Three sprinters among standouts in Flames’ 15-man swimming recruiting class
A 15-swimmer-deep class of incoming recruits has raised the expectations of Liberty University men’s swimming Head Coach Heath Grishaw for the future of the program, which is coming off a best-ever fifth-place finish at the College Club Swimming (CCS) National Championships in Atlanta.
“Our 2019 recruiting class, which is about to graduate (in Spring 2023), was by far my deepest and most talented to date,” Grishaw said of that 15-member class, his first. “Now, we are bringing in a group of guys who will be able to carry on the torch that was started by them. It will be sad to see all those guys graduate, but good to know we’re going to be in good hands with all of these guys coming in. We want to keep getting faster and faster, and that is done by recruiting.”
Grishaw expects to develop the untapped potential of all of the incoming recruits over the next four seasons through swimmer-specific workouts at the Liberty Natatorium.
“We would obviously love to see these guys push themselves as far as they can go in their sport … to give them the opportunity to achieve whatever’s physically possible,” he said. “With the speed that they’re swimming, they’re not going to be dropping crazy amounts of time in meets. But we will be doing what we can correctly now to … eventually help them place and achieve certain times (at regionals and nationals).”
Three of the 15 swimmers are elite sprinters — Dillon Delaney in the breaststroke, Whitt Brown in the freestyle, and Walker Orbke in the backstroke.
Delaney, who swims for the 757swim Club in Williamsburg, Va., has been on Grishaw’s recruiting radar for nearly two years. He has been able to develop a strong relationship with Delaney and his family, and is confident Liberty will be a perfect fit for him, as it is for his sister, also a residential student.
“He was amazed with the resources and facilities we have here at Liberty and what we do with them,” Grishaw said, noting that the spiritual atmosphere on campus and within the team is what made his final decision an obvious one. “He is very talented and we are really excited about what he brings to the table. He’s going to make a huge immediate impact on the team, in both his individual events and also on the relays.”
Delaney, who plans to study electrical engineering, has clocked personal best times of 26.9 seconds in the 50-yard breast and 55.91 in the 100. He has also swam PRs of 21.6 in the 50 free, 46.6 in the 100 free, 1:42.19 in the 200 free, and 1:59.37 in the 200 IM.
“He’s the real deal when it comes to breaststroke, but the man can swim anything and swim it well so we plan to use him in the 100 and 200 IMs,” Grishaw said. “He’s going to be that Swiss Army knife and whatever we need him to swim, he’s going to do that for us.”
Brown, from Lone Tree, Col., caught the attention of Grishaw through a connection with a member of Liberty’s women’s swim team, rising sophomore Kate Baker, who was a teammate of Brown’s at Valor Christian High School.
“He really wanted the Christian education and to continue swimming and we embody that as a program with a great spiritual aspect to it,” Grishaw said.
Brown will complement Flames swimmers such as rising seniors Zach Mallory and Matt Davidson — a three-event CCS national champion in Atlanta — and junior Jonathan Tonnell in the free relays and should hold his own in the 50, 100, and 200 free events.
He has posted times of 21.8 seconds in the 50 free, 47.0 in the 100 free, 1:43.6 in the 200 free, and 54.6 in the 100 butterfly.
“We have a couple stud butterfliers coming in who are faster than him and (rising sophomore) Trent Kolter has swam a 50.8 100 fly time, but we will be mixing him around and putting him in different events, which is a luxury we are going to have,” Grishaw said.
He expects Brown, who serves as Vice President for Spiritual Life at Valor Christian and is also involved in the National Honor Society, to thrive academically as a business finance major and spiritually as much as he does in the water, and to emerge as a leader on the Flames’ pool deck.
“He has done so much at such a young age, and he is going to bring a great leadership aspect to the team,” Grishaw said. “He is a natural leader and is someone who in the future could be a team captain.”
Orbke, who is from Lebanon, Tenn., near Nashville, and plans to pursue a B.S. in Government: Politics and Policy, is a homeschooled student-athlete with great willingness to be coached and desire to perfect his strokes, including his specialty, the backstroke.
“He and his family are strong believers and I love Walker’s energy,” Grishaw said. “He is someone who just wants to learn. He’s tall and long, which is an advantage if it’s used properly. Watching him swim, he’s talented and he’s got a lot more he can improve on. I am excited for when he gets in town, and for him to start fine-tuning his stroke.”
Grishaw expects Orbke, who has clocked times of 52.6 in the 100 back and 1:54.7 in the 200 back, to push Davidson and vice-versa, in his strong suit.
“That’s something Matt hasn’t had a lot of, and we are excited for what he’s going to bring,” Grishaw said. “Walker’s talented he will make an immediate impact.”
He has shown versatility, also recording PR times of 22.6 in the 50 free and 49.1 in the 100 free as well as 1:59.9 in the 200 IM.
“He’s going to be right there with Dillon, as a Swiss Army knife willing to swim wherever we need him,” Grishaw said.
By Ted Allen/Staff Writer
>> Note: Elite distance swimmers Jonah Rhodenizer, Jimmy Blackstone, and Colin Wood will be featured in a second story followed by an overview of the remaining nine swimmers in the incoming Fall 2022 recruiting class.