Grizzly goes for Olympic gold

By Scott Davis

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After an incredible three years at Oakland University, men’s swimmer Jorden Merrilees has Olympic dreams for 2016.

Merrilees grew up in Brisbane, Australia which is located on the east side of the country and is the capital of the Australian state of Queensland. He was an accomplished high school swimmer as he was a two-time finalist in the Australian Age Swimming Championships, three-time gold medalist at the 2011 Queensland Short Course Championships and six-event qualifier for the 2012 Australian Olympic Team Trials.

While Merrilees and his family were on a vacation in Washington D.C., the swimmer fell in love with the United States and knew he wanted to attend college here. Soon after, he started emailing the top-125 swim programs in the United States, including Oakland.

He took a 12-day recruiting trip visiting college campuses all over the country. OU was his second stop after Wayne State University, and he said that everything just felt right about the campus and the swim program.

“I came in September and the weather was wonderful and warm. Reminded me of home a little bit, and the campus was beautiful,” Merrilees said. “I went for a swim by myself in the pool one day and I thought it was really nice. I thought ‘these guys win so they must be doing something right.’”

Merrilees started his swim career in 2012 with a splash, earning all-league honors at the Summit League Championships and was named the Newcomer of the Championships. Even though he was succeeding in the pool, Merrilees said that it was a little bit of a rough transition going from Australia to the United States.

“Freshman year was tough. It was a really big adjustment period being away from home,” Merrilees said. “I mean the swimming is the easiest – I love it. It’s the schoolwork that’s toughest. That balance is really tough, trying to do my schoolwork and stay on top of that.”

Merrilees adjusted well in his sophomore year as he broke numerous school and Horizon League records. He became the school record holder in the 400 IM and 500 free, along with posting a Horizon League record time (1:45.19) in the 200 back at the league championships. He was the league champion in the 500 free, 200 back, 400 IM and was on the winning 400 and 800 free relay teams.

Heading into his junior year, there were a lot of eyes on the 6’2″ Merrilees to see if he could keep his impressive career going, and he did not disappoint. At the Horizon League championships, he set five league records while winning seven events. He was named the Horizon League Swimmer of the Year and Swimmer of the Meet.

“I take what [coach] Pete said the other day; me swimming well is really just the icing on the cake and the cake being the team,” Merrilees said. “We cherish the trophies and accolades, but I think it really comes back to me getting an award being a part of the team.”

With all of the success he has had, Merrilees will be red-shirted next year and will try out for the Australian Olympic swim team. The trials will take place in April 2016, and Merrilees will travel back home to Australia next semester to prepare.

Forgoing a swim season to chase his dreams of becoming an Olympic swimmer, he hopes to return for the 2016-2017 season to help continue OU’s incredible streak of winning league championships.

“You get to that point where someone blossoms like that right before your eyes and to have him step away for a year is going to be tough. There’s no question about it, we cannot replace him,” said head coach Pete Hovland. “What we can do is that it gives other people opportunities to shine, step up and follow in his footsteps a little bit.”