The Todd DeSorbo Effect: How Virginia Coach Led a Rise to International Stardom

todd desorbo virginia

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The Todd DeSorbo Effect: How Virginia Coach Led a Rise to International Stardom

Most people know the University of Virginia for its top academic programs and elite men’s soccer, basketball, and lacrosse teams. Until recently, no one really thought of Virginia Swimming and Diving as a swimming powerhouse. At the 2017 NCAA Championships, the women’s team finished 12th, and the men failed to register a single point. While it had a star in Leah Smith, there was no other swimmer close to her level on the team. 

Heading into the 2017-2018 season, things did not look promising for the Cavaliers. In July of 2017, then-head coach Augie Busch returned to his alma mater, Arizona, to take over from Rick DeMont, who retired after being involved with the Arizona program for 30 years. To compound issues, Busch took his top assistant, Cory Chitwood, to Tucson, and other assistant, his younger brother, Sam Busch, landed the head coaching position at Texas Christian University. 

With those moves, the University of Virginia had no swimming coaches on staff less than a month before the fall semester start date. The team had to scramble to assemble a coaching staff from scratch in just a matter of weeks. If you follow college swimming, one would know that new coaching staffs usually get finalized in the early weeks of the offseason, well before summer. Considering the circumstances, Virginia had to be creative. 

Taking A Chance 

The Cavaliers had to make a gamble in trying to revive the program. They looked to N.C. State assistant coach Todd DeSorbo, who was highly respected on the deck. He led the Wolfpack’s fast-rising sprint program, which made him an enticing prospect, but he had no head college coaching experience. 

Hiring DeSorbo didn’t seem like a move to deliver instant success but someone to rebuild the program to national prominence after a few seasons. 

He instantly exceeded expectations from Day One. At ACCs, the women regained their title, and the men improved from sixth to third. At the national level, he instantly brought the Lady Cavs back into the top 10, and the men put 19 points on the board, the most since the 2013-2014 season. 

Fast forward to today, and his achievements after four years at the helm are endless. On the women’s side, he delivered the Cavaliers’ first-ever national title back in March, and the team could have had two if the 2020 championship did not get canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The men also improved every year, registering consecutive top-10 finishes for the first time in 10 years. 

International Success 

Jul 28, 2021; Tokyo, Japan; Alex Walsh (USA) and Kate Douglass (USA) celebrate after placing second and third in the women's 200m individual medley final during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Summer Games at Tokyo Aquatics Centre. Mandatory Credit: Rob Schumacher-USA TODAY Sports

Photo Courtesy: Rob Schumacher/USA Today Sports

DeSorbo’s achievements with the Cavaliers span much further than the national level. In 2016, UVA had only one U.S. swimming Olympian and two total Olympians participating in Rio. Tokyo 2020 was a completely different story for the team, which boasted four U.S. Olympians – Alex Walsh, Kate Douglass, Paige Madden and Catie DeLoof. The number is five if including Emma Weyant, an incoming freshman. On the back of a successful Olympic Trials for the Cavs, DeSorbo was named an assistant coach for the National Team. 

The accolades continued to rack up at the Games, with all five swimmers winning medals. For significance, before Tokyo, in the history of the Olympic Games, UVA women’s swimmers had made the podium five times. 

Bright Future Ahead 

With only three years to go until Paris 2024, those women look in prime position to make the Games again. Additionally, UVA has some youngsters who should challenge for Olympic spots. Ella Nelson and Jack Aikins made the finals at Trials, and adding Matt King to the roster will be a massive boost to the Cavaliers’ star-studded sprint squad that already features Matt Brownstead and August Lamb

Considering how influential the Charlottesville school could be on the Paris 2024 USA Swimming roster, people are already talking about DeSorbo being a head coach for the team. That would be another historical achievement during his tenure as he would be the first U.S. Olympic swimming head coach from the University of Virginia. 

Regardless of what takes place in the next three years, DeSorbo has already done an outstanding job with the University of Virginia swimming program. After Augie Busch and his coaching staff departed for Arizona, UVA was in a crisis. Its next coaching hire was a make-or-break for the team. 

The athletic department took a chance with DeSorbo, and he’s more than repaid the faith put in him.

1 comment

  1. avatar

    Kaitlyn Jones was nearly as good as Leah Smith – she just had to deal with too many injuries.