Which NCAA Team Fallen On Recent Hard Times Will Be First Back to Top Ten?

by Robert Gibbs 46

August 14th, 2017 ACC, College, News, Pac-12

Rick DeMont’s retirement as head coach of the University of Arizona men’s and women’s teams set into motion the biggest coaching changes of the summer among the top programs.  Unsurprisingly, former Arizona assistant Augie Busch left the University of Virginia head coach job to slide into DeMont’s spot, a job which Augie’s father Frank once held.  After weeks of further speculation, Virginia hired NC State associate head coach Todd DeSorbo to become the new head coach in Charlottesville.

Both men inherit programs that have floundered in recent years.  In Arizona, Busch will have his work to cut out to reverse a three-year decline.  Both the men’s and women’s teams had finished in the top ten at NCAAs as recently as 2014, but the men placed 24th and the women placed 16th this past year.  Adding insult to injury, the Wildcats’ main rivals, Arizona State, has emerged as an up and coming program after hiring the famous Bob Bowman two years ago.

In Charlottesville, DeSorbo will be dealing with something more of a mixed bag.  The women’s team continued to thrive under Busch, recording top five finishes at NCAAs and ACC victories, as the now-graduated Leah Smith emerged as a world-class distance freestyler.  The men have not faired nearly as well, facing a host of transfers out of the program, well-publicized suspensions after a hazing incident, and an inability to draw top-ranked recruits, culminating in a rock-bottom finish at NCAAs this past March, as the Cavaliers failed to score a single point.

Given the two recent hires and the trajectories, which of the three programs – Arizona men, Arizona women, Virginia men – is most likely to make it back into the top ten at NCAAs first?

Arizona Men

Of our the three teams we’re discussing, the Arizona men have fallen the furthest.  Frank Busch led stars like Darian Towsend, Albert Subirats, and Marcus Titus to a NCAA championship in 2008.  That squad also included Cory Chitwood, who the younger Busch is now bringing with him to Arizona an assistant.  The program continued to develop star power for a while, as Kevin Cordes crushed NCAA records under both Eric Hanson and DeMont, but hasn’t had the same level of swimmer the past few years.

The Wildcat men only return three individual point scorers this year: Chatham Dobbs, Chris Weiser, and Justin Wright.  Another who picked up individual points, Blair Bish, transferred to Missouri State in the wake of DeMont’s retirement.

Meanwhile, of the five men we have noted as committing to Arizona as incoming freshmen this year, only one of them is really a sprinter, so Busch is really going to have to dig deep to find the pieces to rebuild the sprint relays that are such a a big part of scoring at NCAAs.

Arizona Women

The situation for the Arizona women is a little more complicated.  Their 16th place finish at NCAAs last year was the best of any of these three programs.  While their incoming class is relatively small, they do bring in several sprinters who are already close to the times needed to score points at NCAAs, and at the very least, should help out on the Wildcat relays.  On the hand, the spate of transfers that occurred this spring and summer will probably hurt the women more.  Those transfers include Kennedy Lohman, their best breastroker, and Annie Ochitwa, who swam on four point-scoring relays at 2017 NCAAs.

Virginia Men

While Virginia men never had quite the same level of success as Arizona, they did peak with an 8th place finish in 2011 under longtime head coach Mark Bernardino.  After Bernardino’s controversial departure in 2013, the women largely continued to flourish under Busch, while the men’s team did not fair so well.  That’s not to necessarily say that the disparity in the men’s and women’s results were Busch’s fault – many of the swimmers he coached were not his own recruits and younger guys like Zach Fong and Ted Schubert have shown some promising improvement.  Still, the results were not there and Virginia struggled to attract top in-state swimmers.

DeSorbo has his work cut out for him if Virginia is to get back into the top ten at NCAAs.  He has a model for how to do that from his experience at NC State, where he was primarily responsible for sprinters.   The Wolfpack built their team around the sprint relays into one of the hottest programs in college swimming and ACC champions, and then expanded from there into one of the best all-around teams in the country.

Despite the summer’s uncertainty in the coaching situation, the Cavaliers were not hit with same wave of transfers as Arizona.  Additionally, while the Cavs’ relays may not have done great at NCAAs, they were largely manned by freshmen and sophomores, meaning that DeSorbo will not be starting from zero.  That, coupled with a diverse incoming freshman class of at least nine men, plus the buzz that DeSorbo has generated over the past few years with NC State, means that Virginia should be able to restock relatively quickly.


Obviously, there is no way of knowing for sure which of these three programs will be the first back into the top ten at NCAAs, but all appear to have the coaching staff, the history, the facilities, and the resources to be back among the elite programs in the country sooner rather than later.  It feels like DeSorbo’s success at NC State makes the Virginia men the “hot” pick, but given that the Arizona women had the best NCAA finish this past year, have a relatively strong group of freshmen coming in, and Busch’s proven track record of working with women, they’re the safer bet for ow.


  1. Swim Fan says:

    Wahoowa! Money is on the Cavalier Men for sure. Welcome to the UVA family Coach Desorbo! You have our respect and confidence and we are excited to fully support you.

  2. PAC12BACKER says:

    Zona men for sure will be back. The downward trend started when Utah beat them 2 years in a row in dual meets even with Cordes. Utah men also could use a comeback.

  3. ChandlerPruuta says:

    The main issue with uva is their lack of skill on the sprinting side. Yes, Desorbo is a good sprint coach, but when uva lacks any depth whatsoever with sprinting–hard to take something out of nothing. Hopefully the class of 2021 will have better sprinters than ’20 and ’19 but that has yet to be seen. Money on Zona women for sure.

  4. meeeeee says:

    Michigan men

  5. samuel huntington says:

    I would be concerned about the Virginia women – they lost a HUGE class this past year – Leah, Jones, Simon, and Thomas, losing all individual points besides Markkand I believe.

    • Confident says:

      Word on the street is that the Virginia athletes are very excited about the old coaches leaving and new lead coming in.

      We are near the end of August and Virginia has no assistants, any word on how it’s going

    • In the know says:

      Busch rode the wave of Bernardino’s great recruiting and left as soon as he knew the team wouldn’t do as well. He was never loyal to that team.

    • PVSFree says:

      That’s Georgetown, UVA is Wahoowa. Georgetown is not a scholarship offering program anyway but they’re on the up curve

  6. Delusional thoughts from fantasy island says:

    I’d bet on either UVA men or women, but not for 5 or 6 years.

    U of A will never (at least not the foreseeable future) make it back to top 10.
    2 reasons. 1 – Busch. He did not produce results at UVA from HIS recruited athletes. He inherited last year’s seniors and even though he locked down talented classes, they never produced. Its a sign of poor coaching/ culture development. Prior to UVA he was a mediocre coach at a mid level school (Wochomurka is putting up way better results than Busch ever did! ).
    2 – Bowman & ASU. Busch couldn’t keep talent in state in Virginia as the top school. He will enjoy ASU’s castaways for his tenure.

    UVA is interesting… DeSorbo is an elite sprint coach and a high energy persona. However is unproven as a head coach. Great assistant coaches sometimes make great head coaches (Durden, Holloway) right out of the gate. And sometimes not (Hawke, Demont). Either way my bet is on UVA but not for a while.

    • Kathy says:

      Fill in the UVA a staff before I can answer this?

      • Green Ranger says:

        Well, one way of hints if a coach might be leaving and joining a new program would be to follow their twitter. If they are a coach who tweets about their school every day or every other day, and then all of a sudden radio silence for over 5 days ish…they might be in the talks of moving to a new school. Todd’s account followed this pattern.

      • Korn says:

        Exactly what I was thinking! Gonna have to start to do some serious recruiting and many of the seniors have already declared

    • Swimmingfamily says:

      This^^^^. The fact that the question is which program will be back quicker and one of the programs in question declined under one of the coaches involved in the question answers itself. UVA will head in the right direction faster.

  7. A Girl Has No Name says:

    UVA will land a big fish assistant. It will be a fun program to watch and be a part of!

    • Emilia Smith says:

      And who would be this big fish assistant? And who are the top assistants out there that would leave their current position for one with classes starting next week?

      • Donald Heyward says:

        It’s happening. Once in, never out!

        • A Girl Has No Name says:

          I don’t know but I can bet they will be another high energy coach, with some international experience. They are going to want to go to the top!

          • Supporter says:

            It would be great if they could snag a coach who worked with Pro swimmers for this Olympic cycle

      • Updates says:

        He might want to think about pulling from D2. There are some really fast swims going on down there

        The top 400 med relay at D2 tied the time Michigan went at NCAA

  8. Kid says:

    Hopefully Minnesota

  9. Gustager says:

    Why is everyone sleeping on Michigan men

  10. Harry Dresden says:

    I’m gonna go with Auburn here mainly because nobody on this list ever really qualified as a dynasty

    • Zona Men For The Win says:

      Friendly reminder that while it wasn’t a dynasty, Arizona broke the unprecedented Auburn win streak. Not to mention pulled off the very rare mens AND women’s national championship sweep. Oh, and wasn’t Augie an assitant coach at the time? Probably a coincidence.

    • Brownie says:

      Ok Arizona was definitely on auburn level at one point though not as good they where definitely dynasty material, uva not so much ever at least not to the scope of Arizona or auburn

  11. aquajosh says:

    Florida Women. Zero points last year but they will be back to the top 10 by 2019 NCAAs. Maybe even 2018 if the freshman continue to improve at the rate they did last year, but definitely by 2019.

  12. Fly100 says:

    Florida women

  13. azfan400 says:

    Is this even a relevant question ? How do any of the schools mentioned in this article (or any D1 school for that matter) present themselves to potential recruits? For any recruit, for at least the next 3 years no coach can say ” If you come here we can have a chance at winning NCAA’s sometime during your career”. Stanford is going to win. What is the hook that a coach could use to persuade a top 10 talent to join their school (other than, its close to home). Especially PAC 12 schools, they don’t even have a chance to win a conference title. Does “Hey, we could move into the top 10 at NCAA’s” sound like a great recruiting tool ?

  14. Wm park says:

    I’d like to see Cullen Jones replace desorbo and coach the sprinters at NC State

  15. Joel Lin says:


Leave a Reply

Name will be published. Email address will not. By commenting you agree to our Terms of Use & Privacy Policy.

Don't want to miss anything?

Subscribe to our newsletter and receive our latest updates!