Previewing the 2021-22 Swimming Season
TEMPE -- Since Bob Bowman's hire in the spring of 2015, there has hardly been a start of a season that has generated as much excitement and anticipation than the one the Sun Devil Swimming program is soon to embark on.
The Sun Devils have continuously improved under the tutelage of Bowman and his staff. But the start of this season represents, amongst other things, the arrival of loaded freshmen classes, the return of key veteran pieces and the program-wide belief that its best swimming can happen at the Pac-12 and NCAA Championships.
LAST TIME WE SAW THEM
The last time we saw the Sun Devils in competition was early March 2020, when both the men's and women's teams were compiling top-five finishes at the Pac-12 Championships.
It's where the four-man relay team of Cody Bybee, Jack Dolan, Carter Swift and Evan Carlson pieced together top-three finishes in both the 400 free and 200 medley. The 400 relay, good for the third fastest time in the nation, broke the school record by two seconds.
And where Emma Nordin, who dominated to win the 500 free, posted a time of 4:33.74 that was the fastest in the nation.
Dolan would also go on to win Pac-12 Freshman Swimmer of the Year honors after racking up the most points by a rookie at the event.
Congratulations to @Jackdolan_23 on his Pac-12 Freshman Swimmer of the Year selection!
Jack scored the most points by a freshman (77) at the 2020 Pac-12 Championships and third-most by ANY competitor! pic.twitter.com/QM2hxDkXBU
— Sun Devil Swim/Dive (@ASUSwimDive) March 27, 2020
The NCAA Championships were nixed weeks later due to COVID-19, thus beginning the hiatus for Bowman's program, a key period in which swimmers and coaches could turn their undivided attention to training for the Olympic Trials, the Games and the start of the 2021-22 season.
Bowman's decision to redshirt the entire roster last year ensured a big chunk of the roster could return for this winter. And, because of it, the Sun Devils have a treasure trove of veteran talent on this year's squad.
Swift, Carlson, Nordin, Erica Laning, Nora Deleske and Grant House are the program's lone redshirt seniors.
But the Sun Devils will also return 15 swimmers who competed in the US Olympic Swim Trials this summer, which includes Alexander Gusev, who made it to the 400 IM final.
Redshirt sophomore Lindsay Looney, another Sun Devil representative at this summer's trials, is another big-name returner. Both Looney and Nordin were named to the USA Swimming 2021-22 National Team in September.
Good luck to Sun Devil Emma Nordin in Nebraska at the US Olympic Trials! ???? Nordin will swim in the 200M, 400M, 800M and 1500M ?? events on June 14, 15, 16 and 19th in Wave II. ??#ForksUp x #O2V |#SwimTrials21 pic.twitter.com/u6xkfyRwaC
— Sun Devil Swim/Dive (@ASUSwimDive) June 1, 2021
The Sun Devils have a terrific balance of new and old this year, the kind of equilibrium in a program that Bowman believes can produce several conference champions.
"We're better in that every class – in all five classes who are on this team – each one of those is a person who is capable of winning an event at Pac-12s," he said.
A unique byproduct of redshirting the entire roster last year means this season will feature two classes -- true freshmen plus redshirt freshmen -- who will be competing at the collegiate level for the first time. The redshirt freshmen, though on campus for all of last year, didn't have a season to compete in, but still went through workouts and training.
Thirty-two of the program's 63 swimmers are freshmen or redshirt freshmen, so coupled with the program's returning veteran leadership, Bowman and his staff also have a tremendous stockpile of young talent to work with.
Among them are true freshmen Léon Marchand, Dylan Gravley, Patrick Sammon, Charli Brown and Iza Adame, plus redshirt freshmen Jarod Arroyo, Riley Lexvold and Marte Lovberg.
Marchand, the French record holder in the 400 IM, and Arroyo, a two-time champion at the CCCAN Swimming Championships this summer, represented their countries at the 2021 Tokyo Games.
Check out this week's #BehindtheLens, featuring @ASUSwimDive team members Léon Marchand and Jarod Arroyo as they plunge into swim practice. Recognize their names? Arroyo represented Puerto Rico and Marchand represented France in the Tokyo Olympics earlier this year. pic.twitter.com/EtrgSjf8oy
— ASU News (@asunews) September 28, 2021
Gravley is another addition to the USA National Team, while Sammon is a member of the National Junior Team.
Brown was one of the top recruits in her class, Adame was a top breastroker from California, and Lexvold and Lovberg have impressed the staff after enduring a year of training and working at the college level.
"We can't talk much about them because we haven't seen them race [due to the hiatus]," said associate head coach Rachel Stratton-Mills. "With those names that we know we have seen, to just build off of that, just the whole team coming back together is going to be great."
Another boost to the program has been the addition of David Schlicht, the redshirt sophomore transfer student from the University of Arizona. Bowman called Schlicht, who had a fourth-place finish in the 400 IM at NCAAs this spring, a tremendous talent.
"When you add somebody of that caliber," he said, "it certainly helps."
It's also worth noting the official addition of Marc Briggs to the full-time staff as head diving coach. Though Briggs, a former Sun Devil Diver and a volunteer assistant coach since 2011, currently has zero divers on the roster, his hire solidifies the commitment to restoring the program.
While the 2021-22 campaign unofficially commenced with the Oct. 1 Maroon & Gold scrimmage, the Sun Devils will officially begin with regular season play on Oct. 16, when the women's team ventures up to Pullman, Washington to compete against Washington State.
The men's team won't kick things off until November 6, when they'll welcome USC to Tempe.
To stay updated all season long, follow the Sun Devils on Twitter @ASUSwimDive.