Aaron Marken swam just one year at Milan High School and wasn’t sure what to expect when he tried out for the Grand Valley State University swimming team.
Marken, now a 22-year-old senior, certainly didn’t expect to break four school records and qualify for nationals in all four of his seasons as a Laker.
“That was the crazy thing for me,” he said. “The coaching staff that we have here at Grand Valley is great. I barely made it, and then one semester of coaching later I got way better.”
It didn’t take long for the coaching staff to turn an experienced swimmer into one of the fastest breaststrokers in school history.
He progressively got better and better as the years passed and now holds the 100- and 200-yard breaststroke records with times of 54.65 and 2:01.15. He is also a part of the record-holding 200- and 400-yard medley relay teams.
“They’ve done a great job training me and really developing me into something I never expected to be,” he said.
His experience at GVSU is more than just record-breaking performances.
Marken said he cherishes the entire experience and particularly the friendships that have been created since joining the team.
“The bond you create with them is just something special,” he said. “You spend so much time with them every day, so you definitely build friends by being on the team.”
Head coach Andy Boyce applauded Marken on his ability to improve through the years.
“Each year he has continued to drop time,” Boyce said. “He broke his first record in his sophomore year, then beat it his junior year. We’re hoping to see if he can break it again his senior year.”
Boyce said Marken pays extreme attention to detail on his strokes, which really benefits his times in the water.
It’s hard to argue with the results.
“He does a phenomenal kick in the breaststroke,” Boyce said. “He’s very focused on what he needs to do in his technique.”
Assistant coach Justin Vasquez said work outside of practice has given Marken an advantage.
“His swimming IQ is definitely a strength considering he’s only been swimming for five years,” Vasquez said. “He’s been watching a lot of video of some of the best breaststrokers in the country.
“We expect him to be one of the best breaststrokers in the nation.”
Marken’s primary focus is on the GLIAC Championships, which are scheduled to take place next week, but he will also be competing at the NCAA Division II National Championships in March.
He finished 15th at nationals in 2013 in the 100-yard breaststroke with a time of 55.63 and 20th in the 200-yard by touching in 2:03.25.
He also swam a leg on the 200-yard medley team, which placed seventh with a time of 1:28.82, and on the 400-yard team, which finished in ninth place with a time of 3:18.33.
“We’re hopeful he can get into the top eight this year,” Boyce said. “It’s an extremely deep field at nationals. We’re really excited to see what he can do.”
Marken said this year’s squad has the potential to do some great things in the postseason — especially in the GLIAC Championships.
He said he hopes to win his individual events in the breaststroke at the conference meet after placing second in both the 100- and 200-yard events a year ago.
“The senior class has never won the conference meet before,” he said. “As a team, we’re really focused on winning conference.”
The medley relay teams are expected to be the favorites again this season after placing first in both the 200- and 400-medley relays in 2013.
The GLIAC Championships are set to begin on Feb. 12 in Geneva, Ohio.