From Norway to Towson, Brian Benzing’s NCAA Silver Medal Strikes Blow for Mid-Majors

Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

From Norway to Towson, Brian Benzing’s Silver Medal Strikes Blow for Mid-Majors

Liam Bell set an American record and an NCAA record in the men’s 100 breaststroke Friday night at the NCAA Championships. He did not set the record for most excited swimmer at the wall at IUPUI Natatorium in the championship final.

That honor, decisively, went to silver medalist Brian Benzing of Towson, words that aren’t strung together in quite that order too often.

Benzing went 50.59, which was more than a second back of Bell’s American record 49.53. But the Towson senior’s explosion of emotion at the touch indicated elation beyond measure.

“I was just shocked,” Benzing said afterward. “I knew I had a chance to get on the podium. I just wanted a lane at night, so getting second was awesome. I just went into it and thought, hey if I choke and get eighth, I’m still an All-American. It was awesome seeing the second (place) and seeing my time. … It was just like wow. I didn’t know I had that in me.”

Benzing’s placement is the best for a Towson swimmer at NCAAs and just the program’s third All-American nod, joining Meredith Budner in 2011 and Jack Saunderson in 2018. He lowered his Coastal Athletic Association record and scored a rare medal for the league. The three-time Towson Male Athlete of the Year at what is traditionally a lacrosse school in Baltimore – Benzing donned a No. 24 lacrosse jersey on the podium – is close to a shoe-in for a fourth.

Brian Benzing; Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

The unlikely nature of his ascent doesn’t conceal that work that’s gone into it. Benzing is at his third NCAAs. He reached B finals in the 100 breast each of the last two, including an agonizing ninth in prelims in 2022 that was .07 away.

He left no doubt Friday morning, finishing third in 50.92. That was a best time, down from the 51.25 he had set at CAAs in 2023. Simply reaching the top eight with was a massive emotional moment.

“In the morning, it was just getting it done, making sure I had a lane,” he said. “Yeah it was awesome. I think it took all the stress away. All the pressure was gone. All I wanted was a lane and a chance, and I put myself in that position.”

Benzing has had a tremendous meet. He was 48th in two ancillary events, the 200 breast and 200 IM, the last two years. He finished 23rd in the 200 IM Thursday, a harbinger of his form. He earned a second swim in Saturday’s 200 breast with a time of 1:52.71. He ended up 16th, looking at the scoreboard with joyful puzzlement in an early heat after clubbing nearly two seconds off his best time.

Benzing has followed a circuitous journey. Raised in Ellicott City, Maryland, he moved in high school to Norway when his father took a job at the U.S. embassy in Oslo. It wasn’t until his Scandinavian adventure that he went all in on swimming. He was a year behind Norwegian Olympian Tomoe Hvas at the Oslo International School, and he credits Hvas as a major inspiration. Benzing took a gap year to get recruited before returning to his Maryland roots.

Benzing arrived at NCAAs this year between worlds. He’ll join Indiana University’s renowned breaststroke group as a grad transfer last year. He is not, by the Hoosiers’ standards and by his speed, a mid-major, even before Friday’s star turn. But he proudly wears that label one more time. The on-deck dynamics still made him feel like an outsider, alone with his coaches and lacking the bonds from power conference meets.

That otherness brings a sense of pride that the big schools cannot know.

“Nobody expects it from a mid-major,” he said. “And you look at all those logos, you see all the same logos all the time, no different logos. So seeing Towson’s logo on that, it was the best thing ever.”

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