Transfers adding experience, depth to UA swim team

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                </div>Eric Hansen must be doing something right because his Arizona Wildcats swim program is getting a lot of attention, which is bringing in new talent – the kind that is already […]<!-- AddThis Sharing Buttons below -->
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Eric Hansen must be doing something right because his Arizona Wildcats swim program is getting a lot of attention, which is bringing in new talent – the kind that is already seasoned with a little college experience.

Three recent transfers will give his program an immediate infusion of experience as he begins preparing for his third year at the helm of the program that has long enjoyed a prominence on the national stage.  And Hansen needs all the help he can get to keep the Wildcat program performing at the high level it experienced for 22 years under Frank Busch, Hansen’s predecessor who left the program in 2011 to accept a position as national team director for USA Swimming.

Under Busch, the UofA program finished in the top 10 nationally for 14 straight years before his departure and had seven top-four finishes in the previous eight years.  Those were big shoes to fill.

Hansen is a UofA alum who also spent three years as an assistant on Busch’s staff at Arizona and then moved on to Wisconsin where he put in 12 years as the head coach for the Badgers and was named the Big 10 Coach of the Year during that tenure.

In Hansen’s first year back at Arizona, the men’s team went undefeated in dual meets and finished fourth at the NCAA Championships, while the women went 9-4 and finished fifth.  This past season, both teams got off to a strong start, with the men ranked No. 1 in the nation in December.  As January closed out, both teams were still ranked in the top 10 , with the men at No.6 and the women at No. 10.

The men finished in third place at the championships and the women’s team came in fifth.  Kevin Cordes piled on the optimism for the program going forward as the sophomore became the fastest man to ever swim the 200 breaststroke and was named the NCAA Swimmer of the Year.  And on the women’s side, Bonnie Brandon broke a school record in the 200 backstroke and the 400 free relay team smashed an American record; in fact, Arizona was the only school in the meet to finish in the top three in all five relay events.

Now comes word that help is on the way to move the program ahead even further next season, as the Cats are picking up three transfers with strong credentials.

Reid Elliott made the move to the desert from the University of Michigan, where he spent his freshman year working at developing his style in the backstroke, butterfly, and freestyle events.  Coming out of high school, he was ranked No. 18 in the class of 2012 and the fourth-best recruit in the state of Texas.

And the state of Florida is turning into a real feeder program for the Cats, as Elizabeth Pepper announced her decision in mid-May to transfer in from Florida State and a couple of weeks later, Lauren Neidigh decided to transfer after two years at the University of Florida.

Pepper qualified for the NCAA championships both years at FSU and currently holds the school record in the 200 butterfly, but can also compete in the middle distance freestyle events and should  provide a strong kick on the butterfly leg of the Arizona medley relay teams.  Neidigh’s strength coming out of high school was the 200 fly, but she competed mostly in the 500 free and 400 IM while at Florida.

The additional depth to the women’s team that will be provided by these two swimmers could be significant since fewer than 20 points separated the team’s fifth-place finish at this year’s championships from a third-place finish.

(Photo: Arizona Athletics)