How Arthur Albiero Led Louisville to Its First ACC Men’s Swimming & Diving Title

Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

For Louisville head coach Arthur Albiero, the 2020-21 season was all about “getting to the next day.” In the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, the next day was never guaranteed, as one positive COVID test could shut down the whole program in an instant, to the point where the biggest celebration of the season came every time the athletic trainer notified the team that everyone tested negative.

The motto of the season was just to get to the next day and to the next event, and not leave anything behind.

So in the 40 minutes between the 200 butterfly and the 400 freestyle relay on the last day of the ACC men’s swimming championships, it felt more like three days.

The Cardinals had a ten point lead over six-time defending champs NC State, meaning their first ever ACC title would need to be decided by either a win or a runner-up finish in the 400 free relay.

“We were in attack mode for so long and then all of a sudden we had to back off on the starts,” Arthur Albiero told Swimming World. “We probably overdid it but we scared our guys in setting the (blocks) on the right number so I think our exchanges were like 0.25, 0.32 and 0.45. We still missed the school record by 0.02 and we were second by 0.17. We were legitimately thinking we could line up and race for a chance to win the meet. At that point, it was ‘ok we need to be smart and we saw the fourth guy jump in and thought ‘ok that was pretty safe.”

“We didn’t want to be third and then tie for the win. It’s like, do you punt or do you go for it on 4th down? We went for it on 4th down.”

Louisville was in a separate heat from NC State, which ended up winning the 400 free relay at 2:48.19, while Louisville was second at 2:48.37, a fair margin ahead of third place Virginia Tech (2:49.87). Louisville was crowned ACC champs by a two point margin – 1181-1179.

A sweet ending to a year that started with so many uncertainties.

“My AD sent me a text after the meet that said ‘a lot of coaches really struggled embracing the COVID protocols and all the rules and policies that needed to take place and clearly you embraced it and led it, and that was why we were successful.'”

The Most Challenging Season


Arthur Albiero and Vlad Polyakov. Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

Arthur Albiero still remembers March 12, 2020, the fateful day that the NCAA Championships were canceled, shutting down the season with just a few days to go – leaving everything the swimmers worked for gone. Instead of fighting for every point at NCAAs in Athens, the team was dispersed to their homes around the country, leaving them lost. After days and weeks of Zoom meetings and no guidance, Albiero felt he needed to change the mindset of the Cardinals to something positive.

“I just woke up one day and said we can’t keep living like this. We called a team meeting and I was trying to manufacture this because I didn’t truly feel it in my heart but I was like ‘guys we are going to be that team that is going to prevail through all of this. This is not going to change in the next week. We are in for the long haul and we can choose to roll over and play dead and woe is me or we can make the decision right now that as a program we are going to move forward in the midst of all this.’

“I challenged them to be the team that is going to prevail and thrive under these very difficult conditions we are about to face, and I needed them to embrace that idea.”

Louisville’s season, like every other school in the country, had been delayed and disrupted by COVID. They were back in June for six weeks, only being allowed about an hour in the water each day. Then a positive test in the program shut the team down for two more weeks, essentially erasing all the progress they had made.

The team didn’t have any meets in the fall semester, and was set to have its season opener in its home pool at a fall invitational, but that fell through due to the other committed teams getting contact traced.

“It was one thing after another,” Albiero said.


Arthur Albiero. Photo Courtesy: Carlos Morales

The spring semester brought more trouble for the Cardinals, who traveled to competitions with incomplete rosters because of contact tracing, and were starving for racing opportunities.

“The preparation had a lot of holes in it and we really didn’t know what we were going to get.”

So heading into ACCs, the Cardinals were only seeded to finish sixth.

“We knew we were better than that and that’s alright,” Albiero said. “It really came down to a number of guys stepping up, and across the board we competed with such fire and poise – not everything was perfect but I loved the way we competed.

“This was kind of the trademark of Louisville swimming. It’s not arms and legs, we compete with heart and we embody that.”

The ACC would look different with no fans allowed at the meet, a common occurrence for this pandemic season.

“It was like a last chance meet. There’s nobody there and no energy but every year people do something crazy,” Albiero said. “I’m talking to the guys about that that the energy wasn’t going to be there in the stands and I can see them chuckling because we hadn’t had anybody in the stands and that wasn’t anything new. We prepared for this all along. It was definitely different. It made us more reliable on each other. The energy had to come from us at all times.

Winning the ACC

The Cardinals won the 200 medley relay to start the meet, and finished Thursday and Friday with victories in the 200 free and 400 medley relays, giving themselves a 16 point lead heading into Saturday. But the six-time defending champs NC State came to play Saturday morning, and if the Cardinals were to be champs at the end of the night, they would need everyone on the team to step up.


Arthur Albiero with Kameron Chastain and Chris Lindauer. Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

“Starting the day it looked like we needed to find, give or take, 35 points on the seeds from the morning. We swam great in the morning and we were alive but we still needed to find 20 points and I didn’t know where we could find them. There was so much unknown about the miles for us and everyone else. So much training was missed or was inconsistent.”

So when the 1650s came around, sophomore Ilia Sibirtsev threw down a 14:51 in the afternoon heats to lead going into finals where he eventually finished third, lighting a spark in the rest of the team for the night.

“That was like ‘ok we aren’t done yet’ and it was momentum,” Albiero said.

“Our guys needed to do some magic there in order to get to the next event, and that was our mindset: get to the next event so we have a chance for the next event.

“We were keeping track of it but we fought for every point. We knew there was a lot of room for a lot of guys to move up. But going into the final session, I was hopeful but I wasn’t sure if the numbers added up. The guys did a great job of just competing and delivering in crucial moments.

“Close meets are fun for the audience but those of us in it, it is gut wrenching. Every moment we are on pins and needles, but it is competition! We love it. It’s why we did all the crazy things all year. Every swim was monumental. We needed Kyle Worrell and Mitchell Whyte. Every swim had to be really really good and I felt we did that one after another.

“In breaststroke we had a kid struggling, Aidan Kreiley, who was 25th in the 100, but he got in the C-Final and he went 1:55 in the finals. That was what we were talking about, that was the special moment we needed. We had it rolling and then after that – (Evgenii) Somov, and then Nick (Albiero) delivered and boom here we are, up by 10. We had to close the deal. The mindset was we fought so hard to get here that we had to finish. There wasn’t another option.”

Louisville closed the meet as ACC champions for the first time in school history.

“It was a little bit of a shock to the swimming community! We’ve been second a few times with the exception of last year where we were third but overall we have been knocking on the door,” Arthur Albiero said. “Keep knocking and all of a sudden the door opens. It was crazy with the nature of the meet and we had to go so deep in our line-up and we were missing some guys. Some stepped up and it was a two point meet. It was close! But it was a really pretty cool achievement for us.”

“We have a board in our pool with conference champions and the ACC was blank so it was nice to get it filled.”


Photo Courtesy: Jaylynn Nash

In a pandemic season where the status of the conference meet was up in the air all season, the feeling of jumping in the pool of champions was sweeter than ever. And that was why Albiero invited everyone who helped out with the program – support staff, team managers, divers, everyone else who didn’t make the trip to Greensboro, to jump in the pool with them back home in Louisville.

“I preached this all year to have an attitude of gratitude.

“I’m a grateful guy and I wanted to share that with the team and make sure we didn’t take anything for granted at all, and to finish with a championship, that is very special.”

Heading in to this week’s NCAAs in Greensboro, Louisville is seeded fifth on the psych sheet. The program has never been top four on the men’s side and will certainly be in the thick of things once the meet gets going on Wednesday night.

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