Aleksi and Sapcanin headed to D-II Nationals



Sophomore Franci Aleksi recorded a program-record time of 15:34.75 in the 1650-yard freestyle at the GLIAC Championships on Feb. 22.

Evan Laux, Reporter

With a combined distance of almost 10,000 miles away, Ashland University sophomore Franci Aleksi and freshman Amar Sapcanin are definitely far from home. But that does not mean that they have not acclimated to the atmosphere of midwest Ohio.

In fact, the two are already making their mark on AU athletics in the short time they have been in the states.

The pair came to the U.S. to pursue collegiate swimming, a sport that is not traditionally offered at institutions in their nations. Aleksi and Sapcanin hail from Albania and Bosnia/Herzegovina, respectively.

Two weeks ago on Feb. 22, the pair competed in the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletics Conference Championships, each of them completing a separate achievement.

For Aleksi, it was a third place finish in the 1650-yard freestyle with a time of 15:34.75. His time earned him a nationals B-cut, and was Ashland’s fastest time in program history, beating a time set in 1996 by George Damianidis by almost 10 seconds. The time sits at No. 14 in Division II this season.

“I was very proud to set the program record,” Aleksi said. “I have been working hard in practices and coach has had me really focus on the back-half of the 1650. It’s all about endurance.”

Sapcanin also earned a nationals B-cut, his in the 200-yard backstroke with a time of 1:59.57.

He won the conference championship in the event and now holds the second-best time ever in AU history. Sapcanin was only two seconds short of Cheyne Fisher’s 2011 record. His time sits at No. 17 in Division II this season.

“I trained hard for it,” Sapcanin said. “I was a little bit nervous before it because it was my first competition with that many people swimming at the same time. It’s a part of the game.”

Aleksi and Sapcanin both met qualifications that will allow them to compete in the Division II National Championship in Geneva, Ohio. This is the first time AU has sent a swimmer to nationals since 2016 and the first time someone from the men’s team has competed in the championships since 2014.

The achievement in part was also earned by head swim and dive coach Kyle Walthall, who, according to Aleksi, “is passionate and really cares about the sport.”
“They both have an incredible drive and are just smart individuals,” Walthall said. “Traditionally, you give distance swimmers a lot of signals and tell them to do a lot of things but Franci knows how to race and actually did a lot better without those signals. In the same sense, Amar is a fantastic racer. Once he gets next to someone he wants to take it all out and be the first one to the wall.”

The 2019-2020 season is Walthall’s first year at the helm of the swim and dive team after the departure of former head coach Ron Allen. He assisted the team alongside Allen for two years before becoming head coach.

“We had a lot of other individuals who were very close to getting B-cuts and next year we’ll definitely get some more,” he said. “In my opinion, we need to be taking both genders to nationals each time. It’s definitely a huge goal of mine to bring Ashland back to having both genders show a strong presence at nationals and have as many athletes there as possible. I’d like to see a lot of purple there.”

Walthall added that young talent like Aleksi and Sapcanin will bolster the program and help to instill continued success throughout the next few years.

Moreover, the two now hold a sense of leadership that may help to encourage other swimmers to take the next step.

“One of my intentions is always to set an example for all my teammates,” Aleksi said. “They help me and I help them, that’s how it works.”

Sapcanin follows suit, explaining that the goal of the team is “to be one.”

“We didn’t have team points and scoring back in Bosnia,” Spacanin said. “It was more individual work. Here, we get to be family and work together.”

Aleksi and Sapcanin will swim their events at nationals on March 14 in Geneva, Ohio. Event times are to be announced.