A peek at the swimming recruiting process

Ben Bravence signed an NLI with the Gophers in November.

Betsy Helfand

One of MinnesotaâÄôs swimming coaches targeted a hot commodity, and this time he got his guy.

Recruiting can sometimes be a fickle process, but when it goes according to plan, it can reap rewards.

The GophersâÄô recruiting process of Ben Bravence, a senior at Olathe East High School in Olathe, Kan., officially began on July 1 and ended Nov. 17.

July 1 is the first day colleges are allowed to communicate verbally with potential recruits under NCAA rules, and Nov. 17 was the day that Bravence officially signed a National Letter of Intent to swim for Minnesota.

âÄúWe are obviously very happy because he was one of the people that we targeted for the early signing period,âÄù associate menâÄôs and womenâÄôs head coach Bill Tramel said. âÄúHe was my number one prospect from day one when we split up the prospects that we were going to go after. ItâÄôs always nice to get the number one guy on your list.âÄù

Bravence currently swims for both the Kansas City Blazers club team and his Olathe East High School team.

A 2010 MenâÄôs Scholastic All-American, Bravence has already qualified for the upcoming Olympic Trials in the 200- and 400-meter freestyles. Bravence has twice been named the Kansas City StarâÄôs All-Metro swimmer of the year.

In the 2011 Class 6A state swimming title in Kansas, Bravence âÄî then a junior âÄî  defended his 2010 wins in the 200-meter and 500-meter freestyle event wins. He was also named the Class 6A swimmer of the meet for the second straight year.

He broke two state meet records and won three gold medals at the event last year to add to his three gold medals from state swimming events in past high school years.

Although the official recruiting process began in July, Tramel said that he first noticed Bravence about three years ago.

MinnesotaâÄôs menâÄôs and womenâÄôs head coach Kelly Kremer also said that he noticed Bravence years ago and has been impressed with BravenceâÄôs times.

âÄúIn our sport, times really donâÄôt lie, and so heâÄôs been a swimmer thatâÄôs been up-and-coming for awhile,âÄù Kremer said.

Gardner Howland, BravenceâÄôs coach on the Blazers for the past year and a half, said that during the recruiting process, he had lunch with Tramel to speak about the star swimmer.

âÄúI was able to give him the sense of the kind of training background that Ben has and the idea that he probably has a lot of improvement and a lot of his best swimming ahead of him,âÄù Howland said.

Tramel said that he and Howland go back about 20 years, and because of that, he trusted HowlandâÄôs opinion.

âÄúHeâÄôll tell me the way it is. He told me years before we really started, âÄòHey, keep an eye on this guy. Hey, this guy is going to be good,âÄôâÄù Tramel said. âÄúHe was right on with his evaluation. As I got the opportunity to watch [Bravence] swim, that just confirmed what [Howland] had told me,âÄù Tramel said.

When talking to Bravence during the recruiting process, Tramel said he emphasized the opportunities that MinnesotaâÄôs swimming and diving program offers recruits.

âÄúYou look at the program that weâÄôve built, and itâÄôs a pretty awesome opportunity here with the top-notch academics and the facilities that we have,âÄù Tramel said. âÄúUltimately a lot of things have to match up for a prospect to sign at any school. It was obviously a good match.âÄù

Tramel said that he considered things such as overall commitment level and dedication to the sport during the recruitment process.

âÄú[Bravence] is a first-class young man. He comes from a good Midwestern family with Midwestern values. ItâÄôs the whole package that I really look for. ItâÄôs not just âÄòHey, do you have a fast time?âÄô ItâÄôs so much more than that,âÄù Tramel said.

When Bravence was being recruited, he turned to Howland for his opinion.

âÄúI donâÄôt give my opinion until IâÄôm specifically asked for it, so when he asked about Minnesota, I endorsed it pretty wholeheartedly,âÄù Howland said. âÄúItâÄôs a great school, a continually present and accomplished swim team. TheyâÄôre always in the hunt; they do a good job with their athletes. Historically, athletes get faster up there.âÄù

Kremer and Tramel both noted that Bravence is very versatile, and both said they expect him to be able to contribute immediately at Minnesota.

âÄúHe definitely fills some holes that we need some help in due to graduation. HeâÄôs a great mid-distance freestyler. I envision him swimming the 200- and 500-meter freestyle for us and probably the 200-meter butterfly,âÄù Tramel said.

Tramel added: âÄúHeâÄôs a great kid, and weâÄôre really happy to have him as part of the family.âÄù