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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

COMMENTARY: Valiant effort by M-swim

On paper, a third-place finish at the NCAA Championships last weekend looks like a disappointment for an Arizona men’s swim and dive team that was ranked No. 1 and boasting arguably its largest senior class in program history.

But in actuality, considering the circumstances — nine swimmers hospitalized with norovirus less than two days before competition — the effort that the men showed was gutsy and a direct reflection of the type of team that head coach Frank Busch and his staff had in place.

From day one, this team, led by seniors Jordan Smith, Jean Basson and Jack Brown, carried a swagger fueled by hunger and determination for their second NCAA title in the last three years.

The team had everything: the coaching, the talent, the leadership, the attitude.

But although the Wildcats didn’t win the hardware, sometimes the best stories come from teams that overcome adversity and do the best with the cards they were dealt.

And that is exactly what this year’s men’s team did at the NCAA Championships.

The preseason thought it was a national championship or bust, but the vision didn’t include 24 hours in the hospital less than two days before the meet that they prepared for all season.

No one could have seen this coming, but the Arizona swimmers responded, prompting Busch to call their effort “”one of the greatest performances in the history of this program.””

The team produced two individual champions — redshirt sophomore Cory Chitwood and senior Clark Burckle — and made a push from sixth to third place after a painful first day due to lingering effects from the norovirus.

The way that the team rallied together and overcame all odds to garner a top-4 finish for the eighth time in school history directly paralleled the attitude that the swimmers had all season.

Just look at their “”heart, soul, battle, passion”” chant that they scream before every competition.

Just look at the togetherness the team displayed when they marched into Austin, Texas, and won the Texas Invitational, all while qualifying the most swimmers in the field for NCAAs.

Just look at the toughness the men showed when they knocked off the No. 1, 2 and 3 teams in the country amidst some of the toughest training of the dual meet season.

They have always prided themselves on teamwork and work ethic, and despite what the final standings say, they showed that in the individual swims that they put together at NCAAs.

Chitwood and Burckle, who competed against each other growing up in Kentucky, both sat in the hospital hooked up to IVs two days before the meet that they’d dreamed about as kids.

But eventually they got out, and eventually they swam fast.

So fast that Chitwood, who missed all of last season due to shoulder surgery, dethroned last year’s champ Tyler Clary while breaking the NCAA record for the 200-yard backstroke.

Burckle, who coach Busch told the media was one of the sickest of the infected swimmers, posted some eye-popping swims and was able to battle the illness on his way to his first national championship: the 200y breaststroke.

Maybe the most impressive performance came from a swimmer who didn’t even win first place.

Basson was one of the sickest of the swimmers as well, according to Busch, but gave every ounce of energy that he had to eventually fall one-hundredth of a second short of defending his national title in the 500y freestyle.

But the event came on the first night of the competition, leaving Basson little time to recover from the illness. It showed when he started out in sixth place, but he quickly turned on the jets and came so close to doing it again, this time with the odds stacked against him. Busch called this one of the best performances in the history of the program for a reason.

Yes, this is the Arizona program that won men’s and women’s titles in 2008 and has been a national power for years on end.

For the plethora of seniors, the 2008 NCAA Championship may have been the highlight of their career at Arizona, but I can imagine that the 2010 performance, against all odds, is a close second.

The final standings say third, but Arizona’s finish warrants an asterisk just as badly as Barry Bonds’ home run record.

Regardless of the placing engraved on the men’s hardware, their 2010 NCAA championship run should go down as one of the most gutsy and impressive performances in Arizona swimming history.

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

at sports@wildcat.arizona.edu.

 

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