Trio of freshmen swimmers will help Flames go the distance starting this fall
As well as featuring exceptional speed, Liberty University’s incoming Fall 2022 men’s swimming recruiting class will be one that can go the distance and buoy the Flames’ hopes of contending for the program’s first College Club Swimming (CCS) National Championship next spring.
Elite distance swimmers such as Jonah Rhodenizer from Fort Wayne, Ind., Colin Wood from Tacoma, Wash., and Jimmy Blackstone from Eagle River, Alaska, will help Liberty fill the void left by its lone graduating senior, Robert Boehme. Boehme placed in the top 11 in four individual distance events and swam legs of two top-four relays to lead the Flames to a best-ever fifth-place CCS showing April 10-12 in Atlanta. He will be succeeded by his younger brother, Joey, a rising senior.
The freshmen trio, however, will provide a resurgence in the distance ranks, joining sophomore Trent Kolter and senior Zach Mallory to give the Flames endurance from the start of the fall season through to spring nationals.
“It has been exciting for us,” Liberty Head Coach Heath Grishaw said. “The past few years, Rob (Boehme) was on such a different level (in distance events) and he paved the way for our distance program. We brought in Trent last year and Zach switched over to distance. Now that we have Colin, Jonah, and Jimmy coming in, adding more swimmers that have different abilities, we are going to be training faster than in previous years and can be more creative in practices, doing intervals.”
Wood recently moved from Washington State to a Northern Virginia suburb of Washington, D.C., to compete for Nation’s Capital Swim Club that Flames Assistant Coach Ben Klipp and Team USA women’s Olympic distance freestyle gold medalist Katie Ledecky once swam for. He is strongest in the distance freestyle, ranging up to 1,600 yards, but his 100 and 200 backstroke and butterfly times are also impressive.
“He will also be a good 200 and 400 Individual Medley (IM) swimmer, so he definitely covers a wide range of things,” Grishaw said of Wood, who plans to major in history. “He has times to swim for NCAA programs, but he was really interested in the Christian environment that we offer while still being able to compete at a high level and go a long way in the sport.”
What sold him on the program was joining a team devotion during his visit last September.
“We set up a great tour for him to see everything Liberty has to offer, and asked if he wanted to join us for a team Bible study, and he sat in on that and participated in it,” Grishaw said. “He later said this is what he wanted, what he needed. The fact that we continue to grow and bring Christ into the team more, that’s what he values the most over everything else. It wasn’t swimming as much as it is the environment that he’s going to be going into.”
Rhodenizer visited Liberty when it hosted CCS nationals virtually in 2021, and Grishaw made a positive first impression.
“He’s a talented distance swimmer putting up similar times to what Rob (Boehme) was putting up when he was a freshman,” Grishaw said. “Just like Colin (Wood), he valued the Christian atmosphere and what we were doing here to make a name for College Club Swimming.”
Also a distance freestyler, Rhodenizer is nearly as strong in the sprint free events and versatile enough to swim the 100 fly, the 100 breaststroke, and 400 IM.
“We are excited to get him here and about what he’s bringing in,” Grishaw said. “He can swim other stokes, so we can use him and others to mix and match and fill out events that we haven’t been able to cover in the past.”
Klipp gave Blackstone his informational tour when he came in for his official visit last fall.
Blackstone, a four-time winner at the Alaska Long Course Championships who competed for the Chugiak Aquatic Club, is a distance butterfly specialist interested in studying zoo and wildlife biology.
“He has also had some good freestyle experience, in the 500 and 200 free, and can sprint and swim the 50 and 100 free if need be,” Grishaw said. “But his fly going to be his strong suit and he will definitely be swimming a lot of fly for us. He will be a really good training partner for Trent Kolter, as will Jonah Black who will be coming in for the fly.”
By Ted Allen/Staff Writer
>>Note: A third men’s swimming story will feature Black and the other eight incoming freshmen in the Fall 2022 recruiting class.