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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    “One group, one frame of mind”

    Brian Kimball - Asst. Sports Editor
    Brian Kimball – Asst. Sports Editor

    Kimball’s Bits

    Arizona athletic teams seem to have a history of underachievement, but not the Arizona swimming program. Both the men’s and women’s swim teams won national championships within the past week, something that’s been a long time coming for a program run the right way.

    It’s a sport in which no individual can be more important than the team. UA head swim coach Frank Busch repeatedly reinforces this team concept to his athletes and the response has worked wonders. In Busch’s 19 years at Arizona, the women’s squad has finished in the nation’s top 10 for 17 consecutive years, including two runner-up finishes in 1998 and 2000, and the men have finished in the top 10 in 14 out of the last 18 years.

    On top of the success in the pool, Busch’s team boasts six academic All-Americans, more than any other Arizona sport.

    “”They have good leadership and they’re real devoted to the cause and to what we believe in,”” Busch said. “”When everybody is on the same page, you’ve got a chance (to win national championships).””

    Being on the same page has been a bit of a struggle for other Wildcat teams recently.

    While the men’s basketball team might have made its 24th straight NCAA Tournament appearance, thanks in large part to the efforts of freshman Jerryd Bayless, the last time the Wildcats did anything noteworthy in the Tournament was during their Elite Eight run in 2001.

    The football team was supposed to go to a bowl game last season after hiring Sonny Dykes as the offensive coordinator, known for his high-scoring offensive scheme at Texas Tech, and because of the senior leadership on defense from Spencer

    Larsen and Antoine Cason. In reality, the defense struggled to stop opponents in key situations – see the losses to Stanford and New Mexico – and the offense was far from consistent along its way to averaging 28 points per game.

    Both the football and basketball programs have had their share of highly touted recruits like Louis Holmes, Mustafa Shakur and currently Chase Budinger, but for whatever reason, they didn’t meet expectations. Players like those came to Arizona and were patted on the back when they really hadn’t yet done anything to merit their hype. But the opposite of that is true with the swim program.

    The swim teams have sent an athlete to the Olympic Games 40 times – including assistant swim coach Rick DuMont – and accumulated 20 gold medals, nine silvers – two by UA head dive coach Michele Mitchell – and six bronzes. The USA softball team is littered with former Wildcats and has won three straight gold medals, and the track and field program has sent an athlete to the Olympics 47 times, but combined those two sports only have nine total medals, three of each color.

    The most remarkable thing about the Olympian-caliber athletes on this year’s swim squads, as well as every other member of the classy swim squad, is the way they carry themselves not only around the pool but in everyday life.

    It’s no matter senior Darian Townsend helped set a world record on the gold medal-winning South African 400-meter freestyle relay team in the 2004 Olympics. Don’t talk about senior Albert Subirats’s bronze medal in the 2007 World Championships. Instead, focus on how they answer questions about their performance.

    After the men’s team beat then-No. 2 Stanford and then-No. 11 California on back-to-back days in January, Townsend gave all the credit to the coaches and their preparations for the meet rather than thumping his own chest.

    “”It just seemed like the whole team was better prepared mentally for this weekend,”” he said. “”All the coaches did a good job getting the team together and preparing for the meet.””

    After beating then-No. 1 Texas in early February, Subirats downplayed the meet and his three individual wins and said his focus is always on how the team finishes out the year at the NCAA Championships.

    “”The ultimate goal is always to place high in the NCAAs,”” Subirats said.

    After all the firsts the swim program has accomplished this season – the men’s team going undefeated in dual meets (9-0), the women’s team winning its third straight Pacific 10 Conference title and both squads winning their first national titles – Busch had no difficulty picking his favorite moment from the season.

    “”Watching both teams walk up on the podium and being very humble, very gracious, that was easily the best part for me,”” Busch said. “”They get (the team concept), they get it and when a team gets it you have a chance (to do something special).””

    Perhaps if athletes on other Arizona teams portrayed themselves similarly and focused more on the team concept rather than padding their own stats there could be more than two Wildcat teams raising national championship banners this year.

    Brian Kimball is a journalism junior. He can be reached at sports@wildcat.arizona.edu

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