March 23, 2012
Arizona Athletics -
As the Arizona Men’s Swimming team fights for a promising season finish at the 2012 NCAA Championships, senior Austen Thompson sees the event as something he has been training for since he decided to come to the University of Arizona.
An event of this magnitude forces the Chandler, Ariz. native to reflect back on his time as a Wildcat and his decision to become an Arizona student-athlete at the beginning of his journey.
Although he was not highly recruited out of Brophy Preparatory College in Phoenix, Thompson was not short on opportunities and went on several recruiting trips.
“I honestly never thought I would stay in state for swimming,” Thompson said. “I always wanted to go out of state—that was my plan the whole time. When it came down to my two choices it was between Arizona and Stanford.”
Although he explored several different options, the Arizona Swimming program kept coming back to entertain his thoughts.
“I took other trips in between, but it seemed like every recruiting trip I took, I ended up comparing it to my Arizona trip and the guys on the Arizona team,” Thompson said. “I was like, ‘if I keep comparing everything to Arizona, that is obviously the place I want to be. If I keep using them as the gold standard for what I want and expect in a team, then it is everything that I want in a school.’”
Thompson’s decision was one he made on his own. His parents were behind 100 percent in their support, but wanted it to be his choice.
“We didn’t put one word in,” Austen’s mother, Karen Thompson said. “He picked his own schools, went wherever he wanted to go, but he said he had his mind made up after his recruiting trip to Arizona. He said he knew then that that was his place.”
So Thompson made it official and brought his talents to the UA. Everything fell into place immediately in his freshman year, especially after he qualified for the 2009 NCAA Championships.
“It far exceeded any of my expectations,” Thompson said. “We had a class full of talent and Olympians, but I surprised myself and made the NCAA meet. I was extremely happy with how that went. At the meet itself, I kind of choked—I didn’t have a great of a meet as I should have, but all-in-all, it gave me the experience I needed to move forward.”
Thompson continued to progress and grow as a swimmer and an individual, but made the most growth in his junior season. Once again, he found himself at the NCAA Championships.
“My junior year at NCAAs, I did my race the wrong way,” Thompson said. “I still made finals and was an All-American, but I had a shot to win a race and I blew it because I swam my race wrong. Ever since then, I told myself I would never let my emotions get the better of my racing.”
Coming into his senior season, Thompson was determined to prove that he had learned his lesson and had a perfect opportunity to do so at the 2011 Texas Invite, a race in December that the team fully tapers for to earn NCAA qualifying times.
At the meet, Thompson posted a time of 3:39.37 in the 400 IM, which was and still stands as the fastest time in the country going into NCAAs.
“In terms of applying that knowledge, it all came this year at the Texas Invite,” Thompson said. “I just learned how to properly race and the thing is, it couldn’t be any more romantic than it is, coming around my senior year.”
The event of all events, the capstone of his senior year, the capstone of his career is currently embarking on day two at the NCAA Championships.
“I’ve been thinking about this meet for four years,” Thompson said. “I’ve been excited for this meet for four years. I have known that this senior year would be something special. We have a great team, we are right where we want to be in terms of our positioning and it is going to stay that way.”
Although Arizona is one of the favorites to have a special weekend in Federal Way, Thompson knows that it will not be easy.
“We have talked about this all year as a team and have just been preparing for this three-day moment in March where all the stars have to align,” Thompson said. “It’s going to be a dogfight. We have matched every single challenge our coaches have given to us and other teams have given to us. Now it’s time to show what we’ve got.”
Although Thompson is facing the end, he cherishes the experience he has had at the UA.
“The team atmosphere here is unlike anything I’ve ever seen,” Thompson said. “When I walk on deck at meets, I actually feel like I’m walking in with a group of brothers. I look at other teams, the way they interact, their body language on deck, it’s just not like what we have at Arizona. Other teams are jealous of what we have as a team and I think that is what makes Arizona special.”