How Kentucky Men’s Swimming Put Together Best Season With Five NCAA Qualifiers

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John Mitchell was one of five seniors to make NCAAs for the Kentucky Wildcats. Photo Courtesy: Chet White / Kentucky Athletics

Kentucky men’s swimming qualified five swimmers to NCAAs in 2020, their most qualifiers in 10 years.

When the NCAA Division I swimming and diving Championships were cancelled this year because of the coronavirus, it was a huge blow to all 516 swimmers that qualified for the meets. Texas and Cal lost out on a chance to battle for the men’s team title, while Virginia, Tennessee, and Cal looked poised to potentially take down Stanford for the women’s title.

For the Kentucky men’s team, they lost out on an opportunity to finish their team goal: end the season as a top-15 program.

Kentucky men’s swimming had qualified five men to NCAAs in individual events, the most they had sent to the meet in ten years. And all five of them were seniors.

Wyatt Amdor, Connor Blandford, Glen BrownJohn Mitchell and Peter Wetzlar were all looking forward to ending their careers as Wildcats on the biggest stage. Nonetheless, it was a huge accomplishment for the program.

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Glen Brown. Photo Courtesy: Isaac Janssen / Kentucky Athletics

“It was really exciting that we did have two people qualify last year and then this year we had five of us,” Glen Brown told Swimming World. “It showed that our team took a big step from last year to this year and our goal at the beginning of the year was to be a top 15 program. With us five guys and the relays we were going to take, we were potentially going to end up top 15.

“It’s sad we didn’t get to see where we ended up but seeing this group of guys qualify in the way that we did was honestly very exciting to see and gives some motivation to the underclassmen as well to see what we could have accomplished. It’s good for them to see it is time for them to take over our role and continue our legacy that we left.”

Brown and Amdor had qualified individually to NCAAs in 2019, while Mitchell and Wetzlar got to go for the 400 free relay which scored in the B-Final. This season, Brown, Mitchell and Wetzlar were safely in the meet based on their SEC performances, while Amdor and Connor Blandford went down to Knoxville to try and qualify at the last chance meet.

Blandford ended up swimming the 400 IM three total times during that meet – and on the final try dropped four seconds from his SEC time from a 3:46 all the way down to a 3:42.73.

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Connor Blandford. Photo Courtesy: Britney Howard / Kentucky Athletics

“The first time I went pretty hard and I only went 3:48 and I was feeling a little off,” Blandford said. “I wasn’t sure about doing it again and coach Michael Camper talked me through it and wanted me to try a different strategy than I did before at SECs and I just kind of went with it. At night I didn’t really worry about anything, I just said, ‘This might be my last 400 IM ever,’ so I just went after it and when I touched the wall and saw 3:42 I knew that that was going to make it and that was a great feeling.”

“Wyatt was there and we all saw the results and we went crazy,” Mitchell said. “I expected a few seconds drop but not a 3:42.”

“I had to be careful because I knew I had to swim in a couple minutes after him but I was too excited because after his first 100, he was two seconds ahead of where he was in the morning already,” Amdor said. “I told Michael Camper our coach, ‘Either he is going to die or he is going to have the best swim of his life,’ and he kept going and holding on. It’s one of those moments where someone touches the wall and it brings joy to your heart to see someone do something so special – not only for him but also for the team. It was a really cool moment.”

“Anyone Can Do It”

These five seniors have helped transform the Kentucky men’s swimming program into more of a presence on the national landscape. Out of the 50 teams that qualified swimmers individually to the 2020 men’s NCAAs, 20 of them had at least five or more. Kentucky was one of them, which was not something any of those five seniors thought they could achieve when they came into Lexington in the fall of 2016.

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Peter Wetzlar. Photo Courtesy: Elliott Hess / Kentucky Athletics

“When we were freshmen, it was Kyle Higgins that made NCAAs and when we were sophomores, it was Isaac Jones,” Peter Wetzlar said. “When we were underclassmen it was like ‘these guys are ultra talented and kind of freaks,’ they were going to NCAAs and were incredible. When I came in I wasn’t that good at all and I developed.

“It shows that anyone on the team can make it. I think that has changed a lot of the guy’s perspectives that you don’t have to be some ultra talented super-freak guy that can do incredible practices and stuff, you just develop day by day. For us we had that perception that even ordinary people can make it. Even Wyatt and Glen were super talented and made it as juniors but John, myself and Connor worked our way up from freshman year and I think that is important for the younger guys to see that it’s not just the super talented guy that can make it.”

All five swimmers had improved tremendously in their careers to get to this point. Below is their time progression from before they got to the University of Kentucky four years ago to now in the events that they qualified for NCAAs.

  • Wyatt Amdor: 100 breast – 54.71 — 52.32
  • Connor Blandford: 400 IM – 3:54.23 — 3:42.73
  • Glen Brown: 200 IM – 1:48.44 — 1:43.47
  • John Mitchell: 100 free – 45.46 — 42.57
  • Peter Wetzlar: 50 free – 19.91 (2017 SEC) — 19.27

“We knew we were not top level commits but the biggest thing we did was developing with each other each and every day and to get to this point there has been a lot of ups and downs,” Amdor said. “I wouldn’t want to do it with any other group of guys — we have become so close in and out of the pool and it really shows the culture that we have built at UK and it is definitely helped with the underclassmen as well.

“This year has been interesting with how things ended but all of us except for Connor went to the meet last year and having him coming this year would have been a huge step for him. It just showed that to our underclassmen could make the meet and make it a goal of yours. It just takes a lot of effort and a lot of grind and that made this year really special – we took it day by day and we really saw benefits at the end of the year.”

“Our younger guys see that it’s not a group of seniors that made it,” Brown said. “We had Mason Wilby, who was going to be on our 800 free relay with us. He is a sophomore but I think it shows that the underclassmen need to see that and someone now needs to take over this position and be a leader for the program and lead the guys to know that they can qualify for NCAAs because anything can happen.

“Connor showed the rest of the team that by dropping like seven seconds in his 400 IM. It just shows that anything is possible and it is good for the underclassmen to see that, and now that we are gone we need to find guys to step into our roles and take over the program and lead the rest of the team to success.”

Kentucky Men’s Swimming: A New Identity

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Kentucky men’s swimming at the 2019 NCAAs with the X logo visible on their chest. Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

How were the Wildcats able to band together and qualify five individuals to NCAAs for the first time in ten years? It all started at the beginning of the 2018-19 season with adopting a new “team logo” that the guys donned on their chests at every meet.

“We had a big culture change in the beginning of our junior season when we sat down and came up with this new logo for our team,” Brown said. “Only the people on our team know what it means. We wear it on our chest at every meet and it’s a tradition that is going to be carried on from here on out and that culture change was a big step towards our dedication towards each other and our love for each other and just to know that basically we can do something special.”

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Wyatt Amdor. Photo Courtesy: Isaac Janssen / Kentucky Athletics

“After SECs our sophomore year, we broke the scoring down and our class was the front runner for most of the points,” Amdor said. “It was more creating that identity for the team as a whole but also the men’s team. After that we kind of created our own identity with that symbol and really talked about how our class is going to take a lead.

“Ever since that moment on it has been a presence on deck, in practices – it has been the group that we have that has been the leaders and the performance driven. Every single one of us did well in school so that type of mentality and change really changed around our sophomore year and the thing is — everyone started to recognize it and welcomed it with open arms and really jumped the gun with it and it turned out well.”

“I think our class has been a pretty large presence ever since freshman year just based off scoring and in practices,” Blandford said. “At the beginning of this year was the first time when we started to band together and be leaders on the team compared to previous years because we always had seniors before that were unspoken leaders and we reigned everyone in and took over.”

That symbol created a new team identity for the Wildcats, and it resulted in their first top three relay finish at SECS in ten years in the 400 free relay. Kentucky finished with the bronze at 2:50.28, which put them 10th nationally for this season.

“John, Glen, Jason and myself realized after NCAAs that we were all coming back and we could do something special with this relay,” Wetzlar said. “We had the same relay throughout dual meets and I think knowing this was going to be our relay — even in practices we would say like, ‘This is for that relay,’ and definitely for me that was a big motivating goal to think we could do something special in that relay.”

“We knew we could make the A cut in that because we had all the key pieces to it,” Mitchell said. “We wanted to see how high we could end up placing. Our goal was to make the podium at SECs for sure but the real goal was to get people qualified so we could actually swim those relays at the meet.”

Unfortunately for everyone involved, the NCAA Championships were cancelled to avoid the spread of the coronavirus, and Kentucky missed out on a chance on closing out one of its most successful seasons in style at nationals. Amdor, Brown, Mitchell and Blandford have decided to hang up the goggles and pursue life after swimming, while Wetzlar will be staying in Lexington to work and train for the 2021 Olympic Games for his native Zimbabwe.

Mitchell and Blandford will stick around for another semester while Brown and Amdor will be graduating in May, leaving behind a great legacy for Kentucky men’s swimming.

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3 comments

  1. avatar
    Coach silver

    Great job Connor Blandford. Your Marlins Of Ralright teammates are proud of you. Congrats UK

  2. avatar
    Toby Bryant

    Congrats Blandford, great growing up swimming together and finishing our careers side by side at SEC’s

  3. avatar
    Bonnie Knight (Kyndal’s Mom)

    Every time I think of you guys and all the swimmers and divers, my heart just breaks. I know this year was going to be so good for the men and the women. Unfortunately, the season was cut short but I know, because this door closed so abruptly, an even better one will open for your futures. God has plans and His plans are always the best.

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