Todd DeSorbo Leading UVA Swimmers Into Olympic Trials, U.S. Women Into Paris

Todd DeSorbo -- Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

Todd DeSorbo Leading UVA Swimmers Into Olympic Trials, U.S. Women Into Paris

Whether it’s mentoring his University of Virginia swimmers or coaching the U.S. women’s Olympic team this summer in Paris, Coach Todd DeSorbo has one goal in mind: helping his athletes perform their very best.

In the seven seasons since Todd DeSorbo accepted the head coaching position at the University of Virginia, the Cavalier women’s team has established itself as the country’s top swimming program, while the men’s group has also recorded solid results on the ACC and national levels. DeSorbo’s women were favored to win a national team title in 2020 prior to the cancellation of the NCAA Championships because of COVID-19, and when the national meet returned in 2021, Virginia went on a run of four consecutive titles, all in dominant fashion.

Senior freestyler Paige Madden was the star of that first title-winning team, and three months later, she became the first Cavalier swimmer under DeSorbo’s leadership to qualify for the U.S. Olympic team. Kate Douglass and Alex Walsh would also make it to Tokyo, each winning individual Olympic medals, and in the three years since, Douglass, Walsh and Walsh’s younger sister Gretchen Walsh, have captured a combined 18 individual national titles while establishing themselves as international forces for the United States.

gretchen-walsh, todd-desorbo

Todd DeSorbo with Gretchen Walsh — Photo Courtesy: Jaylynn Nash

His coaching accomplishments both collegiately and internationally made DeSorbo an obvious choice to lead the U.S. women’s team at the upcoming Paris Olympics, although the coach does not take his own success too seriously.

“I still look at myself as that young coach who was at UNC-Wilmington just having a good time, wearing board shorts and rainbow flip-flops every day to practice. Honestly, that’s how I’ve tried to keep it,” DeSorbo said.

“I think I’ve evolved a lot as a coach in how to build relationships and how to motivate people and how to work with athletes day-to-day and figure them out. Coaching is coaching. It’s X’s and O’s. You can be at the forefront of new things, but I think it’s more about what is the relationship that you have and how you communicate and build those relationships and build the trust and the confidence.”

After time spent as an assistant coach at UNCW and the associate head coach to Braden Holloway at NC State, Virginia was DeSorbo’s first head coaching job, and he made sure to stay true to himself. It worked: The culture of the Virginia program is authentic to DeSorbo’s intense personality. The coach acknowledges that his approach is not for everyone, and some swimmers may be better off at other programs, but those who come to UVA embrace the environment and tend to thrive.


DeSorbo and University of Florida’s Anthony Nesty, the head coach of the U.S. men for Paris, hope to bring what they have learned about trust and communication from their respective collegiate programs to the international level. DeSorbo and Nesty first began discussing what they would do as members of an Olympic coaching staff in 2021, when the two men were assistant coaches on the U.S. staff in Tokyo and roommates for the Games.

A year after that, they were the head coaches for the U.S. World Championships team, which served as something of a trial run for the practices and culture DeSorbo and Nesty wanted to build. For that meet, both coaches agreed upon assembling a coaching staff that was not split among genders, with coaches assigned to work with either the women’s team or the men’s team. DeSorbo and Nesty both lead combined-gender college programs, and the majority of the country’s best coaches guide both women and men, so this approach fit.

“We tried to create an environment for the entire team—and for the staff as well—that is as relaxed as it can be, knowing that you’re going into the biggest meet of most people’s careers,” DeSorbo said. “Just trying to create an environment that’s relaxed and has a good dynamic, and to make sure that every athlete is getting the support that they need, whether they’re a relay alternate only or if they’re somebody who’s going to swim eight races over the course of the week.

“Everybody’s important, and everybody needs the support, so we want to make sure we’re getting every athlete exactly what they need throughout the whole process.”

After Olympic Trials, the U.S. team will first assemble at a domestic training camp in Cary, N.C., and athletes’ personal coaches who are not part of the official staff will be invited to this week-and-a-half-long camp. It was a similar situation that DeSorbo was in eight years ago after leading Ryan Held onto the 2016 team bound for Rio, a week-long trip that was invaluable for the up-and-coming coach. He knows that many other personal coaches will benefit from being with the team early on in the process, and so will their swimmers.

“It’s a great experience for personal coaches, but also it’s good for us to get to know their athletes and how they operate and the workouts that they give and the cues that they give them and how they talk to them and how they relate to them,” DeSorbo said.


Before focusing on the Games, DeSorbo has to map out plans with each of his University of Virginia athletes to maximize their chances of winning Olympic gold — and he has plenty with huge Paris aspirations. Front and center will be Douglass, the gold medalist in the 200 IM at the last two World Championships and a medalist in the 200 breaststroke at three consecutive Worlds. The versatile 22-year-old has taken on daunting programs in major meets, but she will likely drop events from her Trials lineup to maximize her chances in her specialty races, set to be the 100 freestyle, 200 breast, 200 IM and possibly 50 free.

tyr-Kate Douglass of United States of America competes in the 200m Breaststroke Women Final during the 20th World Aquatics Championships at the Marine Messe Hall A in Fukuoka (Japan), July 28th, 2023. Kate Douglass placed second winning the silver medal.

Kate Douglass — Photo Courtesy: Andrea Masini / Deepbluemedia / Insidefoto

“Trying to do a heavy load at a World Championships, it’s good experience, it’s good practice. I think there’s a significant difference between an Olympic gold and silver (compared to) a World Championship gold and silver,” DeSorbo said. “At the end of the day, you want to set people up to do the best that they can do, and if they’ve got a chance to win a gold medal, you don’t want to take away from that.”

Alex Walsh is zeroed-in on the 200 IM, the event in which she won Olympic silver in 2021 and a world title one year later. That race falls toward the end of the Olympic Trials program, and Walsh will have tough competition in Douglass and Torri Huske on the domestic level, with Australia’s Kaylee McKeown and Canada’s Summer McIntosh awaiting in Paris. “I think that she’s the type of person who can see her teammates doing really well, and it’s going to get her more and more motivated and more and more excited,” DeSorbo said.

Meanwhile, Walsh’s younger sister, Gretchen, has become one of the top sprinters in collegiate swimming history after she clobbered the fastest times ever in four short-course-yards events this season. Gretchen’s long course swimming has yet to match her short course, although she did win 50 fly bronze plus a pair of relay medals at last year’s World Championships. But after placing so much focus on simply qualifying for international racing in 2023, DeSorbo thinks it’s now time for her to take the next step.

“The whole goal was to make the team. The goal was never to go and medal. The goal was to just make the team. Most often, in the U.S., if you make the team, you’re in medal contention. That’s how good the U.S. is,” DeSorbo said. “Now, it’s a lot more like the ACC-to-NCAA jump mentality: ‘Let’s do what you do to make it, and when you do, let’s go do bigger things.’ It’s hard because you can’t just overlook Trials because nobody’s guaranteed. But I think that experience last summer is going to serve her well going into this summer and just be mentally prepared.

DeSorbo will bring one more multi-event threat to Trials in Claire Curzan, who is new to the Virginia program this season after transferring from Stanford. Curzan missed the 2023 Worlds team, but rebounded to sweep the backstroke events at the 2024 World Championships while also winning silver in the 100 fly. Curzan’s challenge, however, is stepping into some of the country’s deepest and most competitive events, so for the always-positive-minded 19-year-old, DeSorbo’s message will be to focus on what can be controlled.

“Every event she’s in, the competition’s really, really stiff,” he said. “You’ve got to put yourself in position in day-to-day training to go there and swim lifetime bests. I certainly think Claire’s capable of going 57 and 2:04 in the backstrokes. Whether that’s enough, I don’t know. She might go 57 in the 100 backstroke and still get third. Same thing in the 200 backstroke. ‘Let’s just focus on those goals, and if you hit those goals, you can walk away happy and proud and satisfied that you’ve done everything you could have done.’”

Virginia’s Maxine Parker will also have a chance at qualifying for Paris for the U.S. women’s 400 free relay, a role she filled at the 2023 Worlds, and DeSorbo noted breaststrokers Emma Weber and Ella Nelson, butterflyer Tess Howley and freestyler Cavan Gormsen plus men’s standouts Jack Aikins (backstroke) and Noah Nichols (breaststroke) as other Cavaliers who could work their way into the mix.


As head coach of the U.S. women’s Olympic team, DeSorbo will fill two roles at Olympic Trials: trying to guide his Virginia swimmers onto the Olympic team and set themselves up well for Paris, while also hoping for the United States to assemble the fastest squad possible for the Games. He views the intense competition awaiting at U.S. Olympic Trials—a racing environment unlike any other selection meet in the world—as a positive force for motivation and assembling the fastest Olympic team possible.

“I want our girls to be really good, but I want (all of the swimmers at Trials) to be really good as well so that we go (to Paris) with six great relay swimmers and we got options and we put our best possible foot forward. I think people outside of UVA swimming really well is only going to elevate our swimmers swimming really well,” DeSorbo said. “A rising tide raises all ships. If teams come to challenge us, our team will step up and do even better. I think it’s a really good thing for us and USA Swimming that everybody’s doing really well right now.”

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