UA men bring home national swim titles, set new records

The University of Arizona men’s swimming team got off to a good start at the NCAA Championships over the weekend, as five Wildcats recorded individual top-10 finishes, and the team’s 118 points were the best first-day scoring in four years.

But that was just the start for the Arizona squad, considered one of the favorites going into the three-day competition.  It just got better from there.

“We have more points than I thought we would have going into day two, but we will need to have some solid swims in the next couple of days,” said head coach, Eric Hansen, after Thursday’s performance.  “We just need to be strong, and our depth is really going to start to show a lot tomorrow and Saturday.”

And show, it did.

On Friday, the Cats picked up two individual titles and one relay championship, and then added two more individual titles on the final day, enroute to a fourth-place team finish.

And, along the way, they set school and American records.

Austen Thompson, a Chandler native and graduate of Brophy Prep, won the first-ever title in the 400 IM for Arizona.  The senior’s time of 3:39.15 broke a three-year-old school record and qualifies as the eighth-fastest time in NCAA history.

Thompson, who was not highly-recruited coming out of high school, qualified for the NCAA Championships as a freshman at Arizona, and again in his junior year before a break-out senior season.  His time of 3:39.37 at the 2011 Texas Invite in December was the fastest time in the country going into the nationals.

Also on Friday, Kevin Cordes won the 100 breaststroke to become the first Arizona freshman to win a national championship since Simon Burnett won the 200 freestyle almost a decade ago.  His time of 51.32 broke both the school record and the American record.

He joined with another local athlete, Adam Small from Corona del Sol High School in Tempe, on the record-breaking 200 medley relay team.  The foursome, which included Mitchell Friedemann and Giles Smith, swam the event in a time of 1:23.53 to earn the national title in the event.

In addition, their winning time broke the American record of 1:23.88, set in 2009, and the six-year-old school record.

On Saturday, Cory Chitwood became just the third Arizona men’s swimmer to win three or more national titles by successfully defending his two-time title in the 200 backstroke.

“I didn’t care about any time, I didn’t care about any records,” said the redshirt senior from Kentucky.  “All I wanted to do was put myself in a position where I could win.”

Chitwood got off to a poor start in the competition and had to work his way back to the top, winning in what his coach called “ugly fashion.”  But the effort has put him in the Arizona record books.

Ben Grado also made school history on the final day of the event, as he became the first Arizona diver to win a national championship.  His score of 487.25 was better than the 25 other divers also looking for a national title.

The team’s fourth-place finish fell short of what was expected of an Arizona team that was ranked No. 1 in the nation in early December.  But the individual titles showed the depth of talent the Wildcats continue to draw to their program.

(Photo: Arizona Athletics)