Sophomore Adam Pongracz competes in the 200-yard butterfly during the meet against Grand Valley State on Nov. 18 in Lewellen Pool. Kaiti Sullivan, DN File
Ball State sophomore walk-on Adam Pongracz grew up around the pool
After recording a season-best time and a sixth place finish at the Eastern Michigan Invitational in the 200-yard butterfly, sophomore Adam Pongracz returned home to a pool that he has swam at for five years now.
In its last competition, Ball State traveled to Indianapolis to compete in a meet against IUPUI, Xavier and University of Indianapolis. Pongracz recorded a 54.64 in the 100-yard butterfly and 2:02.36 in the 200-yard butterfly, in a pool that he was familiar with.
“I mean, I know the pool,” Pongracz said before the meet. “I’m just going to go into it with a mindset that it’s just another meet.”
Like any swimmer, Pongracz began his swimming career from humble beginnings.
When Pongracz was eight years old, he began swimming with the Carefree Crocodiles, which is a community swim club on the southside of Indianapolis. Pongracz said at that age, he liked seeing himself improve.
“At that age, you do something little and you drop ten seconds,” Pongracz said. “Also, getting in first place is really encouraging too.”
When he was swimming with the Crocodiles, Pongracz was taught by Marcie Colwell, SwimAmerica Program Director and head coach of the Crocodiles. With Colwell’s swimming expertise, Pongracz said he learned a lot from her.
“She basically taught me the basic strokes and how to race in swimming,” Pongracz said. “I enjoyed her coaching very much. I only had her for two years, but I feel that I learned a lot from her.”
While swimming with the Crocodiles, Pongracz began swimming year-round in seventh grade, first with the Center Grove Aquatic Club and then with the Indy Dolphins in Indianapolis. Pongracz said that each year brought changes.
“But the dramatic change came in from club swimming to high school swimming,” Pongracz said. “In high school swimming, it’s more like an encouraging team basis kind of thing. While everyone is having fun, everyone is training hard.”
Pongracz swam for the Roncalli High School Rebels boys swimming and diving team, which was coached by former head coach Ed Merkling, who coached at Roncalli for 19 years and coached Pongracz from 2012-16.
When Merkling coached Pongracz, he said Pongracz was very responsive to the practices.
“Early on, he was more apt to get out of practice, because he did not know what his pain tolerance was,” Merkling said. “I think as he grew and matured, he definitely worked harder every single year and stayed in longer with his last two years being quality years of training.”
The year that stood out to Merkling was Pongracz’s senior year, where Pongracz won the 100-yard butterfly at the Marion County Championship meet.
“That was definitely an example of an athlete that grew and developed every year,” Merkling said. “He probably felt that he could have done better at sectionals, but he definitely had a great year.”
From his senior year in high school, to his freshman year at Ball State, Pongracz said he faced another change.
“With college it is a tighter chemistry between the teammates and more serious, because in college everyone is reaching the same goal, same training, and everyone wants what you want,” Pongracz said. “In a way, you can kind of use that for encouragement but also to encourage other teammates. In high school, I felt that I did not get that full time.”
Now a Cardinal, Pongracz has embraced the role of a walk-on and this season leads the team in the 200-yard butterfly.
Last season, Pongracz had turned in a 23rd finish in both the 100-yard freestyle and 200-yard freestyle. In the past season, graduate Tanner Barton said Pongracz embraced that walk-on role.
“He always comes into practices ready to work,” Barton said. “He knows in the beginning of the season he was fighting for a spot, but now he knows that he belongs here and that little bit of confidence has really showed in practice and in meets.”
Now a season later, Pongracz is leading the team in 200-yard butterfly with a 1:54.83 season-best time at the EMU Invite. Head coach Bob Thomas said that Pongracz has come a long way.
“He’s doing well and he’s healthy,” Thomas said. “I expect him to continue in his ways.”
Throughout his swimming career, Pongracz has kept one thing the same: being inspired by Michael Phelps.
“My inspiration to keep swimming has been Michael Phelps,” Pongracz said. “Seeing how he was able to win gold, have his little trip up with trouble in his life and was able to bounce back and win more gold. That has been it recently.”
Pongracz and the Cardinals will travel to Eastern Michigan Friday Jan. 19 to take on the Eagles at 5 p.m.
Contact Patrick Murphy with comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.