An A+ Student Of the Sport: Destin Lasco Leading Cal In Pursuit Of Another NCAA Title


An A+ Student Of the Sport: Destin Lasco Leading Cal In Pursuit Of Another NCAA Title

The best swimmers recognize the value of process above simply results. For Cal’s Destin Lasco, the combination of training plus other steps to ensure success in swimming and in life beyond the sport makes the experience—not the times and the rewards.


Consider the list of swimmers who have spearheaded a remarkable decade-and-a-half for California men’s swimming since Dave Durden took over as head coach. In that span, which includes 12 consecutive top-two finishes at the NCAA Championships and five national titles, the likes of Nathan Adrian, Tom Shields, Damir Dugonjic, Ryan Murphy, Andrew Seliskar and Ryan Hoffer all have multiple individual wins.

Destin Lasco, a junior from Linwood, N.J., will be favored to join that exclusive group in 2023. Two years ago, Lasco arrived at Cal as a highly-touted recruit and immediately became one of its most valuable performers. When he first arrived in Berkeley, many of the veterans swimming with the program were locked in on the delayed Tokyo Olympics, and Lasco got himself up to speed by observing the more accomplished men in the adjoining lanes, including multi-time Olympic champion Murphy.

“At that time, I was with Murph, Bryce (Mefford), Daniel (Carr), Andy Song, Zheng Quah—all these guys that would throw down in practice,” Lasco said. “I would go underwater, under the lane line and watch them underwater and see how their strokes were different, see what Ryan was doing versus Daniel. That’s how I basically catapulted my success because I was just learning so much from all of them. I wouldn’t ask them too many questions, but I would just observe and see what they were doing and how they were taking care of their bodies after practice.”


At the end of that college season, the Cal freshman broke out at the NCAA Championships by capturing three individual top-three finishes and three top-two relays. Among Lasco’s individual swims was a second-place effort in the 200 backstroke. He refused to back down before heavy favorite Shaine Casas, who already had two individual wins under his belt, and Lasco was rewarded with a second-place finish. He also became only the third man in history to break 1:36. Lasco ended up as the Golden Bears’ top individual scorer on a team that finished only 27 points behind national-champion Texas.

“When we were down the last day, Dave in a meeting went down every single step of what we had to do to win the meet, and for me, it was to race Shaine Casas in the 200 back,” Lasco said. “I was like, ‘I’m going to go for it. I’m going to give this guy a run for his money.’ And we both popped 1:35s in the 200 back.”


The approach was simple, and Lasco carried it into the national meet one year later in Atlanta, where the Bears wrested the title back from Texas with a 51-point win. Lasco set the tone on the first full day of competition as he knocked almost two seconds from his previous best time in the 200 IM on the way to a second-place finish, even making up ground on NCAA-record-breaker Leon Marchand on the final length. Lasco finished in 1:38.21, nearly breaking Caeleb Dressel’s existing record of 1:38.13 in the process.

Over the course of that meet, Lasco swam on four Cal relays, all of which finished fourth place or better, and he was entrusted with the anchor leg on all three freestyle relays, including the 200 free relay, a race he learned he would be participating in “like 30 minutes before when Dave told me.” He placed fourth in an extremely tight 100 back final before coming from behind to beat Carson Foster and earn an NCAA crown in the 200 back.

“I was like, ‘I do not want these kids to experience what (finishing) second place (as a team) is like at NCAAs.’ That was my priority, to put in the work so we didn’t have to experience that, and also to push them to score points and make the finals,” Lasco said. “Coming out with the win (in the 200 back) and also having a really deep field in that race—Bryce just came off getting fourth at the Olympics…Daniel Carr, Carson Foster…the list goes on—to get my hand on the wall first, especially in a field like that, it was very fulfilling and full-circle.”


Once again in 2023, Cal will have national-title hopes, and Lasco will be at the center of those efforts as a favorite to repeat as national titlist in the 200 back—with Murphy’s American record of 1:35.73 very much in jeopardy—and a contender for the top spot in the 100 back. He faces an uphill battle to get ahead of Marchand in the 200 IM, but he could join the Frenchman in 1:37-territory with just a small drop from last year’s best.

Following the departures of Carr and Trenton Julian, Lasco will play an even more vital role on the Bears’ relays. While he is not known for individual success in freestyle races, he has consistently split 41s on Cal’s 400 free relay, and at the midseason Minnesota Invitational, he posted a 1:30.79 split on the 800 free relay, a career-best by almost a second.

“That meet (NCAAs), you never know how it’s going to go down, how fast people are going to swim in prelims, so for me, it’s always making A-final and scoring the maximum amount of points that I can for my team,” Lasco said. “When I do that, I feel like all the times take care of themselves.”

Championship teams ride momentum at the NCAA Championships, and year after year, Durden’s Cal squads always show up and swim fast, outperforming their pre-meet psych sheet projections by large margins even in years when they don’t win the title. Lasco attributes that success to Cal prioritizing the end-of-season meet above all else, even at the cost of faster times along the way.

“Especially a meet like NCAAs, you have to make sure you have your aerobic base and you have to have your speed,” Lasco said. “What I figured out with Dave is you can’t be resting all the time because I have such an intense schedule at NCAAs. It shows with the guys, too. Bjorn (Seeliger) is a big-rest guy, and we just save our juice for March because that’s where champions are made, and that’s where the most pressure is. Pressure forms diamond basically.”


Outside of college swimming, Lasco has yet to match his short course success in long course. He placed fifth in the 200 meter back at both the 2021 U.S. Olympic Trials and 2021 U.S. International Team Trials, and he tied for fourth in the 200 IM at the latter meet. But Cal practices extensively in long course, including an early January training camp at the Olympic Training Center that consisted exclusively of long course workouts, and Lasco believes that continued work on precise timing in long course will yield strong returns.

“Yards comes natural to me,” Lasco said. “I’ve been blessed to have good underwaters, so that’s all taken care of, but for me, for long course, what I’ve been working on to improve is my tempo. I build my speed in yards off my turns, and in long course, you don’t have turns. It’s all tempo and rhythm, so that’s what I’ve been working on nonstop this past season, my tempo. I keep it simple as that because I feel like I do put in the work to swim a correct 200 long course. It’s having tempo, but not slipping at the same time.”

Most of all, it’s not that next championship or leveling-up in long course that pushes Lasco daily, but the daily grind of getting to that point.

“What pushes me is enjoying the process and enjoying the grittiness of not only swimming, but the full package of being who I want to be, and for me, that’s being a great swimmer, but also being a great student as well and doing well in both,” Lasco said. “Being at Cal, it’s super easy to be motivated because of the amount of talent and depth we have at practice every day.”

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