Arizona State Wins First NCAA Team Title Thanks to ‘Grateful’ Bob Bowman, ‘Really Proud’ Leon Marchand

arizona state, champions
Arizona State celebrates a national title -- Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

Arizona State Wins First NCAA Team Title Thanks to ‘Grateful’ Bob Bowman, ‘Really Proud’ Leon Marchand

Sixteen years ago, the Arizona State swimming program was cut, only to be revived at the last minute. The program remained mostly irrelevant on the national level and even in the Pac-12 conference until 2015, when the Sun Devils hired Bob Bowman, best known as the longtime coach of American star Michael Phelps, to come to Tempe as head coach.

Now, Bowman has led Arizona State to an NCAA team title.

Over Bowman’s nine seasons at ASU, the Sun Devils steadily gained ground on the national level, but the program’s trajectry changed with the arrival of one French swimmer in 2021. Leon Marchand had already qualified for an Olympic final before he arrived at Arizona State, but with the Sun Devils, Marchand instantly became a global superstar. In less than three years, Marchand has captured eight individual NCAA titles and five individual world titles, with his first long course world record arriving in the summer of 2023.

At the conclusion of Marchand’s first season with Arizona State, the team achieved a program-high sixth-place finish at the NCAA Championships. One year later, the Sun Devils were second, only 52 points behind longtime powerhouse California. And this season, a complete performance in Indianapolis has brought Arizona State to the apex.

Over the three-and-a-half days of racing, Arizona State scored 523.5 points, crushing Cal by a 79-point margin.

leon marchand

Leon Marchand — Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

“I’m incredibly grateful for all the people who believed when there was nothing to believe in except me telling them that maybe one day we can do it,” Bowman said. “There was a lot of mistakes made and a lot of good times and a lot of sad times and frustration. Through it all, everybody kept growing, and the program kept growing, we kept bringing in better people and when he (Marchand) came in, it took off.

“He’s the guy that made it happen. It gave everybody the example of what real excellence it at the top level, raised the level of everything everybody was doing and then attracted everything that could help us win this championship.”

This week, Marchand earned national titles in all three of his events, crushing NCAA records in the 500 freestyle and 200 breaststroke while cruising to first in the 400 IM. He now holds NCAA records in four events while ranking second all-time in the 200 free and third in the 100 free.

But the key moment in the buildup to the title came long before any of the dramatic, triumphant performances, before the world got a glimpse of Marchand’s greatness. He had to make the choice to buy into what Bowman and ASU were building.

“They were like, ‘It’s possible. If we build the team, we can do it in a few years,'” Marchand said. “I really trusted them from the beginning, and now we did it. Really happy, really proud of all the coaches and all my teammates.”

In the meet’s dramatic conclusion Saturday evening, Arizona State had arguably its finest day, with Zalan Sarkany winning the 1650 freestyle while freshman Ilya Kharun claimed first in the 200 butterflyHubert Kos finished second in the 200 backstroke, third in the 200 IM and fourth in the 100 back on the week. Less-heralded swimmers such as Owen McDonald (third in 200 IM, second in 200 back) and David Schlicht (second in 400 IM) provided key performances, showing the championship-worthy depth.

And in the relays, where Arizona State had never won a title prior to this week, the Sun Devils finished first and set NCAA records in both the 400 medley relay and 400 freestyle relay. Marchand, Jack Dolan and Jonny Kulow were part of both winning teams, Kharun joining the medley and Patrick Sammon the freestyle. Those record-setting wins followed up second-place finishes on night one in both the 200 medley and 800 free relay and a third-place result in the 200 free relay one day later.

Dolan and Kulow represent opposite ends of the Arizona State spectrum. Dolan arrived in the fall of 2019 after ASU had just finished 21st at the national level with 75.5 points. Over his five years with the program, he grew into a crucial sprint piece of the puzzle for the Sun Devils.

Kulow is a sophomore who has been the beneficiary of the system established by Bowman and the veteran swimmers on the team.

Arizona State

The Arizona State celebrations continues in the pool — Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

“I remember when I first committed, I don’t even know if we thought it was a reality. I think our class — me, Julian Hill, Alex Colson, Andrew Gray, John Heaphy, Bobby Pierce — when we came in, we didn’t even think that this could happen, so it just means the world to be able to share the moment with those guys,” Dolan said. “Seeing the culture shift from where I first came in to where it is today, not that it was bad when I got here, but it’s obviously grown a lot. It’s just been unbelievable. The people that we’ve brought in, it’s gotten better and better every single year.”

An joyous Kulow added, “Those guys that you named, those are the guys that took the risk. Those are the guys that had the opportunity to go to the established powerhouses, but they chose to come here. Coming in when the team’s already established, it means a lot, and being able to contribute means a ton. These boys are family. They are always goofing around back there, but they’re my favorite guys on the planet. Being able to get this done with them is phenomenal.”

While Bowman was the architect of this title-winning performance, a significant amount of credit for getting the team over the top also belongs to Sun Devils associate head coach Herbie Behm, a sprinter for the Sun Devils during his career and now considered one of the country’s top coaches for the shorter events. Behm has helped nurture the extensive sprint depth that has supported Arizona State’s stars in this title run.

Behind the Sun Devils, Cal took second with 444.5 points, with the program extending an astounding streak of 14 consecutive championship meets, all under head coach Dave Durden, finishing either first or second. In the aftermath, Cal star swimmer Destin Lasco could only pay respect to the dominant performance by the Sun Devils.

“ASU earned that,” Lasco said. “I will give it to them. They have a super squad, but we gave them a run for their money, and at the end of the day, that is all we can ask.”

The University of Florida took third with 378 points, just edging Indiana’s 376. Florida had surged Friday, only to deal with a disqualification in the 400 medley relay and see Indiana move ahead Saturday with a 1-2-7 performance in platform diving. However, Florida moved back into trophy position with a runner-up finish in the 400 free relay.

NC State rounded out the top five with 318 points, with Tennessee taking sixth at 231 and Texas, in legendary head coach Eddie Reese’s final NCAA meet leading the Longhorns, fell to seventh with 189 points. Texas had previously finished in the top three every season since 2008. Stanford (177), Virginia Tech (172) and Notre Dame (132) rounded out the top 10.

Final NCAA Men’s Championships Team Standings

Men - Team Rankings
  1. Arizona St                      523.5   2. California                      444.5
  3. Florida                           378   4. Indiana                           376
  5. NC State                          318   6. Tennessee                         231
  7. Texas                             189   8. Stanford                          177
  9. Virginia Tech                     172  10. Notre Dame                        132
 11. Georgia                           116  12. Auburn                            100
 13. Ohio St                            92  14. Michigan                         87.5
 15. Louisville                         84  16. Texas A&M                          81
 17. Virginia                         80.5  18. Smu                                59
 19. Alabama                            56  20. Minnesota                          40
 21. Florida St                         34  22. Southern California                31
 23. Purdue                             25  24. Lsu                                24
 24. Pittsburgh                         24  26. Miami (Fl)                         21
 27. Missouri                           19  27. Arizona                            19
 29. Towson                             18  30. Penn                               17
 31. Wisconsin                          16  32. Brown                              11
 33. UNC                                 9  34. Penn St                             8
 35. Brigham Young                       7  36. Utah                                6
 37. GW                                  3  38. Northwestern                        1
Notify of

Welcome to our community. We invite you to join our discussion. Our community guidelines are simple: be respectful and constructive, keep on topic, and support your fellow commenters. Commenting signifies that you agree to our Terms of Use

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Would love your thoughts, please comment.x