Jan. 25, 2013
By Andy Ewing
UA Communication Services
Two team national championships and 177 individual national championships by 64 individuals. That is the legacy that embodies Arizona swimming and diving. The team has a rich history, where winning is expected and champions are built. Even so, the tradition-laden program has rarely seen a winter as successful as this season's.
"To go to Nationals and do what we did in December was a pretty special time for the program," said head coach Eric Hansen.
At the aforementioned Winter Nationals, Arizona flourished. Victories were earned in three individual events and all eight relays. Meet records were broken in six of those relays. The women broke records in the 200 medley relay, the 200 free relay, the 400 medley relay, and the 400 free relay. The men broke two relay records; the 200 medley and the 400 medley. Sophomore Kevin Cordes broke two American records along the way; in the 100 and 200 breast. In the 200 breast, he became the first swimmer in history to break the 1:51:00 mark.
Cordes, along with freshman Bonnie Brandon and senior Ellyn Baumgardner, proceeded to the FINA World Championships in Istanbul, Turkey. Cordes came away from the meet with a gold medal in the 400 medley relay and a bronze in the 100 breast, and Brandon earned her silver in the 200 back. Brandon's time of 2:03.19 was the second fastest in 2012.
Freshman diver Rafael Quintero has also asserted himself at the top of the competition, most recently by winning all three diving events at the Bruin Invitational. He dominated the 1m, 3m, and platform dives against a field of some of the best divers in the nation. The three wins in the Bruin Invitational give him eight total on the season.
This type of success so early in the season is memorable, but perhaps what is more important is the impact it can have as the Wildcats prepare for their remaining schedule. Competing at the highest level can bring invaluable experience in the push for future success.
"It helped me by racing new competition, especially internationally," said Cordes. "It helped me see what I need to do at that level and how to improve. It showed me what I can work on and take to the NCAA Championships."
As usual, the team expectation is high. In last year's championships, the men placed fourth and the women came away with fifth. While that is nothing to be ashamed of, the team is far from content, and this year's goals are high.
"We want to improve on our fourth-place finish from last year and get a national title," said Cordes.
For the newcomers on the team, the pride in swimming for a contender has resonated, and the championship mentality has already been instilled.
"I love wearing the `A' on my cap," said Brandon. "It's a great feeling to be a part of a top team."
However, as the swimming and diving team knows better than anyone, the season is far from over and the goals are far from reached.
"I would like to see all of us come together towards the end; to push each other even more than we have," Brandon said. "At national championships, I think we're really going to do great things. People are going to step up and surprise themselves."
The team has several more meets before the postseason, including this weekend's home duels; Jan. 25 against Cal and Jan. 26 against Stanford. The teams will then travel to Austin, Texas before returning home to host Arizona State in the regular season finale. From there, Arizona will compete in the Pac-12 Championships in Seattle, and eventually move to the NCAA Championships at the end of March.
For now, Hansen and the team are taking it day by day, focusing on practice and the upcoming meets to finish out the year.
"What we sell is to invest in the process and the end result will be there," said Hansen. "It worked well for us in December. We're really anxious to see what we're capable of."
If what has already transpired is of any indication, the sky is the limit.