The Tie in Tucson: Can’t Split Arizona and ASU Men After Intense Rivalry Showdown

Photo Courtesy: Blake Benard/Cronkite News

By David Rieder.

First came the drawn-out chants of “ZO-NA! ZO-NA!” from the team clad in red and blue on the side of the pool. After barely a second of silence, a quick-paced “A-S-U! A-S-U!” cheer emanated from the young men and women in maroon and gold lined up along the upstairs railing inside the Hillenbrand Aquatic Center.

It was the men’s 400 IM, a key race in a tied meet between Arizona and Arizona State. Those cheering in the stands were members of Arizona State’s non-travel squad that had woken up at 6 a.m. on a Saturday morning to drive down to Tucson and support their team. Those Sun Devils were in the parking lot grilling hotdogs before any other swimmers, coaches, officials or fans even arrived at the pool.

“It’s our team. It’s our school,” ASU senior Cole Miller said while taking a break from cheering. “The biggest part of swimming fast is fans. With swimming, you don’t have a lot of them, so we came down. We want them to swim fast—they’re like our brothers, our sisters. This means a lot to us, especially since this is against our rival.”

The Sun Devil men had proven to be a worthy in-state rival for the Arizona Wildcats a year earlier. In 2016, Bob Bowman’s first season as ASU head coach, the team broke a 14-year losing streak against Arizona in front of a packed house at Mona Plummer Aquatic Center.

Back on their home turf this time around, the Wildcats were plenty eager to return the favor. The ASU men entered ranked No. 13 in the country in the most recent CSCAA poll, and Arizona was just behind at No. 17. Bowman and Arizona head coach Rick DeMont had agreed beforehand that both teams would put on racing suits for the occasion.

On a warm, sunny day in Tucson, it was game on.

The Wildcat men jumped out to an early advantage, winning the first two events and five of the first seven—including the 200 fly, where Arizona junior Justin Wright pulled away from ASU’s Patrick Park down the stretch and finished in 1:42.55, the sixth-fastest time in the country this season.

Leading 86-61 at the first break, the Wildcats had momentum, but ASU came out in the next event and promptly finished 1-2-3 in the 100 free. The Sun Devils were chipping away at the lead before Andrew Porter—who transferred from Arizona to ASU after the 2015 season—won the 100 fly in 46.35 to tie the score. With only the 400 IM and 400 free relay to go, both teams had 129 points.

But during that 400 IM, the Sun Devils’ hopes of victory seemed to evaporate as quickly as four military jets in formation whizzed by. Arizona’s Nick Thorne pulled away to win the race, and teammates Ricky Maestri and Steven Medvedev finished third and fourth, respectively, putting Arizona up nine going into the final relay.

That meant ASU had to have a one-two finish to win the meet. Even though DeMont’s team had the advantage, he admitted to feeling some nerves as the men stepped up on the blocks.

“That’s why we wake up in the morning, for situations like that, for the adrenaline and the energy involved in it,” DeMont said.

For a few moments, it looked like Arizona’s nightmare scenario was unfolding. Sun Devil relays indeed occupied the top two spots at the halfway point, but Arizona sophomore Chad Idensohn pulled ahead of Reid Elliott and the ASU B-team on the third leg, and anchor Parks Jones held on for a second-place finish.

Arizona’s men had apparently won by a final score of 147-145. Both women and men erupted on deck in victorious celebration. One swimmer shouted, “This is our pool!”

But as the teams were preparing to congratulate each other, venue announcer Jeff Commings came back on the microphone. The Sun Devils had actually picked up two additional points from the B-team’s third-place finish in the relay. They, too, had scored 147 points. It was a tie.

Tons of emotion and energy expended on either side, two hours of intense racing, and the two teams, based just 115 miles apart, were still deadlocked. Now what?

“We both kind of just shake hands,” Bowman said. “Nobody feels really great or really terrible. You just kind of say nice job—it’s a pretty day, and let’s drive home.”

But standing on deck after the meet, neither head coach seemed all that upset about the final score. And with good reason: after the Arizona and ASU women and men combined to finish 0-10 in their January dual meets, this was each team’s best effort so far of the new year.

Bowman shouted out Porter, Molinari, Cameron Craig and Richard Bohus for their clutch efforts, and he was just as thrilled with his women’s team. Arizona won the women’s meet 180-118, but led by double winners Kat Simonovic and Silja Kansakoski, the Sun Devil women scored 30 more points against the Wildcats than they had in 2016.

Wright and Thorne were the standout performers for the Arizona men, and the women, who will sure to be a contender for a top-ten finish at next month’s NCAA championships, got strong backstroke efforts from Annie Ochitwa, Taylor Garcia and Cameron McHugh, while sprinter Katrina Konopka blasted free relay splits of 21.62 and 48.65.

Both Bowman and DeMont credited the atmosphere of the rivalry meet for making all those efforts possible.

“It’s very different, and there’s nothing quite like it. The energy is fantastic,” Bowman said.

“There’s a lot of passion and intensity when these two schools get together,” DeMont said. “Those guys are doing a great job. I think it really makes this state a whole lot better.”

Right, plenty of positives and a great day of racing, but the teams still tied. What highly competitive rivals could be satisfied with that?

Well, they’re not. Sure, the efforts were excellent by early February standards, but this dual meet was only chapter one. On March 1, the Wildcats and Sun Devils will be among the six teams in action at the men’s Pac-12 championships in Federal Way, Wash. Three weeks after that, there’s the NCAA championships in Indianapolis.

You want a winner between the Arizona and ASU men? One will be determined soon enough.

All commentaries are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Swimming World Magazine nor its staff.

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5 years ago

Well done as always David.

Some observations I found interesting.

During the first break UofA coach Rick DeMont was interviewed on the TV broadcast. In the background you could see the scoreboard and an exhibition effort in the pool. The scoreboard said, “Idensohn” and stopped at :19.71, faster than the :19.87 winning 50 time by UofA’s Chatham Dobbs. Idensohn (unless there is a second UofA sprinter named Idensohn or the name on the scoreboard had simply been left unchanged from the prior heat ) had been tied for 4th in the scoring 50 at 20.08 with teammate JP Beach, behind ASU’s Porter and Duskinas at 20.04 and 20.05, respectively. Four athletes within .04 seconds, with the front two being ASU and the latter two being for their opponent. All in a meet that ended in a tie. With one of the latter two swimming :19.71 ten minutes after the scoring race. The same swimmer had blasted a :19.98 Fly split in the winning medley relay.
The 200 free was in a sense a reversal of the 50 circumstances; this time ASU (Craig) won by a good margin, as Dobbs had in the 50, followed by 3 grouped Wildcats, separated by .02 and .20, and then two Sun Devils, just .03 and .04 back, unable to break up the consecutive UofA scorers. Thus, 2nd through 6th went from 1:37.23 through 1:37.47
The 400 IM presented another instance where close finishes in the lower (4th/5th) scoring positions was outcome determinative in what ended up as a tied meet. ASU’s Ben Olszewski, who had a close win in the 500 just a few events earlier, rallied from 7th (last) at the 300 of the 400 IM to finish 5th (1 point), just .04 out of the meet determining 4th (2 points), having gained 3.55 seconds on the 4th place finisher in that last 100.

Both of the dive events had only three entrants; the 4th place 2 points and 5th place 1 point went unscored on both boards. If either team simply entered another diver, they win.

Fascinating. Fun. Future.

5 years ago

Thanks for resolving the mystery on the :19.71 during the break. Interesting to see Tandy is staying in shape!

5 years ago

“With one of the latter two swimming :19.71 ten minutes after the scoring race. The same swimmer had blasted a :19.98 Fly split in the winning medley relay.” —- As we have since learned that the :19.71 during the break was swum by former Wildcat Brad Tandy, and not current Wildcat Idensohn, I was concerned that my “same swimmer” comment might have created some confusion over who had performed the sub-20 Fly split on the Medley Relay. I want to make sure Idensohn receives full recognition and credit for his outstanding fly split on the Medley Relay.

Swim Fan
5 years ago

The announcer couldn’t even wait for the officially tallied points that right after the relay teams touched the wall, he immeditely declared that UofA had won the meet!!! How embarrassing is that, and how unfair was that to take that moment away from the ASU team. How can you not count the 3rd place finisher’s points when every point is crucial to a very close rivalry meet? Worst of all, right after all the announcement was made and the chanting from the host team UofA, the announcer started playing, “All I do is win win win…” and the more the Arizona team got louder with the trolling!

Another thing that was so uncalled for was how the UofA men’s team booed their former teammate (who now swims for ASU) Andrew Porter, when he was behind the blocks being announced before the 50 Free race!!! It was shameful, they showed no class and a very poor sportsman like conduct from from a host team nonetheless!!! Not very cool at all…

Jeff Commings
5 years ago
Reply to  Swim Fan

As the meet’s PA announcer, I can answer the first part of your comment. The crew at the timing table (including myself) were talking during the break before the 400 IM about the points scored for relays. All of us were certain that only the top two relays scored points in relays (11 for first, 4 for second). No points for third place. Even after 20-plus years of being involved in college swimming, I believed that to be true. So, I announced the win on the men’s side to Arizona seconds after the relay concluded (and the officials verified there were no early takeoffs). Thankfully, the coaches of both teams and the computer corrected us two minutes after we announced the error of Arizona winning. I felt bad about initially announcing an Arizona win, and still do to a small degree. My quickness to announce the result early was not due to a bias toward Arizona, but due to my desire to keep the crowd from wondering about the final score any longer than necessary.