A trio of Indiana University All-Americans have announced that they will return for a 5th season of collegiate swimming. Bruno Blaskovic, Jacob Steele, and Gabriel Fantoni will return for the 2021-2022 season. All three swimmers are continuing work on their undergraduate degrees with expected graduation dates in May, 2022.
Hoosiers coaches say that is all they expect to take advantage of the opportunity from their senior class among swimmers, divers, men, and women.
The group joins a growing handful of top-tier NCAA swimmers who have announced their intention to take advantage of an NCAA waiver granting all winter sport athletes, including swimmers and divers, who competed in the 2021-2022 season an extra season of eligibility because of the uncertainty surrounding the coronavirus pandemic. So far, SwimSwam has identified 11 NCAA Division I All-Americans who have said publicly that they intend to return for a 5th year next season.
The return of Blaskovic will give the Croatian-born senior a more fitting closure to his standout career. Blaskovic was due to be the Hoosiers’ top sprinter last season, but a fractured vertebra has him out of the water for 6-8 months, which includes the upcoming Tokyo Olympic Games.
As a junior in 2020, Blaskovic was named the Big Ten Swimmer of the Championships after winning the Big Ten Title in the 50 free in 18.97 and the 100 free in 41.88, in addition to a runner-up finish in the 100 fly.
The 2020 NCAA Championships were canceled, but Blaskovic ended the season as the 3rd-ranked swimmer nationally in both the 50 free and 100 free.
An 8-time CSCAA All-American, 9-time Big Ten Champion (2 individual events + 7 relays), and three-time First Team All-Big Ten selection, he will rejoin a veteran relay next season that includes rising senior Jack Franzman and has NCAA top 3 potential if Blaskovic returns to full strength. The 400 free relay, which placed 11th at this year’s NCAA Championship meet, has top 3 potential as well with Blaskovic back.
Blaskovic is working on a degree in psychology.
Steele, meanwhile, returns after earning his first two traditional CSCAA All-American honors at the 2021 NCAA Championships. There he placed 16th in the 100 backstroke in 45.80 (after a 45.48 in prelims, 15th in the 200 backstroke in 1:41.44 (after a 1:04.49 in prelims), and 32nd in the 200 IM in 1:44.96 (after a 1:43.95 at Big Tens). He also finished 3rd in the 200 backstroke at the Big Ten Championships.
As a junior, he also was named a CSCAA All-American after the NCAA Championship meet was canceled – in a year where the CSCAA opted to award all qualifiers with All-American honors.
Steele graduated high school with bests of 49.18/1:47.23 in the backstroke races, and had a huge breakout freshman year in 2017-2018 to set the tone for an All-American career.
Steele is majoring in interactive digital media, specializing in sound design. He says that he’s planning to use the extra year to pick up a minor in music scoring for digital media.
This means other senior NCAA qualifiers Corey Gambardella for the men; and Josie Grote and Bailey Kovac for the women, won’t return next season. Grote finished 4th at the NCAA Championships in the 400 IM.
Gabriel Fantoni, a Brazilian, is another 8-time CSCAA All-American, having earned at least one honor in each of his four NCAA seasons so far. The versatile backstroker has 12 Big Ten titles in his career, 6 of which have been in individual events.
In 2021, he capped off a four-year sweep of Big Ten titles in the 100 backstroke, and will have a chance next season to become the first-ever swimmer to win 5 straight Big Ten titles in the same event.
At the 2021 NCAA Championships, he finished 14th in the 100 back in 45.50 and 16th in the 200 back in 1:42.53 (after a 1:41.07 in prelims).
Fantoni is majoring in exercise science.
Steele and Fantoni, along with the return of Brendan Burns and the addition of incoming freshman Luke Barr (46.97/1:50.16) will give Indiana one of the deepest backstroke groups in the country (and maybe the deepest, depending on who from Cal and Texas return for a 5th year).
The Indiana men finished 2nd at the 2021 Big Ten Championship meet, just 44 points behind the champion Michigan Wolverines. The Hoosiers, even without Blaskovic, placed 6th at the NCAA Championships.