Key Additions: Bradley Tandy (JuCo transfer – sprint freestyle, two years eligibility remaining), Renny Richmond (sprint butterfly/freestyle), Thane Maudslien (sprint freestyle/backstroke), Carson Brindle (sprint freestyle/breaststroke), Gage Crosby (breaststroke), Tyler Fowler (distance freestyle)
Key Losses: Nimrod Shapira Bar-Or (1 B-Final, 5 relays, 400 medley relay NCAA champion), Carl Mickelson (1 A-Final, 1 B-final, 2 prelim relays)
We cover the Wildcats’ 2012-2013 season extensively in the rest of this article, so we’ll be brief here. After swimming tired through Pac-12’s, Arizona had some incredible performances in what was a championship meet for the ages (across the board, not just for Arizona). Kevin Cordes was the biggest story, shattering NCAA, American, and U.S. Open records in the 100 and 200 breast, clocking 50.74 and 1:48.68 in each event. He cracked the 50-second barrier in the 400 medley relay, opening up a 2+ second lead over the field, as the Wildcats cruised to an NCAA title.
With his collective performance, Cordes altered everyone’s perceptions of just how fast human beings can legally swim short course breaststroke. In the age where everyone seems to be trying to get away with more and more (exhibit A, exhibit B, and exhibit C), there has never been a question surrounding the legality of Cordes’ starts, turns, and overall stroke. And rightfully so. He’s simply one of the most efficient swimmers ever, and while he still hasn’t quite conquered long course, it seems to be only a matter of time until he does.
In addition to Cordes doubling up, Arizona also got top six individual finishes from Giles Smith (100 fly), Mitchell Friedemann (100 back), Matt Barber (500 free), Kevin Steel (100 breast), Carl Mickelson (200 breast), and Rafael Quintero (10m platform diving). Collectively, Arizona finished comfortably in third, with 313.5 points.
With three of the four legs returning from last year’s championship quartet, Arizona should take down the field again in the 400 medley, and could even take a run at on of the fastest NCAA records on the books: the mind-bending 3:01.39 from a Jaked-clad Auburn team in 2009. Last year’s team recorded a textile record 3:02.09, highlighted by a 49.56 split from Cordes.
The Wildcats, however, have another goal in their sights: reclaiming the 200 medley relay national title. After setting the American Record at the 2012 championships, an upstart University of Michigan team blew away the field in that event last year, setting the NCAA record in the process. However, they’ll be without the services of Miguel Ortiz, Sean Fletcher, and Zach Turk, who are all out of eligibility. Michigan has some bodies to fill those gaps (John Wojciechowski will take over the fly leg, and Bruno Ortiz might switch to freestyle to make room for Richard Funk in the breaststroke spot), but their leadoff leg (Miguel Ortiz) will be tough to replace. Arizona and Cal should battle for the title (and maybe the American record) in this event.
The Wildcats open things up with Mitchell Friedemann, one of the top backstrokers in the country. More than anything, Friedemann has been a model for consistency and dependability in his best events (sprint backstroke and freestyle), leading off Arizona’s medleys, swimming critical legs on the short freestyle relays, and earning individual All-American honors each of his first three years. He has steadily improved each season, including a big lifetime best in the 100 back (45.51).
Friedemann will likely be handing things off to best in the business: junior Kevin Cordes. The NCAA and American record holder in the 100 and 200 is arguably the most important leg on any relay in the country, with his ability to instantly open up a 1.5-2 second gap over the field in a 100 breaststroke. The big things everyone is wondering: what can he possibly do for an encore, and how far is he from his ceiling? He is already unquestionably the best breaststroker NCAA history, and has broken through just about every barrier imaginable. With two more years still to go, we’ll see how much more room he has to improve, and how he readjusts his goals.
Of course, they could also use Kevin Steel, a member of the World Championship team in the 50 breast, if that Corded guy doesn’t work out.
Arizona’s go-to flyer is sprint senior Giles Smith. Like Friedemann, Smith has been consistently improving since he arrived in Tuscon. In addition to earning All-American in the 100 fly for the second consecutive year, he also elevated his sprint freestyle to a new level, cutting two tenths off his 50 free (19.59) and more than a half second off his 100 (42.63). Arizona’s biggest hole last year was the lack of an elite sprint freestyler, which inhibited their freestyle relays from finishing higher than sixth. To have any chance at an NCAA title, they’ll need Smith, Friedemann, and the man in the following paragraph to rise to the occasion.
The lone man missing from the medleys is anchorman Nimrod Shapira Bar-Or, who pulled off a great “pure sprinter” imitation last spring, splitting 19.0 and 42.1 on the 200 and 400 medley relays. Shapira Bar-Or also played a critical role on all three freestyle relays, recording the fastest times on the Arizona 4×100 and 4×200 lineups. Despite the loss, their medleys are actually in a better position, due to the addition of Bradley Tandy, the fastest 50 freestyler to ever enter the college ranks. Although he underwent shoulder surgery in July of 2012, Tandy has been training consistently for more than six months, and has competed in a couple meets, as well. While he has yet to get close to his career bests of 19.0 and 42.7, he got a big confidence boost back in February when he posted a 19.7 at the Craigie Invitational. Along with the trio of swimmers in front of him, Tandy’s potential to split 18.5 and 41-high instantly puts the Wildcats in record-setting contention.
With ten returning athletes (nine swimmers, one diver) who have NCAA experience in addition to the ones we mentioned above, the Wildcats bring plenty of additional firepower to the table, including four first team individual All-Americans. One of the most prominent names in that group is Matt Barber, who has been the cornerstone of the Arizona mid-distance group since the graduation of Jean Basson back in 2010. While Connor Jaeger and Michael McBroom were a cut above the rest in the 500 free, Barber took part in an epic four-way battle for third place, kicking off one of the better meets of his career. After totaling just one individual point over his first two years, Barber scored 16.5 points and swam on the 800 free relay last March.
Most of the time, if your team graduates a :51/1:51 breaststroker, it’s considered a big loss. However, while Arizona will have to make up for the 26 individual points Carl Mickelson scored last year (their biggest loss), he is immediately replaceable in the relay department, thanks to the rapid development of sprint breaststroker Kevin Steel. With a two second drop in the 100 breaststroke last March, Steel shocked a large portion of the college swimming community to finish second at NCAA’s. Steel kept the momentum going this summer, including his 50 breaststroke victory at the 2013 World Championship Trials. While he’s not the fastest breaststroker on the roster, Steel’s roles as the likely relay prelims swimmer and finals safety valve are vital for Arizona.
The sixth and final returning individual All-American for Arizona is sophomore IMer Michael Meyer. The South African arrived in Tuscon last fall with big expectations (his career long course best was 4:16, one of the better times in the world), but Meyer stayed under the radar until NCAA’s, when he cut 4 seconds off his 400 IM seed time to earn a sixth place finish. He narrowly missed scoring in the 200 IM, but with another year or short course yards under his belt, he should do nothing but improve.
Seniors Michael Sheppard and Woody Joye have also scored individually for Arizona each of the last two seasons. Sheppard is a bit of a one trick pony, but his one trick is a pretty good one; he went a lifetime best 1:41.70 to finish 10th in the 200 back at 2013 NCAA’s. Joye was great in his first semester at Arizona back in 2012, but fell off a bit last season. That being said, he still managed to score points in the 200 IM, and also swam on two top eight relays.
Arizona also returns NCAA qualifiers Sam Rowan, Eric Solis, and Andrew Porter, making their IM group one of the deepest in the country. In addition, Jeff Amlee, who swam on the 200 free relay last year, and Ellis Miller, who swam the prelim backstroke leg on the 400 medley relay, add some relay depth for the Wildcats.
Fresh Impacts [Not Named “Bradley Tandy”]
From a swimming perspective, Renny Richmond is essentially a Giles Smith clone. He’s the fastest 100 yard butterflier ever out of Hawaii (47.0), and has also proven to be a pretty good sprint freestyler, too, clocking in at 20.45 and 45.12 in the 50 and 100 free. Nationally, Richmond is considered to be a diamond in the rough, and with the right environment, can develop into a serious weapon.
Between Thane Maudslien and Carson Brindle, Tandy will have some other newcomers possibly joining him on some of the Arizona relays. Maudslien, a Seattle native, has been 44.5 and 1:37 in the 100 and 200 yard freestyles, as well as 48.5 and 1:43.9 in the 100 and 200 yard backstrokes. Brindle is tailored to be even more of a pure sprinter, posting bests of 20.0 and 45.1 in the sprint freestyles, plus 56.3 in the 100 breaststroke. Even with these four sprint names, his is a class that could have been even better with 19.6 50 guy Erik Risolvato, who will be spending the next two years at Tandy’s old school (Indian River in Florida) before making the jump to Tuscon.
Two other newcomers who could be solid contributors pretty early on: Gage Crosby (55-low 100 breaststroker), and Tyler Fowler (15:12 in the 1650, one of Arizona’s biggest holes).
Rafael Quintero, the 2013 Pac-12 Men’s Diving Newcomer of the Year, scored 16 individual points at NCAA’s last year, and is the defending Pac-12 champion in the 10m platform. He also earned All-American honors in that specialty at NCAA’s, finishing sixth.
This Arizona team is incredibly strong across the board. They should have an individual scorer in every single individual event (except for maybe the 1650), and realistically should have a top six finisher in at least nine events. In addition, this is the best we’ve seen their relays look for the last few years. The two biggest knocks on them being are (1) they don’t have any milers, and (2) they don’t have many “loaded” events (save the 100 breast). Every team champion has had their “calling card” events, where they really break open the meet. For Michigan, it was the mid-distance freestyles. For Cal, it was the butterfly and breaststroke events. Arizona only really has one event where they’re on track to have multiple top-end scorers.
In the end, Arizona could realistically finish anywhere between 1st and 5th (though the two ends of that range are unlikely), and while the homer in me thinks Stanford should be in the top three (and that’s still a distinct possibility), Arizona, Cal, and Michigan are the favorites to finish in the top three. Watch out for Texas, too… They have started the year red-hot.