UA swim teams ranked in top 10 and ready for nationals

University of Arizona swimmers continued their in-state domination this season and appear to be positioned as strong contenders at the NCAA Championships in a couple of weeks.

The Wildcats closed their dual-meet regular season a couple of weeks ago by sweeping rival Arizona State’s men’s and women’s teams.

In the meet held in Tucson at the Hillenbrand Aquatic Center, the UofA men won 11 of the 12 swimming events that were not exhibitioned and the women won seven individual swimming events, the 200 medley relay, and the 1-meter and 3-meter diving competition.

The Wildcats gained a point in the State Farm Territorial Cup standings with the wins.  The total score to date, factoring in results from the fall and winter sports, has UofA ahead, 6.5 to 3.5.

Now the Cats are in the midst of the Pac-10 Championships, the prelude to the March 17-19 NCAA Championships in Austin, Texas.

The women, ranked No. 7 nationally, competed last week, finishing in fifth place behind the four California colleges, with Stanford taking first place.  The Cats picked up 874 points at the event, held in Washington.

A local athlete was one of a small group that won multiple events.  Sarah Denninghoff, a freshman from Sabino High School in Tucson, piled up 58 points by winning the 50 freestyle, 100 backstroke, and 200 back.

In fact, four of the five posting wins in multiple events were freshmen, including Aubrey Peacock (50 free, 100 back, 200 back); Samantha Pickens (1-meter and 3-meter diving events); and Margo Geer (50 free and 200 free).

Junior Alyssa Anderson compiled the most points for an individual, accumulating 68 points via wins in the 500 free, 400 intermediate, and 200 fly.

Now it’s the mens’ turn, as they begin their side of the Pac-10 Championships today in Long Beach, Calif.  The event will run through Saturday as the No. 6 ranked Sun Devils use the competition as a tune-up for the nationals; they already have many of their cut times already established.

It seems a foregone conclusion that Stanford will win the Pac-10 Championships.  They’ve claimed the title each of the past 29 years.

However, Arizona holds at least one of the top two times in the conference in all but three events.  The Cats’ best title hopes rest with a pair of juniors, Cory Chitwood (100 back, 200 back, or 200 I.M.) and A.J. Tipton (butterfly), and a young sophomore who won the 200 breast last year, Carl Mickelson.

Mickelson is perhaps the most familiar to local fans, coming out of Hamilton High School in Chandler.

A poignant sidebar story to this year’s quest for a national championship is the pending departure of the Wildcats’ long-time swimming and diving head coach, Frank Busch.

After 22 seasons at the helm of the Arizona program, Busch will leave after the season concludes to take over as the USA Swimming National Team Director.

A six-time NCAA Coach of the Year, Busch has built the Arizona program to national prominence.  In 2008, he guided the program to NCAA Division I championships on both the men’s and women’s sides.

During Busch’s tenure, Arizona swimmers have won 48 individual championships.

And in a couple of weeks, more will attempt the feat… and maybe give final accolades to the coach who has given the program so much.

(Photo: Arizona Athletics)