Oct. 6, 2004
TEMPE, Ariz. -- With 15 letterwinners returning for the Arizona State men's swimming and diving team in 2004-05, which includes three All-Americans and a national champion, the team looks strong going into the start of a new season.
Tradition of excellence is something instilled in the ASU men's swimming program and this season should be no different. Graduation hit the Sun Devils hard as they approach the upcoming year, with All-Americans and top performers in several main events exhausting their eligibility. With this in mind, the Sun Devils are focused on rebuilding those areas as well as stepping up in others where the depth and experience is rich. The men have several swimmers who can perform in events where they have not seen much action in the past, which is what the team is looking for in order to have a big season.
"The key to the season is that we use the experience that we have returning to fill the critical spots," says Head Coach Michael Chasson. "If we can improve what we already have and step up in areas that they are not necessarily accustomed to swimming then this will be a very exciting and successful season for the men."
The schedule is broken down into two parts; the first half of the season points towards the big meet in December at the Texas Invitational while the second half gears up for the Pac-10 Championships and NCAA Championships. The men will compete against some of the nation's best teams in dual meets that will feature key match ups for the Sun Devils as they prepare both physically and mentally for the end of the year. Prior to the Texas Invitational the squad will travel to the Midwest to compete at Purdue, a very strong school out of the Big Ten. They will also face off against Pac-10 foe USC in a fall dual meet where the strength and depth of the team will be tested. The second half of the season is focused on the Pac-10s and NCAAs. The Pac-10 schedule will provide the Sun Devils fierce competition in dual meets as they take on Stanford and California in back-to-back home meets and round out the dual season with a trip to Arizona to take on the Wildcats.
"We want to peak at the most crucial times of year, which is why the schedule is set up this way," explains Chasson. "The dual meets prior to the Pac-10s and NCAAs will be a good competition to prepare our squad for the end of the season."
The strength of the men's squad will center around the breaststroke with four potential NCAA qualifying swimmers in the core of the group. The individual medley could also be a potential strength as several athletes gain more competitive experience this year.
The sprint core for the Sun Devils has a solid foundation with the strongest and most improved swimmer in this event, sophomore Richie Crowder, returning. Crowder came off a much improved season from last year recording his personal best in the 50 free (20.33) and showed great speed in competition this summer.
Also returning for the Sun Devils is sophomore Pat Fleming who was a highly regarded high school swimmer and has the ability to step up at the collegiate level this season and prove what he can do.
"We are looking for Richie (Crowder) and Pat (Fleming) to step up huge for us. They are going to carry the load for the sprinters this season. We are looking to send both of them to the NCAA meet," said Chasson.
Adding depth to the sprinters is senior Eric Souther. His hard work ethic and experience will help the team in dual meets this season.
"Sprint freestyle has always been a strength for the men," said Chasson. "This year we are looking to build on the tradition of excellent sprinters. The men we have returning for us are experienced and will be able to step up and have successful seasons."
Senior Jeff Barrett will bring additional support to the sprint freestylers with one season of NCAA experience under his belt. Barrett, who notched a personal best in the 100 last season, performs on relays for the Sun Devils and will step into the sprint freestyle role this season.
"Jeff (Barrett) is a middle distance swimmer with a passion for relay swimming, " said Chasson. "He will add consistency and experience to the sprint core this season."
Middle Distance Freestyle
Middle distance freestyle has the potential to be a strength for the Sun Devils when you look at their performance at the NCAAs last season in the 800 freestyle relay, where the men had a strong showing.
Barrett, an NCAA qualifier last season, is the fastest middle distance swimmer returning, coming off a season where he clocked a personal best in this event. He will need to use his experience to help lead this event. After Barrett, the top returners-Evan Rahaeuser, John Zemaitis, Tom Hickman and butterflyer David Kolozar- are all coming into the season with two and three years of experience under their belts and are expected to step up to add strength to the team.
"We have experience and talent in the middle distance free. I am looking for us to have a breakthrough this season," said Chasson
John Dwelley, a highly respected high school swimmer, will be added to the mix this season, as he is a proven performer in these events.
"John (Dwelley) is a top high school swimmer that can come into the middle distance core and provide an impact this year" said Chasson.
The Sun Devils will feature some fresh faces in the distance freestyle this season as they look to improve and gain experience in this area. With only one returning distance swimmer with experience in Kolozar, who has seen limited action over the past two years in this event, there are several spots for newcomers to step up for the Devils.
With the addition of Lucas Azevado, a freshman from Brazil, incoming freshman Jacob Fischer, and transfer Micah Carlson this could be the year the men break out in this event and start to build up more depth.
"We are really looking to build our distance freestyle this season. Lucas (Azevado) is a very good distance swimmer, and with the addition of him, Jacob (Fischer) and Micah (Carlson) we should have more depth in this event then we have had in several years," says Chasson.
Seniors Bobby Crowder and Rahaeuser are the top backstrokers returning this season and will be expected to step up and provide a lift for the team after Sun Devil record holder and All-American Ahmed Hussein graduated. Rahaeuser has the eighth-fastest time in ASU history in the 200 (1:48.36) while Crowder comes in with a personal-best 1:49.07 in the 200 and 50.49 in the 100.
"Both Evan (Rahaeuser) and Bobby (Crowder) have been consistently better in the 200, but we are looking to see them step up in the 100 as well," said Chasson.
Returning Sun Devils, junior A.J. Blusiewicz, who swam a personal best in the 100 last season, and senior Kyle Horton, clocking a career best time in the 200, will play an integral role this season in the dual meets by providing some increased depth in the backstroke.
"Backstroke is an area that we have been strong and had depth in the past," said Chasson. "We will be looking to continue to do so this season with some swimmers who have been consistently improving and are ready to step up."
The strength of the men's squad will no doubt be the breaststroke with two NCAA qualifiers returning in this event, Emerson Ward and Russell MacDonald, as well as Joey Clements and Leo Martins, who narrowly missed the qualification time for NCAA last season.
Ward clocked in a season best of 54.58 in the 100 last season, putting him second in ASU history in that event, while MacDonald has the fifth-fastest time at 54.81, with Martins and Clements ranking third and fourth, respectively, in the 200. The depth they bring to the squad will provide the backbone and strength to lead the men in dual meets.
"We look for these guys to step up and show their experience for us this season, I hope to have four 200 breaststrokers at NCAAs this season," says Chasson.
In addition to the already strong breaststroke core, incoming freshman CJ Nuess can make significant contributions for the Sun Devils, with the breaststroke being one of his strengths.
Returning All-American Kolozar will be the leader in the butterfly this season. He comes off a successful season clocking the second-fastest time in school history in the 200 (1:45.16), and will look to use the experience from last year as well as his experience, which includes competing in the Olympic Games in Athens, to break out for the Sun Devils.
Also providing experience and depth in the butterfly is Brett Meconis in the 200, who set a personal best time at the Pac-10s, and Steve McDonald in the 100 who is the leading 100 flyer and is coming off a 10th place finish at the Pac-10s last year.
"David (Kolozar) comes into this season with a lot of experience and will be a competitor in every meet for us," said Chasson. "Brett (Meconis) and Steve (McDonald) will be looked upon to step up this season in order to make the NCAAs. They both have the ability and talent to get there."
Sprint flyer and incoming freshman Dwelley will be competing in the 100 this season and has proved to be very strong in this event, which will provide support and depth in dual meets.
The individual medley could be a potential strength for the team this year, particularly the 200 IM. Bobby Crowder and Rahaeuser return this season and will look to add to the strides made last year. Crowder brings his experience of competing in the 2004 US Olympic Trials with him and is looking to show continued success and improvement this season.
"Both Bobby (Crowder) and Evan (Rahaeuser) have tremendous potential in the IM," said Chasson. "The experience that they bring into the season will be a strength for us."
Nuess, one of the top high school swimmers in the country in the IM, will be looked to step up in his first season as a Sun Devil.
"CJ (Nuess) was a member of the Junior National Team (400IM) and is very strong in both the 400 and 200 IM," said Chasson. " We are very excited to bring in CJ, he will be a great addition to the team."
Returning Sun Devil swimmers, Leo Martins, Clements, Horton and MacDonald will see action in the 200 IM this season and will contribute to ASU in dual meets. The increased depth they add to the men's squad in this area will provide consistency. They will also have to opportunity to race in the 400 in dual meets this year and provide depth to the squad.
With Barrett leading the way for the men in the relays he is joined by Kolozar, McDonald, Ward, Richie Crowder and Pat Fleming, all with the experience and maturity to make the relay a strength for the team this season. Other members of the Sun Devil squad will step up to add more dimensions and depth to the relays as the men enter a new year.
The 800 free relay is a strength of the men's squad this year. It is lead by returning All-Americans, Barrett and Kolozar. Barrett brings senior leadership as well as the ability to perform in crucial swims to the core of the relay, while Kolozar is still young but has the added International and Olympic experience that has made him a stronger leg for this relay. The remaining middle distance core of Rahaeuser, Zemaitis and Hickman will be relied upon to finish out the relay for the men, with the possibility of some younger swimmers stepping up and earning a spot.
"Our best relay is going to the 800 free relay," said Chasson. "Without Nick (Brunelli), a 200 free Pac-10 Champion and All-American, there is going to be an added challenge put on the men to have four swimmers share the responsibility. I believe that our guys are ready to take on this challenge."
Graduation hit the 400 free relay the hardest, with three of the four competitors from last year exhausting their eligibility. This relay will provide the biggest challenge for the men as the newest members of the relay gain experience as a team. The Sun Devils are looking for men that have experience in the 50 free to show more speed in the 100 and to add poise to the relay.
"This relay is wide open for spots," Chasson said. "It's going to come down to who wants it the most."
The men return three of the four members of the season-best 200 freestyle relay in Barrett, Crowder and Fleming, who will be the core of the relays this season. The gap left by the loss of Brunelli will be a crucial leg of the relay that will be put onto several members of the team to step up and fill.
"If we take the times of our guys in the 200 free relay since they've been at ASU and they all do it on the same relay it would be a very good relay," said Chasson.
In the medley events, the men return Ward and McDonald from last season in the breaststroke and fly legs. Numerous returnees in the freestyle will be asked to step in and provide for the team what Brunelli did a year ago. Inexperience in the backstroke portion of the relay will serve as a challenge to the success of the team, but Rahaeuser and Bobby Crowder will look to use their maturity to solidify the relay.
"The success of the medley relays will depend on how well they can work as a team," said Chasson. " In addition, we need a backstroker to step up and set a tone for the relay. Their experiences as previous members of the relay or as seniors who have competed for us will serve as a solid foundation for the season."
The men return a talented and experienced lineup this year, which puts them in position to outscore every team they face in the dual meet season. As with the swimmers, the divers will use the experience gained during dual competition to prepare for the championship season.
"Overall I think we have a very talented squad that should outscore every team we go against," Head Coach Mark Bradshaw said. "Performing at the championship meets is what we will strive for. As far as the dual meet season, I look for the USC matchup to be a key meet for us. That meet, in particular, has been close in the past couple years and from a diving standpoint, they are as close to the talent level of our team than any other team that we will face."
The men are coming off a successful season and have every member back, including one of the top divers in the world, All-American and two-time national champion, Joona Puhakka. Puhakka enters his junior season as the reigning national champion in the 3-meter springboard, where he also claimed third on the 1-meter event. He swept both of those events for the second straight season at the Pac-10 Championships and Zone E meets and took home the title in the 1m and finished second in the 3m at this past summer's European Championships. Puhakka earned Pac-10 Diver of the Year honors for the second straight season.
"Joona (Puhakka) has been very successful in his two seasons at ASU," Bradshaw said. "He has won both the 1m and 3m NCAA titles and this year we are going to strive for him to win both boards. That is not a pressure statement. He is capable of achieving that and he knows he is. It is a difficult thing to do. When you get to the championship meets, and the talent level in each competition rises, you have to be able to perform."
Also returning for the Sun Devils is senior Thomas McCrummen, who brings experience and maturity to the men's team. McCrummen, who barely missed NCAAs the past two years has an excellent chance to round out his career with a trip to the Championships. He qualified for the finals at the Pac-10 Championships in each of the diving events last season and will look to finish amongst the top again this year.
"Thomas (McCrummen) has fallen just short of making NCAAs the past two seasons and we are looking for him to make it this season," Bradshaw said. "He has fought through some injuries over the years, so if he can remain injury free and dive the way I know he can, then he has a definite shot at NCAAs this season."
Junior Brant Bingham brings another year of experience into this season and will continue to build upon that as the year progresses. He adds a lot of talent to the squad and provides depth for the Sun Devils in dual meets and the Pac-10 Championships. Bingham improves with each passing season and has the ability to make the finals at the Pac-10s this year.
"Brant (Bingham) improved a lot from his freshman year to last year," Bradshaw said. "If he continues to improve than he will do well at the conference meet. The goal for him this season is to make the finals at the Pac-10 Championships."