Oct. 7, 2003
TEMPE, Ariz. -- Twenty-four letterwinners return for the men in 2003-04, including seven All-Americans and a national champion. Only four letterwinners were lost. Circumstances such as these are ample reason for the men to set their goals high for the new season, one in which a return to the nation's top-10 is a feasible prospect. And with only three newcomers arriving in Tempe, the experience that most of the squad has will be relied upon to carry the team to the NCAAs.
"The real key to the season is that the people already on the team, our sophomores and juniors, swim a lot faster," says head swimming coach Michael Chasson. "That's what's going to impact our team. If they step up and improve, then our team will be better than it was last year."
And on the diving side head coach Mark Bradshaw, the 2003 NCAA and Pac-10 Diving Coach of the Year, thinks that his men can contribute even more than last season. "A goal of mine is that we qualify two divers," he said. "Last year on the men's side we should have done it, but fell short. This year I feel that should definitely happen."
The following is an event-by-event look at the men:
The Sun Devils return one of the best freestylers in ASU history in Nick Brunelli. One of the top swimmers in the nation, Brunelli is coming off of a year that saw him earn six All-American honors, notch the second-fastest times in school history in both the 50 free (19.58) and 100 free (42.93), and earn a gold medal at the Pan Am games.
To help offset the loss of impact sprinter Bobby Zaabadich, Wiley Wallace returns for his senior year and newcomer Pat Fleming arrives, one of the top high school swimmers in the country last year. Tom Hickman, an All-American in the 200 free relay last year, is a threat in the sprint events and Ahmed Hussein has recorded good times in the sprint events as well. Brunelli and Wallace are serving as team captains for this season.
Coach Chasson: "Nick Brunelli's back and he will be a factor coming off of a great summer and a great year last year. We hope Wiley Wallace moves up and continues to improve and get up there somewhere in the 50. Then we have Pat Fleming, our top recruit, he comes in and bolsters the lineup here. After that it's wide open."
Middle Distance Freestyle
Once again, Nick Brunelli is the major factor here after clocking the fourth-fastest 200 free time in school history (1:35.65) at the NCAAs. After Brunelli, the top returners in the 200 and 500-John Zemaitis, Tom Hickman, David Kolozar-are all coming off of their freshman seasons and will need to use the year of experience that they already have under their belts to bolster the ranks in these events. Jeff Barrett, the 2003 California Swimmer of the Year out of Ventura College, could step in right away and be the number one in the 500 and the number two in the 200.
Coach Chasson: "We have one middle distance swimmer coming in, Jeff Barrett, who had some really good times. We have four or five guys who swim in the 200 and we really need them to improve and get down into the 1:37s and 1:38s. We need some guys to step up and improve in the 500 as well."
One area that has several holes is the distance freestyle. With no established 1000 swimmers returning and absolutely no 1650 swimmers coming back, this is an area of concern for the Devils. David Kolozar is the top returner in the 1000 (9:27.05) but saw action in only three meets.
Coach Chasson: "We really don't have a distance freestyler right now. We'll need guys to step in and help out here. This is a big weakness on the team. We're going to have to pick somebody to step up in the dual meets. David Kolozar will end up swimming a lot of dual meet 1000s."
Ahmed Hussein, one of the top backstrokers in the world, leads the charge here as the fastest 100 back swimmer in school history (47.62) and the third-fastest in the 200 (1:44.26). The loss of Christian Harcsas, an All-American and the school record holder in the 200, is a blow that Evan Rahaeuser and A.J. Blusiewicz will help to soften as they continue to improve, and Bobby Crowder has the opportunity to land a spot at the NCAAs.
Coach Chasson: "Ahmed Hussein is coming off of a good summer at the World Championships. He's had some good long course 200 backs, so hopefully he can have an impact at the NCAAs. Bobby Crowder improved a lot this summer and hopefully he can step up and get to the NCAAs., especially in the 200 Our backstrokers all swam their best times last year, and they continue to improve."
This could be a pivotal event for the Sun Devils and it could also be the deepest. In the 100, Russell MacDonald returns as the fourth-fastest in ASU history (54.81) with Josh Gemmell standing ninth all-time (55.80). Emerson Ward sits just outside the record books in the 100 and notched the second fastest Sun Devil time last season (55.92).
The 200 features the third- and fourth-fastest swimmers in the record books in Leo Martins (2:00.23) and Joey Clements (2:00.24), both coming off of their initial years in Tempe. With Josh Gemmell not too far behind, the breastroke events have the potential to produce their first top-8 NCAA finisher since Otto Hinks in 2000.
Coach Chasson: "We have a lot of depth there. We need some people to separate themselves from the pack. In the 100 Russell MacDonald improved nicely and he barely missed the NCAAs. Emerson Ward improved by a couple of seconds in the 100 and Josh Gemmell did about the same. Joey Clements and Leo Martins are also here.
In the 200, Joey and Leo are right up there, hopefully they can break through along with Josh and make the NCAAs. I really think that we have a lot of people at breaststroke that can break out and get to that level and they need to do that if our team is going to do anything."
Steve McDonald is the leading 100 flyer returning (49.00) and is the top threat in this race for the moment. David Kolozar is the number two man at this distance and will be looked at for big things here. Jon Shaw and Brett Meconis round out the top returners who will provide depth in the 100.
In the 200, Kolozar comes in as the second-fastest 200 flyer in school history (1:45.16) after his inaugural year as a Devil. He returns from a summer that saw him win the Hungarian National Championship in the 200m fly. McDonald, Shaw, Meconis and Kyle Horton will all have the opportunity to solidify themselves as regulars here, with McDonald sitting just outside of the ASU all-time top-10 list with a 1:48.76.
Coach Chasson: "In 100 fly, Steve McDonald's our top returning guy. He had a great summer, trained a lot and he improved a lot last year as a freshman. David Kolozar is our top 200 guy, he scored at the NCAAs. Hopefully his 100 will get better. We will rely on these two guys. Some other people such as Brett Meconis and Kyle Horton are improving but how much of an impact they will have depends on if they can jump to another level."
Another area of concern for the 2003-04 squad is the IM, particularly the 400. In the 200, Bobby Crowder is the top returner (1:50.32), with Steve McDonald and Evan Rahaeuser also in the mix. McDonald was the squad's best last year in the 400 by over three-and-a-half seconds, yet he is not slated to compete at that distance this year. Jon Shaw is the number one returner after clocking a 4:00.11at the Pac-10s and he looks to be supported by Leo Martins (4:01.18) and Crowder (4:01.20) among others.
Coach Chasson: "In the 200, Bobby Crowder had a good summer and he needs to step it up to the next level as far as collegiate swimming is concerned. Hopefully Steve McDonald and Evan Rahaeuser can step up here and help in dual meets. This is not a depth event for us.
"In the 400 IM, Steve McDonald is our top returning guy but he is not really going to focus on that event so we're looking for some people to step up in that event. Joey Clements, Leo Martins, some of our breaststrokers basically have to step up and do something there."
Nick Brunelli is the leader of the pack in the relays as he is likely to lead the Sun Devils in all five events. The 200 and 400 free relays are both intact from last year aside from Bobby Zaabadich, a loss that is hard to fill. Brunelli and Wiley Wallace will swim in both, with Tom Hickman coming back for the 200 and Ahmed Hussein in the 400. The 200 free relay of Brunelli, Zaabadich, Wallace and Hickman earned first-team All-American honors last year. The top 800 free relay foursome from last year loses Christian Harcsas, but Bobby Crowder and John Zemaitis look to challenge for a spot there.
In the medley events, Ace Tate is absent from the fly legs, yet really only the backstroke with Hussein and the freestyle with Brunelli are secured. Russell MacDonald and Emerson Ward are the top candidates to swim the breaststroke legs while Steve McDonald or David Kolozar could swim fly.
Coach Chasson: "In our 200 free relay we return 3 of 4 and it's the same for the 400 free relay. We're looking for some newcomers to step up and fill that void. I think our 200 free relay can be better than last year and our 400 free relay can be better than last year, we just need to get some timely swims. Bobby Crowder swam some good freestyles this summer and then maybe you have Ahmed Hussein along with Nick Brunelli and Wiley Wallace in the free relays.
"The medley, we'll have the back with Ahmed and the free with Nick but we really need the fly and breast to step up. Russell MacDonald has to step up in breast and in fly Steve McDonald probably has the best chance. Those guys definitely have to have breakout years and get into our medley relays and get to the NCAAs, we didn't have those last year and that hurt us point wise."
The men return a talented lineup featuring one of the best divers in the world and their first national champion in 35 years. Sophomore Joona Puhakka comes off of a year that saw him claim the NCAA title on the 1m and finish third on the 3m. He swept both of those events at the Pac-10 and Zone E meets and achieved the bronze medal in the 1m at this past summer's World Championships. The holder of four school records is not short of support though.
Junior Thomas McCrummen, second-place finisher at the Pac-10s on the 1m, barely missed the NCAAs last year and has an excellent shot to qualify this season. Gordon Blukis returns after a year studying abroad and Brant Bingham brings with him a wealth of talent into his second year as a Sun Devil. All of this adds up to possibly the best diving corps in the Pac-10 Conference and one with potential to do a lot of damage at the NCAAs.
Coach Bradshaw: "We have everybody back plus Gordon after a year off, so we should be a season stronger. I think the expectations are definitely up there. With Joona's championship on 1m we're going to strive for him to win both boards, but when you get to that final meet of the year, the talent level in each competition rises so it's more of a challenge.
"Thomas is back and the thing about him is that he's a strong, powerful diver and he has no problem making the more difficult dives. I think that with another year behind him, his consistency will improve and he will perform well in the big meets.
"Gordon just took a whole year off so we're going to spend a lot of time this semester to get him into diving shape and Brant is probably the most fluid diver on the team and continues to improve."