John Ehling: The Walk-on Who Won a Conference Title And Set a School Record

North Allegheny High School’s John Ehling was not recruited to swim at Princeton, but he applied anyway and was accepted into the class of 2023.

As a senior, Ehling had placed 3rd in the 500 free at the 2019 Pennsylvania AAA High School State Championships with 4:30.16, dropping 3 full seconds from his personal best. But it took 4:28.10 to get a second swim in C final of the 500 free at the Ivy League Championships that year, and Ehling wasn’t on anyone’s radar.

Ehling was raised in a family of competitive athletes. His father is the youngest of three brothers who all competed in college. They grew up swimming until they gravitated each one to his sport: Uncle Robert (I know him as Bobby – he’s a classmate and a friend!) played football at Princeton; Uncle Richard swam at Dartmouth; and John’s father, Bill Ehling, wrestled at Princeton.

And so when he arrived at Princeton, at the same time as the new head coach Matt Crispino, he decided to walk on to the swimming and diving team. In his first dual meet, against Penn and Cornell in November 2019, Ehling swam the 1000 free and clocked in at 9:48.34, his best time by 24 seconds. Granted, he had only swum the event 3 times in his life up to that moment, but he had found his sweet spot. At Princeton’s “Big Al” mid-season invitational, he swam the 200/500/1000/1650 free and notched PBs in all his events. That included a 9:33.87 in the 1000 and a 15:42.63 in his first-ever 1650. Ehling made the travel squad for the 2020 Ivy League Championships and placed 10th in the 500, 9th in the 1000, and 5th in the 1650, going PBs of 4:23.65, 9:05.42, and 15:14.95, respectively.

Ehling took a year off when the Ivy League canceled the entire 2020-21 season. At the 2022 Ivy League Championships, he finished 6th in the 500 (4:21.86), 7th in the 1000 (9:02.31), and 6th in the mile (15:08.73).

Last year, he came in 4th, 3rd, and 2nd in those same events, picking up lifetime bests of 4:18.24, 8:54.78, and 15:00.18. His 1000 free time broke the Princeton program record.

Now in his final season, Ehling claimed his first Ivy championship title on Friday night with an 8:53.53 in the 1000 free. He won the event by over two body lengths and lowered his own Princeton mark by 1.25 seconds. On Thursday, he was runner-up in the 500 free with a PB of 4:17.58, which downed Dylan Porges’s Princeton program record (4:17.84) by .26.

Ehling is one of Princeton’s captains – an honor earned, not a title given to all seniors. He is known as one of the hardest workers on the team, and he is arguably the best walk-on to the Tiger squad since his father and uncles were stars in their respective sports over 35 years ago.

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1 month ago

John is the best he also does improv comedy. One of the funniest people I have ever met.

1 month ago

John has earned every last medal, PB, and captaincy that he’s gotten. He embraces hard work as an old friend, discovers opportunities to lead when others would shrink away, and encourages when it’d be easy to be downcast. Best of all, he is the friend all of us wish to emulate.

Mike McCaffery
1 month ago

This story leaves out John’s incredibly impressive academic record in very demanding studies at Princeton. And, John worked at our firm last summer as an intern. He is a very hard working, thoughtful person with a great sense of humor. Good luck in the 1650 tonight John.

Mike McCaffery

Richard Ehling
1 month ago

Thank you for the article. I’m a proud Uncle for a lot of reasons besides this and he has worked hard. This year adding a really impressive late kick but owning the walls and the middle race for a while now. My only correction, I wasn’t a “star” on my team. I was a journeyman happy to go where I might get a point. John now has school records in the 500 and 1000 and his PB in the mile is second, 0.02 slower with another swim today.

1 month ago

Great article.

1 month ago

Great story. Was a pleasure to watch him even as an HMSD fan. Seems a great team man.

1 month ago

Nice story. I love underdog stories like this.

But I am one enough to remember when 4:30 in the 500 was considered fast, at least for high school.

Reply to  Bignowhere
1 month ago

The article is a bit misleading because he was a 4:40 at the end of his junior year. He didn’t go a 4:30 until March of his Senior year when recruiting was well done. A 4:40 wouldn’t have been attractive to many programs that late in the recruiting cycle.

Reply to  Bignowhere
1 month ago

“Fast” is all relative! Maybe a 4:30 won’t get recruited by elite D1 programs, but as per USA swim times for 2023, it was a top ~270 time for 18&U boys. By doing some quick-ish math on the USA Swimming 2021 Demographics and Membership report, there were ~32k boys aged 13-18. Even if only a quarter of them swam the 500, a 4:30 would be in the top 3% of times across the board.

TL;DR statistically a 4:30 is still pretty speedy (and, IMO, impressive) 🙂

About Anne Lepesant

Anne Lepesant

Anne Lepesant is the mother of four daughters, all of whom swam in college. With an undergraduate degree from Princeton (where she was an all-Ivy tennis player) and an MBA from INSEAD, she worked for many years in the financial industry, both in France and the U.S. Anne is currently …

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