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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Top coaches of the year

    UA head swim coach Frank Busch shows off his two national championship trophies. The mens and womens swim teams won their first national championships in UA history.
    UA head swim coach Frank Busch shows off his two national championship trophies. The men’s and women’s swim teams won their first national championships in UA history.

    1. Frank Busch, men’s and women’s swim

    Winning two national championships is hard to do, just ask men’s basketball head coach Lute Olson.

    Trying to win two championships in two weeks is nearly impossible, but that’s exactly what Arizona head swim coach Frank Busch was a part of as his men’s and women’s swim teams delivered the school’s 16th and17th national championships after the men’s team won its title in Federal Way, Wash., and the women won their title in Columbus, Ohio, just one week earlier.

    Both squads had high expectations coming into the season, but Busch didn’t really expect both teams to deliver national titles despite the high talent level on each side.

    “”Since (the women) were second and (the men placed) third last year you want to be better than second, so you want to win at least one side and on the other side you just go, ‘Well, can we be as good or a little bit better,'”” Busch said. “”I felt like going into the year we had two teams that were going to compete for a national title.””

    With a season filled with memorable moments – such as the men’s team going a perfect 9-0 in dual meets or the women’s side winning its third-straight Pacific 10 Conference title – Busch had little hesitation when asked about his most memorable moment. He pointed to the women’s victory in the 800-yard freestyle relay at the NCAA Championships, an event they were seeded eighth in, and the men’s victory in the same event in which Busch said was “”a culmination of a team effort.””

    “”There were a lot of similarities between the two meets,”” he said. “”We led after the first day, and the next day both teams had tremendous prelim sessions and had great finals so we pulled away after the second day. We pretty much knew after day two that we could win the meet; it was ours to lose, basically, at that time.””

    With all of the success this year, Busch sees next year as potentially being another special season for the Wildcats despite losing at least two Olympians from the men’s squad and some potential Olympians from the women’s side depending on what happens at the USA Olympic Trials June 26-July 6. The men’s team will have at least four swimmers who competed at the 2008 Olympic Games and both squads will feature “”a lot of great athletes”” returning whose drive to be the best won’t be satisfied by their accomplishments from last season.

    “”I believe our kids will refocus and be in a state of mind that, ‘OK, there’s something else here now and there’s no guarantees that anything will happen,”” Busch said.

    – Brian Kimball

    2. Mike Candrea, softball

    Arizona softball head coach Mike Candrea was named the 2007 Wildcat Coach of the Year, and though he has been gone this season to coach the USA Softball team in this year’s Olympics in Beijing, he has been named runner-up in 2008.

    Candrea has been the model for consistency in all of Arizona athletics, as he led the Wildcats to their eighth national championship in softball last summer in Oklahoma City.

    Candrea led the Wildcats to the Women’s College World Series 19 out of the last 20 years. The one exception, in 2004, is when Candrea took a leave of absence to coach the gold medal-winning Team USA softball squad in the Olympics in Athens, Greece.

    Despite Candrea’s absence this season, the Wildcats are poised to make another run for a championship led by interim head coach Larry Ray, who said he will try and emulate Candrea’s winning attitude.

    “”When you think of (former UCLA men’s basketball head coach) John Wooden and all the great coaches, that’s how I think of coach Candrea,”” former standout pitcher Jennie Finch told the Daily Wildcat in January.

    – Ari Wasserman

    3. Kevin O’Neill, men’s basketball

    Kevin O’Neill didn’t sign up for everything he went through last season. He just kind of fell into it all. He wasn’t aware of the fact that he was joining an Arizona men’s basketball program that would see its head coach of 24 years, Lute Olson, take a season-long leave of absence. Suddenly O’Neill was running the show in a system “”with a lot of moving parts,”” as he put it.

    Then on April 23, O’Neill was removed from the basketball program and placed into a fundraising position until his contract expires at the end of June. O’Neill, who’s made it clear that he wants to coach for at least another 25 years, will move on to another program to seek more consistency than he saw this past year.

    “”I can honestly say I think I did the best job I could under the circumstances,”” O’Neill said. “”I believe that if we wouldn’t have had major, major injuries we would have won more games, but if cows had puppies there’d be a milk shortage, so that’s the way it goes.””

    – Lance Madden

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