When most swims fans think of college swimming programs, junior colleges probably aren’t the first thing to pop into their heads. But while they may not always get the attention that schools in the three major NCAA divisions get, you can certainly find some faster swimmers at these two-year schools as well.
One of the latest examples of this truth comes from the Iowa Central Tritons, who made headlines two weekends ago when freshman Billy Cruz threw down a 19.10 leading off the 200 free relay. That time is just off of the NJCAA record held by Olympian Brad Tandy, and is tied for the fastest time in the nation this season across all levels of college swimming.
Iowa Central head coach Joe Plane has been with the Tritons since 2016, and in each of the three seasons under his leadership, the Tritons have had strong showings at the NJCAA Championships. We spoke with Plane to get some insight as to what makes Iowa Central special, as well as some of his thoughts on swimming in general.
Asked to describe his coaching philosophy, Plane told us
From a training perspective I’d say it’s train fast to swim fast. Regarding the swimmers, I’m most interested in them being good, respectful human beings who are willing to work hard and be coachable. If they can do that, and respect the process, then we should be successful as a team.
Every college and every team has its unique features, and Iowa Central is no different, both simply as a junior college and in terms of some of the steps that Plane takes to help the team come together.
I’d say the unique thing is that I only have them for 2 years, so both freshmen and sophomores are in a position of leadership. When I recruit, I’m extremely honest about what my expectations are and what we do here. Finally, they all live together in 5 person apartments. This really forces them to become very close. It’s truly a family environment.
Plane elaborated more on how the team’s living situation and only have athletes for two years means that swimmers who’d be “underclassmen” at a four-year institution have opportunities for leadership early on.
One thing is that I always put freshmen in apartments with sophomores. This provides the freshmen with someone in their living space that has been through all we do, and what/where things are on campus and town. The sophomores are then partly responsible for helping maintain the culture that we have worked on building, and they are a sounding board for the freshmen. The sophomores also organize team bonding events. This way, once they transfer to a four year institution, they should be ready to be in a leadership role even though the environment will be different, they still have that experience.
Understandably, one of Plane’s biggest struggles as a coach is simply getting swimmers to look at junior colleges as a good option.
The biggest difficulty would come in getting American students to realize that Junior College is a good option. I have a few, and we’re getting more that are at a high level, but it is a constant struggle to get club and high school coaches to recommend that their swimmers could come here and have a very valuable experience while getting faster in the water and saving money on the cost of school. It’s getting better, and that is my job to show coaches and swimmers alike, that this is a good option.
Plane has been coaching for a while, including stints alongside some of the most recognized names in the sport, so he had plenty of moments to choose from when asked about his favorite coaching memory.
…I guess, most recently, would be our men’s team placing second at Nationals last year. It’s been a team goals since I arrived in April 2016. This group of swimmers really stepped up, bought in and swam wonderfully. We also had our first National Champion with Emile Lutzeler winning the 50 breaststroke, so the whole meet was very special.
Keep an eye on the Tritons for the rest of the season, which will culminate the first weekend in March at the NCJAA Swimming Championships, in Fort Pierce, FL.
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