The Arizona State men’s swim & dive just finished the NCAA Championships in Minneapolis with its best-ever finish of second place.
For those that know only the information that floats on the surface about the team, maybe this isn’t a surprise. After all, they are coached by Bob Bowman, the venerated instructor of Michael Phelps during his Olympic career.
But the reality is, after taking over the program in 2015, it has been a meticulous and gradual climb to this point, the new high-water mark in program history.
The foundation for this groundbreaking run was laid last season, when the 2021-22 Sun Devils equaled their program-best finish at the NCAAs from 1982 with a sixth-place effort.
That strong base to build off allowed the Sun Devils to launch into this season, and at the NCAAs, new heights were reached. They entered the NCAAs with a goal to best their 236-point total from last season. By the 10th event this year, the Sun Devils had caught it. By the end of the events on Saturday evening, they nearly doubled it with 430 points.
It is a testament to the state of Division-I collegiate swimming that it has taken this long for a coach of Bowman’s caliber and pedigree to build his program into a contender. The titans of the scene, California (2014, 2019, 2022, 2023) and Texas (2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2021) have won all but one national championship and accumulate the lion’s share of top talent. Cal (482 points) won its second consecutive title this year. Texas (384 points) placed third.
Getting high-end swimmers is essential, but maybe more critical to a team’s success at the highest level is depth. In the past two seasons, it’s become increasingly obvious that Bowman has acquired that, and the results are bearing that out.
Most salient among them for the Sun Devils is Leon Marchand, a name you should remember not just in Sun Devil lore, but as a Frenchman set to compete in a homecoming Olympics set in Paris in 2024.
Records are smashed in his wake, and he was sensational again in Minneapolis. He won three individual titles (200 IM, 200 breast, and 400 IM), and set new NCAA records in each victory.
In Arizona State men’s swimming history, there have been 15 individual champions at the NCAAs. Marchand is responsible for one-third of those.
David Schlicht backed up Marchand’s phenomenal week with a stellar outing of his own, scoring 22 points with high finishes in the 400 IM (9th), 200 IM (10th), and the 200 breast (11th). A freshmen pair of Hubert Kos (3rd) and Owen McDonald (5th) set the new benchmarks for their respective nascent careers with outstanding performances in the 200 back championship final.
It’s this kind of well-rounded team that Bowman did not have in his earliest days at Arizona State, but the alchemy of the team has coalesced to the point where they are not just good, but they are also young, which makes them scary, and contenders for years to come.
In Minneapolis, the team set eight school records, reached their highest finish in program history, and have primed themselves for a run at a national title in 2023-24. The right coach in Bowman has been there since 2015, and he finally has the team to once again do what he does best: craft winners.