One of the things that makes the NAIA special is that it affords athletes from small colleges the ability to experience the full collegiate athletic experience, similar to what one would encounter in the NCAA. This is especially true for the swimmers at Lindenwood University-Belleville, who in 4 short seasons have risen through the ranks of the NAIA to become perennial top-10 finishers.
Created as a satellite campus for St. Charles, Missouri’s Lindenwood University in 2002, Lindenwood University-Belleville (located in Belleville, Illinois) is no longer the “younger sibling” but a separately-accredited college. Like their “older sibling” Lindenwood Lions, whose women finished 5th and whose men placed 7th at the 2017 NCAA Division II Championships, the Lindenwood-Belleville Lynx placed 5th (men) and 9th (women) at last year’s NAIA Nationals.
The Lynx have a new head coach this season, Ksenia Gromova, promoted from assistant coach in October. Gromova told SwimSwam, “The kids have been working so hard and the teams have improved tremendously since last year. Different philosophy, coaching style and different training routine has been also played a big role in their success. It’s always tough to transition from one coach to another but they have made me proud.”
The Lynx have held their own in a tough schedule this season. The men finished 4th of 6 teams (mostly NCAA D2) and the women were 3rd of 5 at the Delta State Christmas Invitational last December. At the Mid-South Conference championships earlier this month in Kingsport, Tennessee, the men won their third straight conference title and the women were runners-up. Five freshmen broke school records at the conference meet: Alina Geck (w400 IM), Amelie Essmann (w100 fly), Anna Martens (w100 breast), Marie Geck (w200 fly), and Martin du Teilleul (m100 fly). Moreover, the Lynx took down several meet records: men’s 200 medley relay (du Teilleul, seniors Timo Billman and Paul Elaisa, and freshman Carolus Josefina), men’s 200 free relay (Billman, Elaisa, du Teilleul and junior Badr Benassila), women’s 200 fly (Marie Geck), and men’s 200 fly (Billman).
Lindenwood-Belleville has a number of top-8 seeds headed into the 2018 NAIA National Championships. Top-seeded women include: Marie Geck (500 free, 200 fly), Alina Geck (200 fly, 400 IM), freshman Chelsea Merfol (100 back), and Essmann (100 fly). In the men’s meet they include sophomore Niels Engeln (500/1650 free and 400 IM), de Teilleul (100/200 fly and 200 IM), senior Tim Schmalzreich (200/500 free), Billmann (100/200 fly), Josefina (200 back), Benassila (200 free), and freshman Santiago Baro (200 back).