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Call it a Comeback! Coach Bowman's Programs In Fantastic Shape After Team Redshirt Season

Jul 22, 2021

By Griffin Fabits, Sun Devil Athletics Graduate Assistant

About this time last summer, Bob Bowman and his staff were grappling with the prospect of running a collegiate swim and dive program in the midst of a pandemic, knowing the team was going to take a year off from competing.

Their athletes were away and in-person meetings were prohibited, so they settled on virtual workouts and Zoom meetings to guide the way, like nearly every other athletics program in the country.

Not ideal, no, but it's easy to take solace in the plan when it's Bowman leading the charge, the head coach of Team USA in 2007, 2009 and the 2013 World Championships.

And just a year later, Bowman and his staff helped 17 Sun Devils reach the Olympic Qualifiers, a huge boost from the four that competed in 2016.

Two incoming Sun Devils -- Jarod Arroyo and Leon Marchand -- qualified for the 2021 Tokyo Olympics, along with a handful of alums who will also compete.


Bowman will be there too, serving once again as a member of USA Swimming's coaching staff.

"That really represents the highest level that we can attain in our sport," Bowman said, "so it's good that we can have a number of Sun Devils at that level."

It is a terrific story of perseverance during one of the most uncertain times in sports, how a group of Sun Devils unlocked childhood dreams more than 12 months after their worlds were collectively upended. It also marks what Bowman and his staff believe to be the prologue of a new era in Tempe, where Sun Devils are routinely and abundantly representing their home countries on the grandest stage in sports.

"It's really nice to see them being a factor at the Olympic Trials. It wasn't just having people qualify, we had lots of people in the finals and semifinals where we didn't have any five years ago. 

"We're now being relevant at that stage, which is important."


Bowman outlines a certain kind of standard for his programs, one that served him well as the head coach of the University of Michigan from 2005-08. Named Arizona State's head coach in 2015, Bowman's impact has steadily increased the quality of Sun Devil swim and dive.

Both the men and women's teams have seen healthy jumps to the top of both the Pac-12 Conference and the NCAA leaderboards. In Bowman's first year, the men finished in 44th place at the NCAA Championship. In 2019 -- the last year the event was held --  they soared to No. 21.

The women's squad saw similar results, jumping 11 spots from 2016-19 in the championships for a top-20 finish two years ago.

There have also been nine Pac-12 Champions in the program since Bowman joined.

It has been evident that the Sun Devils are on the doorstep of something special, something Bowman hopes can parlay into conference championships and team national titles.

And, with so many Sun Devils competing in both the Olympic Qualifiers and the Tokyo games this summer, it's a nice introduction for many across the globe to the program Bowman and his staff have tirelessly constructed.

At the very least, regardless of what happens in Tokyo, Bowman will use this summer as a springboard for the direction of his program moving forward. There's a new standard set in Tempe for his athletes, that competing on a global stage under this coaching staff is certainly feasible.

But it also opens the door to the kind of conversation he can have with recruits, the type of advanced dialogue that not every program in America has the luxury of having.

You want to compete for conference championships, national titles, even a gold medal for your home country?

Come be a Sun Devil, he says.

"When you leave ASU, you're going to have a world-class education and you'll have a world-class athletic experience with a bunch of fantastic people," he said. "I want anybody who leaves this program to know they had every opportunity to be the best they can be and to go as far as their ability will take them."

It's what attracted Marchand, who holds the French 400 IM national record at just 19 years old, all the way to Tempe.

"It's great to know we're attracting people in the top two or three percent of the recruiting class," Bowman said. "That's obviously going to help us move up in the rankings and do better at everything we do."

"We have some other people coming in who are going to support him and want to come and do something special at ASU."

Included in that world-class experience was many opportunities through the generosity of Sun Devil donors who made philanthropic gifts. Those donations assisted in offsetting a variety of expenses that included costs to attend Olympics trials, meals, travel, and more. The program relies heavily on these gifts to continue to enhance the ASU experience for its student-athletes to compete at the highest levels.

Along with Marchand, the headliner of this incoming recruiting class, the Sun Devils have a terrific batch of freshmen who will arrive at Arizona State this fall.

All are eager to keep growing the program, to keep lifting the standard. They see what past, current and incoming Sun Devils are capable of achieving even on a global stage.

And to think just one summer ago, these were dreams and aspirations and bulletin-board materials being discussed inside the program over Zoom calls and virtual meetings.

But there is, of course, solace in the plan when Bowman's leading those conversations.

"There will be some years where we can maybe contend for a title, there will be some years we won't. But, we'll be in that conversation all the time and I think that's pretty much what you can ask out of a collegiate program."

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