Todd DeSorbo Reflects on Virginia’s Stunning 2021: ‘The Biggest Dream’

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Todd DeSorbo. Photo Courtesy: University of Virginia Athletics

Todd DeSorbo Reflects on Virginia’s Stunning 2021: ‘The Biggest Dream’

The year 2020 was supposed to be a big one for the University of Virginia. The signs all pointed to the Cavaliers fighting for an NCAA title and the team’s big names putting together some big swims.

It didn’t happen. The COVID-19 pandemic wiped out Virginia’s first chance to prove itself on the national stage. But instead of lamenting what could have been, the Cavaliers recognized their youth and turned their focus toward 2021.

And 2021 couldn’t have been much better in Virginia.

The Cavaliers won their first NCAA championship, with several individuals winning national titles along the way. Then they turned their focus to long course and put three current swimmers on the Olympic team, as well as one post-grad training with the group and another who will join Virginia in the fall.

Virginia coach Todd DeSorbo was selected as an assistant coach for the U.S. Olympic team following his crew’s stunning performance at the Olympic Trials in Omaha.

“It has been my biggest goal as a coach since 2016, when I had to be a part of one athlete’s voyage through the Olympics — ever since then my professional goal has been to be a U.S. Olympic team coach. A lot has to go into that, and you have to have some athletes make the team. But that is the biggest dream, and I couldn’t be more excited,” DeSorbo said. “I didn’t put these athletes on the Olympic team, these athletes put me on the Olympic team. Professionally, this was the biggest goal I had. My next biggest goal was to win the NCAA championship. To do this all in one year is unreal. It was a pretty special moment for me and as a coach, it is the coolest thing that can happen.”

DeSorbo didn’t think it would happen this quickly, especially considering all of his current swimmers with a legitimate shot made the team in 2021.

“Our focus was the 2024 Olympics and our goal was to put five swimmers on the Olympic team in 2024. This is definitely what we have been working toward. I didn’t necessarily expect us to be at this point this quickly. It has been extraordinary, and everything I could have wished for — and way more. I am in awe of what they have done,” he said.

And they did it on the two biggest stages in U.S. swimming.

“The fact that our athletes could perform at NCAAs against some of the best in our country, and around the world, really prepared them for Olympic Trials. Nothing in the world compares to the intensity and stress of the Olympic Trials,” DeSorbo said. “Night after night … it was like a bunch of little kids giddy and laughing about making the Olympic team. It was so much fun.”

Paige Madden qualified in the 400 freestyle and in the 200 freestyle as part of the 4×200 free relay. Alex Walsh and Kate Douglass went 1-2 in the 200 IM to punch their tickets to Tokyo. Meanwhile, Emma Weyant, who will be an incoming freshman at Virginia after deferring a year for Olympic training, won the 400 IM at trials to qualify. Plus, post-grad Catie DeLoof made the team as a member of the 4×100 free relay.

That success at the Trials and at the NCAA championships will continue to build the Virginia program as the Cavaliers look to usher in a new era in college swimming.

“Having those successes helped us at Olympic Trials, building the success from the season. It gave them confidence and that is the bottom line,” DeSorbo said. “Our first couple of years of success really helped us from the recruiting standpoint, so a lot of the top recruits will consider Virginia. I knew the University of Virginia was a place that could attract the best. I would not have come here if I didn’t think Virginia could win and produce Olympians.”

And in a matter of months, DeSorbo and Virginia achieved both of those goals, with the whole world watching.