisional qualifier for the NCAA Division III championships but not quite good enough for automatic qualification.
Huster knew he must improve to make an impact on the DIII national scene, and young Martin proved to be the perfect source of motivation.
After a long season of setting personal bests, Martin and Huster have qualified for the Division III national meet in the 100 butterfly, which will take place March 21 at Shenandoah, Texas. Martin is the No. 2 seed, and Huster is No. 11. The time cutoff for selection was 49.33.
Martin (48.51) and Huster (48.99) qualified with their one-two performance in the College Conference of Illinois and Wisconsin championships in mid-February at Wheaton, Ill.
“Orion was someone I was very interested in from the time he was a junior in high school,” Rose coach Keith Crawford recalled. “In his senior year in high school, he had a nice time drop in the 100 butterfly.”
When Crawford learned in April 2012 that Martin had committed to coming to Rose-Hulman, the coach texted his girlfriend the following message: “I just landed the best recruit in school history.”
Between practices last week, Martin offered his recollections of the Rose selection process.
“Last year [as a senior in high school], I started looking at my times vs. Rose swimmers vs. some of the other NCAA Division III times,” he explained. “Based on how my times compared, I was in the top bracket, even toward the end of my senior year.”
Martin also wanted to get involved in some form of engineering, a subject at which Rose-Hulman excels.
When Martin finally arrived at the Rose pool in September, he did not disappoint.
“He came in and made a huge impact from the beginning,” Crawford pointed out. “The obvious highlight was the Purdue meet. … He spent the whole season hovering around that 50-second barrier.”
At the same time, Martin’s presence was helping Huster improve.
“I think it’s good to have someone in practice and dual meets to have someone you can race against,” Crawford emphasized. “That’s definitely been a positive thing.”
“The guys I’ve been swimming with have motivated me and just helped me to get faster, especially Orion this year,” noted Huster, a mechanical-engineering major who plans to graduate later this year. “Having somebody to race against always helps bring your time down.”
And now Martin and Huster are preparing to compete in the same national championships in the same event. It also happens to be an event that Huster didn’t start seriously competing in until his freshman year at Rose-Hulman.
Who woulda thunk it?
“This being my freshman year, I’d like to break the time I set in conference [48.51],” Martin told the Tribune-Star. “If I can get back to the championship final heats and get on the podium [top eight], that would be great.”
“I will be happy if [Martin] makes the championship final [top eight],” Crawford added. “Anything better than that is gravy.”
Is winning the national championship possible? Martin thinks so, although he’s not predicting it.
“It’s not out of the question,” he assessed. “I think the top seed [another freshman] is 48.0, so I’d have to drop about a half a second.”
Huster also is seeking a top-eight finish, a goal Crawford thinks is realistic.
“I’d like to sneak into the top eight,” Huster said, “but really I’d just like to drop some more time.”
“I’d love to see him sneak into the top eight,” the Engineers’ coach echoed. “That would be great. But honestly, I’d be happy if he got in the top 16, which would be All-American honorable mention.”
After Huster graduates, he’d like to stay involved in the sport as a coach at some level.
Meanwhile, Martin will be shooting for the stars as a member of Crawford’s Engineers.
“It’s very bright,” Crawford said of Martin’s long-term future. ”I’m just hoping he can continue to improve over the course of four years.
“He’s the picture of what I’m trying to recruit as a Rose-Hulman student-athlete.”
“It looks like it’s going to be great,” Martin added. “I’ve obviously got three years of swimming ahead of me and I’ve got a great coach. It’s going to be a great three years.”
Back to the present, Crawford is grateful that Martin and Huster are continuing a tradition of excellence for the Rose swimming program. The Engineers have compiled six All-American awards in the sport, including a men’s 100 breaststroke national championship for Matt Smith in 2003.