Sports cut short: Iowa men’s swimmers tread in new waters

While some transferred out west to new schools, others stuck around and still see the pool every day — evoking memories never taken for granted.
Former Iowa Men’s Swim Team member Jacob Rosenkoetter at the University of Iowa Recreation Center on Thursday, March 28, 2024. (Carly Schrum/The Daily Iowan)
Former Iowa Men’s Swim Team member Jacob Rosenkoetter at the University of Iowa Recreation Center on Thursday, March 28, 2024. (Carly Schrum/The Daily Iowan)
Carly Schrum

Four years have passed since former University of Iowa athletics director Gary Barta announced University of Iowa Athletics was cutting four varsity sports. The Daily Iowan has spent the past several months tracking down the student-athletes whose NCAA careers were forced to move elsewhere or were stopped altogether. The following story is the second of a four-part series documenting the lives of some of these athletes since that point.

Charlie Feller 

In August 2020, Charlie Feller was just another college freshman moving into the dorms. In the back seat of his family’s car, surrounded by bags of clothes, Feller was about an hour in on the drive to Iowa City from his hometown of Madison, Wisconsin, when he received a text that foreshadowed a seismic shift to his collegiate career. 

The message was only four words, sent from a friend and former Iowa men’s swimmer Logan Samuelson: “Dude, I’m so sorry.” 

Startled, Feller instantly responded, “For what?” and was told to check his team’s group chat. There he found an article that shortened his future four years of swimming at Iowa to just one — all before he had even arrived on campus.

The Iowa men’s swimming and diving program would be cut after the end of the season. Feller was the first in his family to receive the news. 

“My first thought was, ‘How am I going to tell my parents?’ because I’m in the back of the car,” Feller, now a swimmer at UC Santa Barbara, remembered. “I didn’t really know what to say and I didn’t want to freak them out.” 

But inside Feller’s mind, panic began to set in, at least for a moment. The word “transfer” rang in his head as he pondered what schools he had talked to during the recruiting process, or if he even wanted to make a move at all. 

About 45 minutes later, Feller told his parents the news and was promptly bombarded by questions and condolences. The next 90 minutes were quiet, giving Feller time to stare out the window and reflect. 

“I distinctly remember thinking, ‘Just chill out,’” Feller said. “Just get there, meet everyone. And at the very least, you have a year to figure things out. Just take this time to enjoy living away from your parents for the first year of your life being a semi-adult.”

“Just see how you like all these people,” he continued. “Try as hard as you can in swimming and school, and see what happens for you.” 

Embracing this mantra, Feller attacked his first season with the Hawkeyes with vigor, competing in the Big Ten Championships and making indelible memories, most of which didn’t even involve swimming. 

Once Feller and his parents arrived to move him into Catlett Residence Hall, Feller said he was in a better mental-emotional state than others, but still conflicted over how his young collegiate career had panned out.  

“It was scary, uncertain,” he said. “I felt like I had done all this work, it was a little embarrassing …  I [had] told all my friends I had to go to training camp … and then I got cut that day. It was a mix of emotions for sure.” 

That night, the men’s and women’s teams held a gathering at a teammate’s house as a way for new student-athletes to meet their squads. Feller said some groups discussed the cutting of their sport as others walked into the house with bloodshot eyes from crying. 

“Not everyone was talking about it,” Feller said of Barta’s decision to cut certain sports. “But put it this way, no one at the house was smiling or laughing. It was a weird vibe. I don’t know if you can call that a party or whatever that was, but I’ve never been in a situation like that.” 

Feller’s first months at Iowa saw teammates and friends transfer to new schools right away and some who walked away from the sport altogether. Practices were already limited in number and participation size because of COVID-19 restrictions. With that in mind, Feller entered the portal that September and started emailing schools, betraying his earlier promise to himself. 

But it didn’t take long for Feller to refocus on his time with the Hawkeyes. In fact, the words of then-assistant coach Brian Schrader were the spark of his recommitment. That September, Schrader gave the team a speech that Feller still recalls today. 

Feller recalls Schrader saying that ultimately everyone on the team had the opportunity to swim for one more year. Swimmers could either be upset about a decision out of their control or put their feelings aside and continue all the work they’ve put in during their careers. 

With Schrader’s words echoing in his mind, Feller said he stopped worrying about what the future might hold and instead enjoyed the opportunity in front of him and the company around him as the team started its meets that January. 

After posting a 1-2 record in a pandemic-shortened regular season, the team embarked to Columbus, Ohio, for the Big Ten Championships, where they placed eighth. Feller placed fourth on the squad in the 100 and 200-meter breaststroke and posted a career-best time in the 200-meter individual medley. 

The swimmer said these times helped boost his resume during the transfer process, but said he can hardly remember what those numbers are now. Rather, he can still picture the support from the Big Ten community. 

Feller recalled how Big Ten rivals such as Michigan wore masks displaying the message, “Save Our Sport,” in advocating for the Iowa and Michigan State programs, both of whom would be cut at the end of the season. On the last day of the tournament, Feller said everyone in the building was cheering for the Hawkeyes and Spartans as they completed their final relays. 

After hugs, tears, and a team photo on the pool deck, reality began to set in for Feller.

“I was, like, ‘I don’t know what I’m doing after this,’” Feller said. “This was the buildup I’ve been working toward and now it’s all up in the air and I finally have to figure it out.” 

Feller talked with Penn State and Minnesota, but as the calendar flipped to April, he had his sights set on McGill University, a school in Montreal that doesn’t compete in the NCAA. Feller said he liked the Redbirds coach and had his application accepted, but then experienced what he called a “moment of apprehension,” as he began to question if he was making the right choice. 

With his future once again in doubt, Feller turned to then-Iowa head coach Marc Long, who he said openly encouraged his athletes to talk about their transfer aspirations that season. When Feller brought up UCSB, Long said he knew one of the Gauchos’ assistant coaches, Mark Stori, who swam at Iowa in the 1980s. The next day, Feller received an email from Stori and the pair hit it off. 

“It was a six-to-seven-month waiting period of being in the dark and not knowing where I wanted to go; then it was a two-week process,” Feller said. 

The scene at Feller’s first meet with UCSB was a far cry from what he saw at Iowa. The pool was smaller and outdoors, with no spectators allowed. The swimmer said the overall atmosphere felt a lot more low-key, in contrast to Feller’s nerves that day. 

“I felt I had a lot more to prove because I was transferred,” he said. “There’s not as big expectations when you’re coming in as a freshman and you’re already committed, but when you transfer to a school, you take up a spot and they take a chance on you.” 

The swimmer strived to make the most of his next opportunity, posting six top-10 finishes over his first two seasons in Santa Barbara. But making the move out west wasn’t a simple task, especially after all he experienced in Iowa City. 

“I had contended early on with the idea that it would be a one-year thing [at Iowa], but that didn’t make it any easier to leave,” Feller said, adding that he took a visit back to Iowa City in August 2023 to see old teammates. 

“Looking back, probably the most growth I’ve experienced in a year was my time at Iowa.” 

Preston Planells 

When Preston Planells tore through the water in the 200 backstroke, he was more than 1,100 miles away from the University of Iowa, competing in a different uniform in a different conference. 

Nevertheless, in his first-ever swim meet with the University of Utah in September 2021, Planells’ mind couldn’t detach itself from Iowa City, a place he called home for 18 months. 

“Moving to a new place isn’t fun for anybody,” he said. “I remember winning [the race] and it felt like I was doing it for Iowa when in reality I should’ve been doing it for myself.” 

Planells competed for the Hawkeyes for one year before his athletic career at Iowa fell out from under him on Aug. 21, 2020. That day, then-athletics director Gary Barta announced men’s swimming and diving would be discontinued at the end of the season due to budget cuts from the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Although initially shocked, Planells developed a determination to not just make the most out of his time at Iowa, but also to find a new home elsewhere. Now, nearly four years since Barta’s announcement, Planells doesn’t have any regrets. 

Hailing from Upland, California, Planells was a 16-time All-American and three-time team MVP at Damien High School, helping the Spartans to a division title in 2016. Upon his graduation, he had offers from Utah, Iowa, and South Carolina, but ultimately fell in love with the Hawkeyes. 

“I felt very at home when I went,” Planells said of Iowa City. “I felt like I was in a place that welcomed me with open arms … It felt like a college town and I loved that.” 

During his first season in the black and gold in 2019-20, Planells placed 16th in the 200 backstroke at the Big Ten Championships, clocking in at one minute, 45.66 seconds. 

The Hawkeyes finished sixth in the conference, but the team never made it to Indianapolis for the NCAA Championships on March 25, 2020. All NCAA spring sports championships were canceled 13 days prior due to COVID-19. 

When Barta announced the fate of the team that August, the news hit Planells like a slap in the face. He and his teammates walked into the meeting laughing, but that light mood dissipated quickly. 

“I never wanted to leave Iowa,” the swimmer said. “The first thought I had was knowing that I wasn’t going to be able to see my teammates every day. That was pretty tough.” 

Men’s swimming started at Iowa back in 1917 and since then has produced 27 Olympians, five of them earning medals. The program’s claim to fame occurred in 1935 when coach David Armbruster invented the butterfly stroke at the Field House, where the team used to compete. 

In 2010, the team’s new home shifted to the newly-built Campus Recreation and Wellness Center, a $69.2 million project that included $5.5 million for an Olympic-sized competition pool and leisure pool. Nine years later, upward of $6 million was utilized for repairs for the competition pool. 

“There’s no point [the Iowa athletic department] saying, ‘We don’t have enough money,’ if we had the Rec Center,” Planells said. “We had all these things, these great facilities for all these teams, and all of a sudden you don’t want them anymore.” 

Pandemic restrictions prohibited the Hawkeyes from having met that first semester, but the team still thrived despite its uncertainty. Planells called that time “one of my favorite semesters in college.” 

“We put everything into our training, everything into our team activities,” Planells said. “I’ve had a lot of people ask me if that semester was crucial, hard, and difficult for our team, but I’ve actually seen us get closer. I still have friends on that team that I talk to now.” 

Planells explained this increased unity was motivated by proving to the Iowa Athletics Department “how great [the team] can be and what they’re missing out on.” But even amid all the camaraderie, Planells and other teammates chose to go their separate ways, opting to transfer midseason. Throughout the transfer process, Planells had support. 

The swimmer said Iowa’s coaches made calls on his behalf to other schools. On Oct. 23, 2020, Planells committed to Utah and would make the trip westward before Iowa began its regular season. 

During Planells’ recruitment process in 2018, Utah’s head coach at the time — Joe Dykstra — said the team had the potential to get cut. But when Planells had discussions during his time in the portal two years later, elimination was “highly unlikely.” This newfound confidence swayed him to make the move. 

Over his four years in Salt Lake City, Planells said those conversations around cutting “completely disappeared” as the Utes steadily improved. From what was a 2-5 record in Planells’ first full season is now 7-3 in 2023-24.

But Planells said his heart wasn’t in the right place at first. Still blinded by the betrayal he felt from the Iowa Athletics Department, the swimmer couldn’t initially recognize his new opportunity. 

“[Utah] is amazing in its own ways,” he said.”The support from staff, coaches, and my teammates were very similar [to Iowa], but I just didn’t choose to see it.” 

Now 23 years old, Planells has new records and honors in his name. He boasts a new personal best in the 200 backstroke and was a College Sports Communicators’ Academic All-American last season. But aside from the accolades, Planells said he’s gained perspective. 

“It shaped me into who I became in my next four years at Utah,” he said of his time at Iowa. “How much I’ve learned in my first year, I wouldn’t take it away. I wouldn’t change anything.” 


Jacob Rosenkoetter 

For Jacob Rosenkoetter, every day at work features a reminder of the past. Perched atop a lifeguard chair at Iowa’s Campus Recreation and Wellness Center, Rosenkoetter gazes out at the Olympic-sized swimming pool stretched before him. The water quite literally reflects his four years as a Hawkeye swimmer, a time that he treasures but doesn’t cling to. 

“A lot of good memories, a lot of blood, sweat, and tears in that pool, but I’m content with the way my season ended and the memories I made along the way,” he said. “Honestly, that place is a fun place to still be around daily.” 

Rosenkoetter graduated from Iowa in the spring of 2021, but the born-and-raised Texan hasn’t left the Hawkeye State. Working as a lifeguard manager at the CRWC and as a high school swimming coach, Rosenkoetter stays connected to the sport he’s competed in for over a decade. 

While his alma mater’s men’s swimming team no longer exists, Rosenkoetter doesn’t let that bleak reality consume him, instead choosing to hold on to fond memories and advance the future of his sport. 

Hailing from Austin Texas, Rosenkoetter ventured northward to Iowa in 2017, declining Missouri State, UNLV, and UNC Wilmington in favor of the Midwest winter. Compared to his other options, Iowa boasted the best facilities and conference competition. 

Rosenkoetter’s first season featured immediate postseason success, as the swimmer set a career-time in the 100-meter freestyle, finishing in 45.92 seconds up in Minneapolis at the Big Ten Championships. 

Flash-forward two years later, Rosenkoetter never got to compete for the conference title, when all spring sports championships were cut due to the pandemic. 

With his dad being immunocompromised, Rosenkoetter opted to stay in Iowa City over the summer, training with teammates when possible. 

When Aug. 21 rolled around and the four teams were called into a meeting, Rosenkoetter knew something was wrong right when he walked inside. His coaches sat off to the side, their unhappy eyes glued to the floor. 

“I was a little shell-shocked,” Rosenkoetter said of Barta’s announcement. “Given the teams that were coming in, it was to be expected, but I didn’t want to accept the reality of it all.” 

While teammates such as Planells and Feller entered the portal, Rosenkoetter’s feet stayed planted in Iowa City, as he wanted not only to focus on his business analytics major but also to support others whose careers weren’t as certain. 

“I tried to put myself in the shoes of the underclassmen, and just really be empathetic to their situation because they had it rough,” he said. “Going through the transfer portal, it’s not fun finding a new home for the sport that you love.” 

“It was a little heartbreaking, just to see [the program] dissolve,” he added. 

With the swimmers who did stick around for the season, Rosenkoetter did all he could to keep them motivated at practice, as they might have another year elsewhere. Rosenkoetter said he was never planning on using an extra season of eligibility afforded by COVID-19, so the team photo in Columbus at the end of the year marked the finale of his collegiate career. 

After obtaining his bachelor's degree, Rosenkoetter now lives with former teammates. When he’s not overseeing lifeguards at the CRWC, he’s back in the pool coaching the boy’s swimming teams from Iowa City West and West Liberty High Schools. 

The teens he instructs will oftentimes ask him what happened his final year at Iowa, and Rosenkoetter works to find an ideal answer. The choice to cut was a complex decision, he said, but ultimately one he respects. He was never behind any reinstatement efforts but still feels the loss left behind. 

Rosenkoetter still recalls memories such as team trips down to Florida over winter break, where swimmers would forge lasting bonds through competition. One drill involved 100 swims the length of a football field. He remembers the exhaustion of training, but can’t ever forget the satisfaction of triumph and the joy of camaraderie.

“I tell [high school swimmers] how college life as a student-athlete is a lot of fun, but also a lot of work,” Rosenkoetter said. “But at the end of the day, it’s also disheartening to know I’m not coaching any future male Hawkeye swimmers.” 

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