UA swimmers handling setbacks, prep for No. 1 California

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                </div>  The new year is off to a great start for a University of Arizona swimming program that fell into disarray when it began the 2013-14 season. Arizona’s women’s team […]<!-- AddThis Sharing Buttons below -->
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The new year is off to a great start for a University of Arizona swimming program that fell into disarray when it began the 2013-14 season.

Arizona’s women’s team turned in a dominating performance against Oregon State, Northern Arizona University, and New Mexico State in a home meet at Hillenbrand Aquatic Center that opened the new year.  The Wildcats took first place in nearly every event, improving their record in dual meets to 7-1 and moving up from their No. 13 national ranking to No. 10 in the latest College Swimming Coaches Association of America (CSCAA) poll.

Bonnie Brandon, the 6’2″ sophomore from Colorado, came up big for the Cats, earning three individual first-place finishes in the 1,000 freestyle  (9:59.67), 200 free (1:49.61) and 200 backstroke (2:01.34).

And the Cats also closed out the old year with an impressive performance at the Texas Invitational, where the men and women combined for 14 wins over the three-day event, which provides the first opportunity for swimmers to qualify for the NCAA nationals.  Arizona qualified 10 individuals at the meet.

Brandon set a new school record at the Texas Invite, winning the 200 backstroke in a time of 1:50.70 and qualifying for the NCAAs in the event.  A couple of Arizona’s most recognizable performers also qualified, as Margo Geer, a 20-time All-American and defending national champion in the 50 and 100 free, qualified in the 100 free, and Kevin Cordes, who already holds four American records as a junior and is undefeated in individual breaststroke events this season, collected three wins in Texas.

Cordes shattered his own record in the 100 breast in a time of 50.70 and also won the 200 breast and was part of the 400 medley relay victory.

But perhaps the biggest challenges this season didn’t come in the water.

During the off-season, assistant coach Geoff Hanson unexpectedly announced he was leaving the program.  At the time he decided to resign, he reportedly had no other job lined up – which raised more than a few eyebrows.

Hanson joined the Wildcat program in 2011, following the new Arizona head coach, Eric Hansen, to Tucson from Wisconsin.  He had been Hansen’s assistant on the Badgers’ staff for 11 years before coming to Arizona.

Then, just weeks before the first meet with Utah in mid- October, Brad Tandy was ruled ineligible for this season.  The high-profile recruit from South Africa was expected to have an immediate impact on the men’s program.

But the biggest jolt to the program came on the heels of the men’s loss in the opener with Utah, when Eric Hansen surprised everyone in the program by taking an indefinite leave of absence, but providing no information as to why.

All that Athletic Director Greg Byrne could do was issue a brief statement saying Hansen was “attending to personal matters.”

Hansen took over the Wildcat program in May of 2011 when Frank Busch, who was a six-time NCAA Coach of the Year and had led the Arizona program for 22 years, announced he was resigning to accept a position as National Team Director for USA Swimming.  Hansen, who swam during college at Arizona, was hired away from Wisconsin, where he spent 12 years building that program into a national contender.

He took over a tradition-rich program at Arizona that had finished in the top 10 nationally for the 14 years prior to his arrival and had seven top-four finishes in eight years.

There’s a lot of schedule left before the March 22 NCAA Championships, but it would appear that, so far at least, the Wildcats are swimming through their distractions and are ready for the challenges of the new year.

Those challenges loom large next week with a daunting road trip through California, where they will take on No. 3 Stanford on Friday and No. 1 California on Saturday.

Looks like ‘show time’ is coming early.

(Photo: Arizona Athletics)