‘Amazing’ Arizona State Relishing Growth to Runner-Up NCAAs Finish

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Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

‘Amazing’ Arizona State Relishing Growth to Runner-Up NCAAs Finish

Texas, California. California, Texas. Since 2010, only one team – Michigan, with its 2013 title – had broken that superpower blockade on the top two spots at the NCAA Men’s Swimming and Diving Championships.

So for all the myriad accomplishments of Leon Marchand and company, what Arizona State collectively accomplished is not to be overstated. It’s also not to be reduced to just the Frenchman and his backup singers.

The Sun Devils finished the 2023 NCAA Men’s Championships with 430 points. That trailed California’s 482, but it bested the 384 of Texas and the 379 of Indiana.

Impressive as that sounds, it is worth underscoring: Texas and California had finished either first or second at all but one of the last 12 NCAA Championships. Put another way: Since 2010, there have been 26 top-two trophies handed out at NCAAs. Texas and Cal own 24 of them.

Now Arizona State has one. A school that finished 24th in that 2010 meet, itself progress from 31st the season before. A team that in 2016 tied for 44th place with two points scored at NCAAs, alongside Cornell, Harvard and Penn State. (In case you’re wondering, Penn, Yale and Princeton outscored them, so Arizona State was bottom half of the Ancient Eight.)

And now they’re one spot below Cal on the national stage.

“That’s crazy,” Marchand said. “Last year we were sixth, and we knew that we could do better the next year. And then we did. Obviously we wanted to win, like everyone. But when you see that you’re kind of close to Cal that won several times the NCAAs, it’s just amazing to do that with ASU. I’m just excited for the future.”

It is crazy, and it’s just the start. Arizona State is more than Marchand, much as his NCAA records in the 200 IM, 400 IM and 200 breaststroke are the clear standout individual performances of the meet. The Sun Devils finished second in both relays on opening night to go with three bronze medals and a fifth.

It speaks to a culture that is elevating everyone, not just one superstar.

“I think what’s crazy about ASU is that we’re building everything,” Marchand said. “There’s no tradition, there’s no culture in that past. So those guys like Cody Bybee and Grant House, they came in like five years ago and have been building it, and we continue to improve it every year. The team spirit is great now, and I think it’s going to be better every year.”

“It just means that our plan has been good,” coach Bob Bowman said. “We’re still working towards it. We haven’t gotten certainly where we want to go. But it’s really a testament to these guys and how hard they worked and their ability to build a culture that would allow us to compete at this level.”

Perhaps most telling is when it comes to youth: Cal didn’t have a freshman score in the meet, their lone rookie points coming in diving. All told, there were 13 A final swims by freshman at the meet. Five of those came from Sun Devils – two from Hungarian Olympian Hubert Kos, two from Owen McDonald and one from Zalan Sarkany.

Swimmers like House and Bybee, among others, have set the template, and the talent has helped that reach new heights. The young swimmers will have to take a larger role in setting the direction of the program next year. But the future is bright.

“I’m super pleased with those freshmen guys,” Bowman said. “They all have a lot of ability, and they’re just figuring out how to do this. So I’m very excited about what we’re going to do this summer and next year and beyond.”

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Frank A Wilson
Frank A Wilson
11 months ago

Excellent analysis! The Sun Devils will build on this finish!

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