With Olympic trials and transfer on horizon, Towson’s Brian Benzing aiming high at NCAA swimming championships

Swimming can be a solitary pursuit. Just ask Towson University’s Brian Benzing.

Last week was spring break for students — except for Benzing. Because he qualified for three events at this week’s NCAA Swimming and Diving Championships, he spent two days early last week working out by himself for 90 minutes in the pool inside Burdick Hall while coach Anthony Bruno and assistant coach Emilie Petit monitored his progress.

“I can’t lie, it’s been lonely,” Benzing said March 19 with a laugh. “Swimming is — you get some fun when you have teammates and you get the music going. When it’s just you and it’s kind of quiet and you’re just swimming back and forth, it is lonely. But sometimes it’s peaceful. You get to focus on what you’re doing a bit more.”

Focus hasn’t been an issue for Benzing. Earlier this month, the senior captured his fourth straight Coastal Athletic Association title in the 100-yard breaststroke in 51.30 seconds, broke his own league record in the 200 individual medley with a time of 1:43.13, and collected a bronze medal in the 100 fly in 46.10 seconds en route to being named the championship meet’s Most Outstanding Swimmer for the third time.

Benzing owns the 11th-fastest time in the 100 breaststroke in the nation. He will compete in the 100 and 200 breaststroke and 200 IM at the NCAA Championships Wednesday through Saturday at the IU Natatorium in Indianapolis as Towson’s only representative.

Bruno joked about Benzing’s motivation, saying: “I don’t know if I would show up with me on a Tuesday during spring break.” But he said the swimmer’s drive is relentless.

“There’s not many disciplined people who are 21 or 22 and say what they’re going to do and then actually do it,” Bruno said. “He has a goal, he has a vision, and he knows where he wants to go and what he wants to do with it.”

Benzing, who grew up in Ellicott City and attended Wilde Lake until age 16 when he and his family relocated to Norway, participated in basketball, lacrosse, soccer and swimming. He thought he might be able to play lacrosse in college, but his swimming coach in Norway encouraged him to concentrate on swimming.

As a freshman in 2020-21, Benzing set a school record in the 100 breaststroke in 52.57 seconds at the CAA Championships, established two more program marks in the 50 breaststroke (24.72 seconds) and the 200 breaststroke (1:57.99), and posted the second-fastest time in the 200 IM (1:47.07).

The following year, Benzing captured CAA titles in the 100 and 200 breaststroke and 200 IM while being named the conference’s Swimmer of the Year, qualified for the NCAA Championships in the 100 breaststroke, and received All-America honorable mention.

“I wasn’t expecting to go as fast as I did my freshman year and continue to have success throughout my career,” he said. “It really has been awesome to progress like this at a high level and see that success, especially when it wasn’t really that expected.”

After that sophomore campaign, coach Jake Shrum stepped down to become an assistant coach at Virginia. Bruno was hired away from Fairfield, and both he and Benzing acknowledged deep conversations about whether the swimmer should enter the transfer portal.

“He could have just as easily left,” Bruno said. “But I felt like we had a really positive conversation where I said, ‘Hey, you have this one really good event, but if you give me the opportunity, I bet we can get you good at a lot of things.’ I think him trusting me to do that and me trusting that he was going to stick to the process and do what we were asking him to do, hopefully, he feels pretty good about that.”

Benzing shaved three seconds off the 200 IM and owns school records in the 100 (43.63 seconds) and 200 free (1:35.08) and 100 (51.25) and 200 breaststroke (1:54.64). He said he chose to stay for his senior year to graduate in May with a bachelor’s in sports management and a minor in business administration and “to finish what I started.”

Benzing did enter the transfer portal last summer and said he was contacted by every Power Five program except for Florida, Florida State and Texas. He eventually selected Indiana, which has captured the past three Big Ten crowns and was the choice for nine-time Olympic champion Mark Spitz. Benzing will compete for the Hoosiers in 2024-25.

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Benzing’s impact is especially pronounced among the Tigers, whose head coaches, senior athletics department members, and sports information directors have voted him as the Male Athlete of the Year three times. No one has earned the award four times.

Mike Gathagan, a senior associate athletic director in charge of communications, described Benzing as an ambassador for the university. He shared stories of Benzing making a swimmer from Calvert Hall feel comfortable enough for a conversation and photo and Benzing participating in a 10-minute Q&A with athletic director Steve Eigenbrot during a staff-wide meeting on Monday.

“It’s probably hard talking in front of 150 coaches and staff members and administrators, but Brian handled himself really well,” Gathagan said. “He is in some ways the face of Towson athletics right now because of what he’s doing on a national level.”

In July, Benzing completed the 100 breaststroke in 1:02.00 at the USA Swimming Futures Championships in Richmond, Virginia, and qualified for the U.S. Olympic trials on June 15-23 at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. As much as he is looking forward to that, Benzing said his greater priorities are qualifying for the finals in the three events at the NCAA Championships — without going overboard.

“I feel that if you put too much pressure on yourself and you say something like, ‘I’m going to win,’ then you lose the fun, and you can’t relax because you’re so tense, and you don’t see the result that you were hoping for and had in mind,” he said. “So if I can just go in there with the mindset of, ‘It’s my last one with Towson. So do what I can to enjoy it, but also do what I can to get back and have a second swim at night,’ that’s how I’m going to approach it.”