Oct. 14, 1999
In his first season at the helm of the Arizona State University men's swimming program, Head Coach Michael Chasson instilled in his athletes the values of competitiveness, team unity and a strong work ethic.
Despite his efforts translating into a 16th place national finish, Chasson feels his work at ASU is far from done.
"To be in the top-10 we need more individuals to score at the NCAA Championships. It's just a matter of getting more production out of the people we have," said Chasson. "To go to a higher level still we need more top-quality recruits."
The second-year head coach has both an impressive nucleus of returnees and talented group of incoming freshmen which should enable the Sun Devil's to join collegiate swimming's elite in 1999-2000. All-Americans such as Pablo Abal, Bo West and Adam Guzauskas return from last year's squad which posted a 5-4 dual meet record and fifth-place showing at the Pac-10 Championships. Meanwhile, Chasson and his staff have brought the likes of Matt Sopp and Sweden's Anders Lyrbring to Tempe to help cushion the blow of losing former NCAA Champion Francisco Sanchez to graduation.
"I think we've got a good recruiting class coming in, it's a class that's going to hopefully fill some needs," said the former Harvard coach. "A good number of them have a chance to go to the NCAA's as freshmen, and that's the type of recruit we'd like to get."
Judging by the schedule he comprised for the 1999-2000 season, Chasson obviously subscribes to the theory that if you want to be the best, you need to take on the best. The Sun Devils will test their mettle against nine of last year's top-10 national finishers.
"The schedule on the men's side is very, very challenging," said Chasson. "The Pac-10 has five teams in the top-10 that we compete against. Then we add in Michigan and Tennessee coming here in dual meets, and at the Texas Invitational we'll swim against Texas and Georgia."
Here is an event-by-event look at the 1999-2000 Arizona State men's swimming team.
The coaching staff expects its middle distance freestyle corps to be among the Sun Devils' strengths. As a freshman last season the Danish-born West placed 11th at the NCAA's in the 200 free, and honed his skills over the summer in preparation for the European Championships. Junior Scott VonSchoff swam the team's third-fastest 200 free time (1:37.63) and has big-meet experience after swimming at the past two NCAA Championships. Immediate contributions in both the 200 and 500 are expected from freshman Brian Atkins, who ranked among the nations top high schoolers in both events, as well as from Lyrbring.
"Anders is one of the top 200 freestylers in the world," said Chasson. "He was recruited by a lot of schools a couple years ago but didn't want to come to the U.S. Now he's decided to come to the U.S. and [ASU] was the only place he looked at."
Lyrbring will also be a major factor in sprint events, as will West and VonSchoff. Simon MacDonald returns following a stellar freshman year that saw him post the Sun Devils' second-fastest mark in the 100 free (44.87) and third-best mark in 50 free competition (20.39). Also back is senior and two-time All-American Abal, regarded as the team's best sprinter. Chasson would like to see the Argentinian post improved times in the 50 free, an event in which he already holds the fourth-fastest mark in school history (19.93).
In the distance events, junior Matt Carter could have a breakthrough season after improving upon his personal bests in the 1000 and 1650 free each of the past two years. Carter swam Arizona State's fastest 1000 free time in 1999 (9:17.58) and posted the team's second-best mark in the 1650 (15:33.09). Sophomore Mike Dowling was ASU's fastest 1650 free swimmer at 15:35.55, and should be the top miler again this year. Atkins also has the ability to score points in this event.
The trio of Abal, West and senior Greg Plank figure to make the backstroke events a rock of stability for Arizona State. Abal's 100 back time of 48.26 placed him 15th at the NCAA's last season and, more impressively, was the second-best mark in ASU history. West displayed his versatility by recording the third and fourth fastest Sun Devil times in the 200 and 100 back, respectively, in addition to his freestyle responsibilities. While Plank saw most of his action in 1999 in the free events, he is an experienced backstroker who had an impressive summer. Adding depth to the backstroking squad will be juniors Brett Anderson and Matt Barry.
The departed Sanchez dominated in the 100 fly last season, so one or more of the returning Sun Devils needs to fill the void. MacDonald appears up to the challenge, posting ASU's second-fastest time in the event at 48.65, ranking him ninth all-time at the school. MacDonald will also contribute in the 200, an event where the freshman Sopp is expected to do his most damage as a first-year Sun Devil.
"Matt Sopp is somebody that's improved a lot in the last year," said Chasson. "I think he's someone who can hopefully make NCAA's as a freshman. He's a very versatile athlete and very talented."
Speaking of versatile, the multi-faceted Abal looks to improve upon his 50.15 time of a year ago in the 100 fly, and will be joined on the starting blocks by freshman Rob Toth. In 200 fly competition, junior Austin Paulsen and fifth-year senior Brian Hatlelid provide stability.
In the 100 breast, Guzauskas appears primed to take his swimming to the next level after posting the fourth-fastest time in school history (55.04) a year ago at the Pac-10's. The junior also posted a personal best in the 200 breast (2:03.67) and appeared in his second NCAA Championships.
"Adam should score points in the 100 breast," said the second-year coach. "He swam well this summer and swam very hard at the conference meet, but he needs to do the same at the NCAA's."
Junior Otto Hinks will lead the 200 breaststrokers into battle and should return to his 1998 form when he notched the eighth-best mark in school history. Another all-time top-10 performer, senior Jon Tunstall, will help anchor the 200 breast corps. Tunstall's fellow co-captain, senior Andrey Trinidad, recorded ASU's fifth-fastest 100 back time in 1999.
This is not an especially deep group, but Chasson feels he has a budding star in Paulsen, who participated in his first NCAA meet a year ago. The junior's 400 IM time of 3:50.65 placed him third at the Pac-10 Championships and second in Sun Devil history. His 200 mark (1:50.01) was nearly as impressive, ranking seventh at the conference meet and ninth all-time.
The 400 IM is one of Sopp's strongest events, and he will also see action in the 200. Hinks swam ASU's third-fastest 200 IM time (1:51.17) in 1999, while senior Kevin Butler ranked fourth (1:51.27). Carter and sophomore Mike Dowling provide depth in the 400.
Five Arizona State relay teams scored points at last year's NCAA Championships, and the Sun Devils must get equal or better performances in 1999-2000 to improve upon their 16th place national finish. Nearly every ASU racer who earned All-America honors in relay competition returns.
"I think relays will be strong," said Chasson. "We probably wont be quite as strong in the 200 relays because of Francisco Sanchez graduating, but the 400 relays will be very competitive."
The 400 medley team, likely featuring Abal, Guzauskas, MacDonald and VonSchoff appears particularly potent after an 11th place showing at the NCAA's. VonSchoff and MacDonald should be joined by West and Plank to form a talented 800 free squad. In the 200 events, the vacant spots will likely be left open to competition.
Mark Bradshaw heads a much deeper diving squad in 1999-2000 led by senior Allan Sonkin. The native of San Antonio, Texas qualified for his first NCAA Championships a year ago following a great showing at the Zone E Championships in Tempe where he placed third in the 1 and 3 meter competition and fourth in the platform.
Another potential NCAA qualifier will be junior transfer Marc Briggs, an experienced diver who has competed in the past three U.S. Open Nationals. Freshman Gregg Helland is expected to contribute in dual meets with an eye towards the NCAA's in future seasons.
"We're going to be a lot stronger than we've been," said Bradshaw. "The Pac 10 is wide open. We could have our first men's diving champion in a long time here at ASU."