The University of Arizona Men’s Swimming Team received a verbal commitment from sprinter Justin Beach out of the Denver Swim Academy in Colorado (he represents Douglas County High School during high school season). Beach is more of a pure sprinter with a best 50 free time of 20.8 in yards and a 23.7 in long course meters. He falls off slightly as the distance increases, as his best 100 and 200 times are 46.7 and 1:42.9 in short course, while his times from the long course variants of those races are 52.0 and 1:56.7 respectively.
The 2012-13 Wildcats were phenomenal in almost every single race they competed in at NCAAs. The team rattled the 400 medley relay NCAA record of 3:01.39 set by Auburn back in 2009 with a 3:02.09 effort of their own, and current junior Kevin Cordes took breaststroke to an unprecedented level by splitting a 49.5 on the relay. He would also go on to set NCAA records in the 100 and 200 breasts with times of 50.74 and 1:48.68 respectively. Mitchell Friedemann, who was a junior last year, went a career-best time of 45.51 in the finals of the 100 back, which was good for 4th place overall, while fellow Class of 2014 sprinter Giles Smith also posted a career best time of a 45.68 in the 100 yard fly in prelims before settling for 6th with a 46.11 at night.
This is just the tip of the iceberg of what Arizona accomplished last year, though. The team also saw then-junior Kevin Steel take 2nd in the 100 breast (51.69) behind Cordes, while then-senior Carl Mickelson claimed the Consolation Final title with a winning time that was also under 52 seconds at 51.93. Mickelson would also finish 2nd behind Cordes in the 200 breaststroke with a time of 1:51.90, thus giving the Wildcats two 1-2 finishes at the NCAA championships. The list of impressive performances could go on and on, with current sophomore Michael Meyers‘ surprise 4 second drop in the 400 IM (3:42.21) that allowed him to compete in the A-final and current senior Matt Barber’s phenomenal 4:13.8 500 free that was good for 5th place both deserving recognition in the mix.
However, if there was ONE weakness that the Wildcats really had last year, it was the fact they did not have a large presence in the sprint freestyle events. Friedemann did take 16th in the 50 with a 19.9 (he went 19.5 in prelims), but that was the lone point the Wildcats scored in the shorter freestyle races, and they were completely shut out of the 100 free scoring heats altogether. The fact that then-senior Nimrod Shapira Bar-Or turned in a spectacular 42.16 split for the Wildcats at the end of their medley relay was a blessing and a demonstration of hammering down when the team needed him most, but he did not show the same spark in the individual, where he was only a 43.4 in the individual at NCAAs. Smith was also a 43.37 in the 100 free, but it took a 43.02 to make it back last year in the 100 free for a scoring final.
The freestyle relays were also much weaker than the medley relays for Arizona last year, as they had to settle for 7th place with a 1:17.97 effort in the 200 freestyle relay, and 8th in the 400 free relay with a 2:52.81 in finals. In contrast, They were the champions in the 400 medley relay and 3rd in the 200 medley relay (though they did lose their 1-year old American record to Cal).
This relative weakness sets the stage perfectly for a swimmer such as Beach. Though he certainly could use some work in his 100 and 200, he could be the exact kind of raw talent that the Wildcats need to take the team to the next level. His pre-existing focus on the 50 free makes him a prime candidate for the relays if he is given the proper training and development. He stands 6’4”, and although there are other swimmers in the class of 2014 that are faster than Beach, not many have shown the same amount of consistent improvement that the Colorado-native has. During his freshman year (2010-2011), his best time was a 22.64, and the following year, Beach improved greatly by going a 21.41 at the 5A state meet. Though he did not swim high school during his junior year, he managed to go a 20.83 at the 2013 Speedo Champions Series Western Region meet this past March. This kind of consistent improvement is exactly what Head Coach Eric Hansen would want to see in an incoming sprinter, and if he continues to improve at the rate that he has, it will be very interesting to see what he goes next spring.
Furthermore, Beach will have a great training group once he joins the Wildcats for the 2014-15 season. The team picked up Junior College sensation Bradley Tandy before the 2013-14 season, who has been 19.0 and 42.7 before, and though Tandy has been ailing from shoulder surgery, he will still be a great force for Arizona with his two years of eligibility left. Furthermore, the current freshman class includes sprint talents such as Thane Maudslien (44.5 100 free) and Carson Brindle (20.0 50 free, 45.1 100 free). Two years down the line, Beach will also have sprint talent Erik Risolvato on the team with him, though Risolvato will first spend some time with Indian River Community College down in Florida.
The Arizona Women got a big recruit of their own in the form of Canadian Paige Kremer, a sprint specialist out of the Edmonton Keyano Swim Club. Kremer is a very versatile swimmer who has been 25.8/56.2 in the 50 and 100 LCM freestyles, 1:03.9/2:18.8 in the 100 and 200 LCM backstrokes, and also 27.9/1:02.9 in the 25/50 meter butterflies. She will be a very valuable addition for Arizona both in individual events and on the relay level.
The Wildcats have had strong sprinters in recent years, and none have been better than senior Margo Geer. At NCAAs, Geer was the 2011 3rd place finisher (21.93), 2012 runner-up (21.64), and 2013 champion (21.73) in the 50 freestyle, and she also has been in the top 3 in the 100 yard freestyle all three years of college as well (3rd 2011 47.95, 3rd 2012 47.14, 1st 2013 47.19). She has also delivered phenomenal results in relays, including a 46.6 100 free split on the 400 freestyle relay from the 2013 championships and a 20.9 50 free anchor on the 200 medley relay from the same year. It will be very difficult for the Wildcats to completely replace Geer after her graduation, but Kremer may atleast partially alleviate the team’s loss.
Other sprinting talents that for the Wildcats included then-senior Meghan Lafferty (11th place NCAAs, 22.33) and senior Kaitlyn Flederbach (17th place NCAAs, 22.41). Lafferty also scored in the 100 freestyle individually with a 15th place 48.51 finish, while Flederbach finished 20th with a 48.81. These two ladies combined with Geer and graduated senior Monica Drake to take 2nd last year in the 400 freestyle relay with a phenomenal time of 3:10.41 (Drake anchored in 47.42, Georgia claimed 1st with a new NCAA record time of 3:09.40). The team also took 3rd in the 200 free relay with a time of 1:27.51, though instead of Drake, freshman Alana Pazevic anchored for the Wildcats. However, Flederbach has since transferred to Indiana, and this means that the team already has some large holes to plug before the graduation of a superstar like Geer.
With Flederbach,Lafferty, and Drake now gone, and Geer only having one year of eligibility left, the Wildcats need a swimmer like Kremer to lead the relays for Arizona. Her 25.8 50 freestyle roughly converts to a 22-mid, and the team will need her to be in the low-t0-mid 22 range in order for the relays to have firepower. This year, the Wildcats still have senior Gracie Finnegan (22.6 50 free, 49.2 100 free flat start) and senior Briana Wilford (22.7 50 free flat start), so the sprint relays will still likely do fairly well at NCAAs, but the 2014-15 season will see a very young sprint team that will need to step up in order for the relays to click.
Though it is more likely that Kremer will focus on the freestyle events, her ability to deliver a decent 100 backstroke may come into play during her freshman year at Arizona. Even though sophomore stud Bonnie Brandon has been 51.8 and 1:51.4 in both backstrokes, the graduation of sprint backstroker Lauren Smart has left the Wildcats with relatively few options in the backstroke events. Kremer’s 100 time converts to roughly a 56 mid, and though that would not immediately make a difference for the women, it is possible that she sees some action in the shorter backstroker races during her tenure with the team.