Sophomore Ress earns Big Ten’s highest honor

When sophomore Eric Ress won six of his first eight races of the 2010-2011 season and Big Ten Swimmer of the Week, he erased any doubt that he wasn’t ready to claim a spot as one of the premier swimmers in the conference.

On Tuesday, the Big Ten decided that not only had Ress earned distinction as one of the best in the conference, but he also had earned the title of Big Ten Swimmer of the Year.

“I think he’s one of the better swimmers in the NCAA, and hopefully people are going to get to know who he is by the end of this season,” said IU coach Ray Looze before the Purdue meet Feb. 5. “I think he’s a very well-kept secret, and he’s a super, super swimmer.”

The secret is out.

Ress capped off a successful dual meet season with impressive performances in the Big Ten Championships and NCAA Championships. When he won the 100-yard backstroke at Big Tens, he smacked his hand on the wall of the pool, breaking a bone.

The next day, Ress swam the 200-yard backstroke with the hand injury and still finished second, earning 17 points for the Hoosiers.

After a few weeks of healing and somewhat compromised training, Ress returned to the pool at NCAAs, placing second in both the 100 and 200-yard backstroke competitions, despite his ailing hand.

Ress tore his ACL prior to the 2009 season, forcing him to redshirt. That year, IU was at a disadvantage without Ress, Cody Weik, Nick Cordes and Ress’ roommate and teammate Jim Barbiere.

The 2009-10 Hoosiers finished fifth at Big Tens and 31st at NCAAs. With the return of all four, the Hoosiers cruised to second at Big Tens and 18th at NCAAs this

Ress’ honor makes him the second Hoosier in four years to win the award, joining Ben Hesen, who was named Big Ten Swimmer of the Year after winning the 100-yard backstroke NCAA Championship in 2008. Hesen was the first Hoosier to win the men’s award.

Ress looks to continue the tradition of Big Ten Swimmer of the Year recipients competing overseas.

He said he will attempt to follow the path of athletes like Hesen, who set the U.S. record for 50-meter backstroke in the 2008 Olympic trials, or 2007 Big Ten Swimmer of the Year Matt Grevers, who earned a silver medal in the 100-meter backstroke at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing.

Ress grabbed another award this week when he, Barbiere and six others on the men’s team were named Academic All-Big Ten athletes. The men’s swimming squad had the second-most Academic All-Big Ten athletes behind the women’s team, which had 15 swimmers and divers honored.

“I couldn’t be prouder to be a part of an IU team right now,” Ress said. “There’s a certain prestige associated with it, and at the end of the day, it just embodies everything it is to be a Hoosier.”

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