Devils From Down Under: How Four Australians Found Home in Tempe
TEMPE -- Under normal circumstances, Charli Brown would've gone through the college recruitment process like any other aspiring collegiate athlete. She would've made the near 20-hour trek from Sydney, Australia, to Tempe, Arizona, to envision what the next four years of her life may look like at Arizona State and as a swimmer in Bob Bowman's program.
But the only outlet for which Brown could meet with potential teammates and coaches over summer was via Zoom, of course, given strict safety and health restrictions.
So instead, she was virtually swooned by the pitch from associate head coach Rachel Stratton-Mills, Tempe's steady sunshine and the trajectory Sun Devil Swim is on. All that stood in the way of commiting to Arizona State was what Brown would be leaving behind -- her hometown of Sydney, her family and friends and an 18-hour time difference.
"I just kind of assumed I'd have no contact with my family at first, and that's something that kind of held me back at first," Brown said. "But [Rachel] told me about the program and I just knew I had to come here."
Little did Brown know what awaited her on the other end of the world.
A trio of Australians, already on the Sun Devil Swimming team, who had bonded over their early ties to their country while beginning to feel like they were finding a new home in Tempe.
Carter Swift, David Schlicht and Molly Batchelor have known each other for more than a decade. All three hail from Melbourne, or just outside of it, and began swimming together "when we were all miniature," Batchelor said.
They grew up together, some 8,220 miles from Tempe, and were connected through swim, the same cause that brought them back together all these years later.
??"It was kind of a bit crazy because we all separated and went our different ways and somehow came all back together again," Batchelor said. "It's nice. We all knew each other. It's like a bit of home here."
"It's pretty nice to be in a place where you grew up with people for a long time, through age-group racing," Schlicht added. "It's pretty nice to have people where you can have related stories back from childhood and joke around and stuff like that. Since I've competed at other meets in America, you may feel out of place if you're the only Australian. It's nice to have that here."
Swift, Schlicht and Batchelor hadn't known Brown; they were raised in different towns and several years older than her. But the arrival of another Aussie in Tempe meant a strengthened connection to home.
"For me, [when I came to ASU] there were a bunch of internationals at the time, more European-based," Swift said. "When I first got here, you fit in with the international crowd. But the big thing for me was bringing more Australians over and I think that was a good connection to have."
The four Sun Devils, speaking one afternoon before a swim practice, all agree the Aussie takeover in Tempe stems back to Swift, who was the first to join the program three years ago.
After a stellar freshman season at Eastern Michigan University, in which he won the conference's Freshman of the Year award, the school's swimming program was cut.
Peter Linn, then the head coach at Eastern Michigan and a good friend of Bowman, put Swift in touch with Bowman, and Swift joined the Sun Devils shortly after.
"It's all stemming back to Carter then," Batchelor said.
"I'm the OG," Swift laughed.
From there, Batchelor and Schlicht, who transferred from the University of Arizona this summer, joined the program next. And then Brown, the highly-touted recruit, came as a true freshman before the start of this school year.
Since being named the Sun Devils' head coach in 2015, Bowman has taken a holistic approach to running his swim program, one that preaches the importance of mental health, mindfulness and development as both a student and an athlete. It is the reason so many international swimmers can pack up their bags, relocate to Tempe and feel so comfortable and supported in this program.
"The coaches really, really care about you and they really care about the whole program in general," Batchelor said. "They care about you, they care about your swimming. Everyone is away from home, so everyone is in the same boat. It's really nice that everyone cares for each other, and that's what I like about it."
"All the coaches have very different personalities," Swift said. "You can always approach one and get the perspective from one or another. You can always benefit from all of their perspectives together."
Brown, for example, rooms with a Canadian swimmer and shares a suite with girls from New York and California. They're all away from home, all learning and growing in stride together.
"We're all helping each other get through," Brown said.
It's easy to smile thinking of their connections to home, but the arrival of these four have raised the collective bar of both the men's and women's team.
Since Swift came to Tempe, he's become one of the top freestyle swimmers in program history. In the 200 free relay at the 2020 Pac-12 Championships, Swift was part of the four-man team that touched the wall at 1:16.79 to capture a school record in the event.
Schlicht was a terrific pick-up in the transfer portal this off-season after a fourth-place finish at the 400 IM at last year's NCAA Championships.
Brown, in her collegiate debut on October 16 at Washington State, finished first in the 400 IM and second in the 200 yard free.
Batchelor, who earned her first collegiate win on November 5 against UCLA when she captured the 500 free.
And, of course, the Devils from Down Under miss home. They miss their families, their friends, their food -- like Tim Tam cookies, meat pies and Macca's, the Australian name for McDonald's -- but they're smitten with their teammates and coaches in Tempe, the program in which they race in and the university they represent.
This is home -- or at least, their improvised home away from home.
All made possible because of each other.
"Everyone on the team's super friendly and brings you in and it's not that big of a difference or super hard to find really good friends," Schlicht said. "It's not like they're like, 'Oh, you're not an American.' They bring you in which makes adjusting really easy.
"And I think if you're an Australian looking to come to ASU," Swift said, "come on over. There's always a spot over here."