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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


Commentary: All the makings of a championship team

Gordon Bates / Arizona Daily Wildcat
Jacob Rader
Gordon Bates / Arizona Daily Wildcat

Regardless of the sport, championship teams have that special something — that “”it factor”” which elevates them to greatness. Three months into the 2009-2010 season, it is clear: the Arizona men’s swim and dive team has “”it.””

For the Wildcats, that factor is encompassed by team chemistry, desire and leadership.

Great sports teams have a togetherness that is untouchable. They possess a desire which is second-to-none and have the leaders to carry out their aspirations. This year’s No. 3-ranked men’s swim and dive team fits all of those descriptions.

Two years ago, the Wildcats were on top of the swimming world. With freakish talent and the coaching to go along with it, both men’s and women’s teams brought home the bacon — an NCAA national championship.

Life was good. Maybe too good.    

When the 2009 NCAA championships began, things just weren’t right, resulting in a sixth-place finish for the men’s team.

“”I think we were in the mindset of, ‘We won one, so the next one shouldn’t be so difficult,'”” head coach Frank Busch said before this season began. “”The next one’s always more difficult.””

But the lackluster team performance at NCAAs last season was a blessing in disguise for the men’s squad. It lit a fire under a dissatisfied group of then-juniors.

About 10 months have gone by since the NCAA disappointment, and Arizona now has the tools and mentality to make another run.

This group boasts a historically large group of seniors.

“”(This is) the largest senior class in all of the years that I’ve been at Arizona,”” said Busch, who has been with the program 21 years.

The team’s eight seniors, led by Jack Brown, Jean Basson and Jordan Smith, give this group an element which is unmatched by many other programs. Not only is it nice to have that experience, but the Wildcats’ upperclassmen also happen to be some of the nation’s top performers.

Basson is currently No. 1 in both the 500- and 1650-yard freestyle. Seniors Marcus Titus and Clark Burckle are first and second in the 100-y breaststroke, respectively. Brown is No. 1 in both the 200-y and the 400-y individual medley. The Wildcats also have a handful of sophomores and juniors who are among the best in their respective events.

After experiencing both the glory of 2008 and the disappointment of 2009, this group of upperclassmen has seen both sides of the spectrum. They know what it feels like to sit atop the swimming world, and they thirst to get back to the top.

“”There’s a lot of experience and just a whole lot of want with that group,”” Busch said. “”They feel like they have something special, and there’s just a lot of drive in that group. There’s a lot of drive in the women’s side too, but there’s something going on on the men’s side that’s pretty special.””

The talent and drive has been there all season, and this team is peaking at the right time — another trait of championship teams.

Brown made it clear that in 2008, the dual-meet wins against Stanford and California sparked the Wildcats’ championship run.

This year, when the Arizona men’s team competed in the Bay Area, it overcame two deficits in freezing cold, rainy weather to take down two of the nation’s top teams. The team trailed by as much as 40 points to Cal at the midway point but rallied back to win by 16.

Basson, a 2008 individual NCAA Champion, said he experienced a feeling that he has never felt in a dual meet during his four years at Arizona. The determination was there. Everyone did his part and the team grew together as one.

The Wildcats are now undefeated (6-0) in the dual meet season and tore up competition at the all-important Texas Invitational in early December. They qualified a handful of swimmers for NCAAs at the Texas meet, something very few schools managed to do, considering the fast time standards set by high-tech swimsuits which are now banned.

Make no mistake about it, anything can happen at the NCAA’s in March, but this team will be about as prepared as humanly possible. After this weekend, when they host No. 1 Texas, the Wildcats will have faced three, top-5 in the country in a two-week span. If they don’t know what it takes to be the best after that stretch, something is wrong.

So the question becomes: Does this team feel like the championship team of 2008? The answer: No.

This season has its own feeling, one engineered by the phenomenal coaching staff and strong leadership amongst the seniors. Talent was the main reason for the 2008 title. But, while this year’s team doesn’t boast all of the same athletes that made the 2008 championship a reality, it makes up for it in other ways.

This group of 34 is the epitome of a team, evident by its dominance in relay events. The Wildcats all hold each other accountable and will not settle for failure. They stand at the side of the pool cheering their hearts out, no matter the opponent. 

The Wildcats all pull for each other; they all push each other. They’ve been on the losing end and on the winning end together. They’ve grown together.

It is hard to make a prediction about the NCAA championships, as one-hundredth of a second can change everything and an entire season is compacted into three days of competition.

But after three months of the 2009-10 season, it is clear that there is something special about this team. This team has that “”it factor,”” and there is no doubt that it will do everything in its power to capture a second national championship in three years.

“”We’re going to show up when the time comes,”” Brown said, “”and we’re going to be fantastic.””

— Mike Schmitz is a pre-business sophomore. He can be reached at

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