Dec. 13, 2012
Editor's note: 24 Hawkeyes to Watch is a feature released Monday, Aug. 6, highlighting one athlete from each of the 24 intercollegiate sports offered by the University of Iowa. More than 700 talented student-athletes are currently busy preparing for the 2012-13 athletics year at the UI. Hawkeyesports.com will introduce you to 24 Hawkeyes who, for one reason or another, are poised to play a prominent role in the intercollegiate athletics program at the UI in the coming year.
IOWA CITY, Iowa -- University of Iowa junior Dustin Rhoads has never lacked the talent to be a top collegiate swimmer. Following a 2012 U.S. Olympic Trials experience, there is newfound confidence added to the equation.
During the Olympic Trials in Omaha, Neb., Rhoads competed in the 100-meter backstroke alongside now 11-time Olympic medalist Ryan Lochte in a nine-swimmer preliminary heat. It was an experience that opened his eyes to his potential.
"It was something I will never forget," said Rhoads. "It was a great experience, and it helps and shows me I can compete with some of the best swimmers in the country. That has built confidence for me."
From UI head coach Marc Long's vantage point, Rhoads wasn't just in the same heat as Lochte, but also in the race.
"If you look at the tapes, he was right there at the halfway point," said Long. "That's going to be a confidence and experience thing for him down the road. Here is a kid that is still developing as a junior, and that's exciting."
Rhoads started swimming when he was eight years old a YMCA in Oskaloosa, Iowa. In high school, he was a multisport athlete, playing baseball, was a state champion in tennis, and swam. As a senior, his family moved to Ames, Iowa, where he claimed state titles in the 100 fly, 100 back and as a part of the 200 medley relay.
Long heard early about Rhoads, and was excited about his potential.
"Dustin is someone that I have known about for a long time," said Long. "I knew one of his high school coaches in Oskaloosa. He was telling me about a young kid he had coming on... a back stroker.
"He had a great finish to his high school career at Ames, and we knew we had somebody, that if put in the right competitive environment, could compete with anybody. He is showing that now."
When Rhoads was looking at colleges, he liked the Iowa program from an athletic and academic standpoint, but he knew if he became a Hawkeye he would catch flak from his family. His parents, Jeffrey and Jodi Rhoads, are both Iowa State alums, and avid Cyclone fans, and his cousin, Paul Rhoads, is Iowa State's head football coach.
"I got quite a bit of grief for it, but I love the school and my parents told me to go wherever felt right," said Rhoads. "The first year I was here, it was weird, because growing up, I cheered for Iowa State. I am always going to be a little bit of a Cyclone fan, but I definitely love the Hawkeyes more now."
In Rhoads' first season in Iowa City, he posted NCAA `B' qualifying cuts in the 100 back and as a part of the 200 and 400 medley relays. In 2011-12, he swam collegiate bests in the 50 free (20.98), 100 back (47.69) and 200 back (1:43.92) at the Big Ten Championships. His 200 back time is a school record.
Rhoads says the collegiate experience and his teammates have contributed to the time drops over his first two seasons.
"I give my teammates a ton of credit," said Rhoads. "Training with people like Grant (Betulius), Byron Butler, and Tyler Lentz... they're great swimmers and knowing I have to compete every day has helped me."
Rhoads and Betulius have a friendly rivalry in the pool. Betulius is the school record-holder in the 100 back; Rhoads is third. Rhoads holds the top time in the 200; Betulius is second.
"We both hate to lose, and we push each other," said Rhoads. "I wouldn't have had the success I've had without him. At the end of the day, we're both teammates and pretty good friends. We both want each other to do the best for the team because that's the most important thing."
The rivalry has made it difficult for Long when he's filling out relay cards during meets, but it's a good problem to have.
"It is laughable trying to figure out which one to put in the 200 medley relay," said Long. "If I put one in the "A" (relay), the other one wins it. It is pushing them to another level.
"You have two of the top back-strokers in the Big Ten battling it out every day in practice. It is not helping just those two, but for the younger ones (teammates) also."
In 2012-13, Rhoads has his sights set on advancing to Indianapolis. It would mean a lot for himself, but more so for the team and program.
"My big goal is I want to try and make NCAAs," said Rhoads. "Everyone on the team, that's their biggest goal because we want to make a presence for Iowa swimming at the NCAA meet, so we can keep improving and building our program for the future."
Rhoads has grown mentally in being prepared to pursue goals.
"It is being ready to go and believing in myself," said Rhoads of what it will take the next step and get to the NCAA meet. "In the past, sometimes it is hard to get up mentally, or if you have a bad race, maybe I have taken a step back because it didn't go how I planned.
"You can't plan for anything; you have to go with whatever happens and get ready for the next race. Something different can happen in every race and you always have to be ready for the next one."
Long says Rhoads is getting better daily, and he has an unlimited potential.
"He is still on a performance curve that keeps improving," said Long. "The NCAA meet is arguably the fastest in the world. He is capable of competing there and scoring. Those are the next steps, and he showed us even more promise last year."
The U.S. Olympic Trials experience opened Rhoads' eyes to his swimming potential, and that's just a start.
"He is still in the process of believing how good he can be," said Long.