Oct. 1, 2002
With five All-Americans returning to balance the five All-Americans gone from last year's roster, the Arizona State Men are confident of finishing this year higher than 14th at the NCAAs, a position where they have ended the season for the past two years. With the Sun Devils also recording a fifth-place finish in the Pac-10 for the sixth time in the last seven years, Head Coaches Michael Chasson and Mark Bradshaw are looking forward to the challenge of breaking the top four of the conference for the first time since the 1994-95 season.
"This team is younger, most are freshman and sophomores," Chasson said. "We have covered more of the events depth-wise for our dual meet team and hopefully we will have one person in each event that will be strong so it should be a better balance than what we've had. Some people are coming in that hopefully will help us and overall I think we should be better at the NCAAs by a little bit. We're looking forward to being a little stronger team this year." Following is an overview of the team broken down by event.
The Sun Devils return their top two 50 frestylers from a year ago in junior Nick Brunelli (19.80) and senior Bobby Zaabadich (19.90), both returning All-Americans who are fourth and fifth respectively on the all-time ASU list for the 50 free. Brunelli finished 11th-place at the Pac-10s, while Zaabadich finished 13th-place at the Pac-10s and then saved his season's best performance for the NCAAs where he placed 13th there as well. The squad does lose Simon MacDonald, who ranks seventh on the all-time 50 free list. Wiley Wallace (20.74) will play a role this year after seeing a lot of competition in dual meets last season.
In the 100 free ASU returns Brunelli, third in the all-time school record book (43.24), who was the top performer last year and finished third at the Pac-10s. The rest of the top five from last season are gone but the 100 will be helped out by Federico Martin, who finished 21st at the Pac-10s (45.97).
Coach Chasson: "On sprint freestyle, our top two swimmers are back, Nick Brunelli and Bobby Zaabadich so we're strong there, but we just don't have the depth we had last year. We're looking for some guys to step up and fill out our relays. We're looking for Wiley Wallace to step up and make a big improvement, then it's wide open after that."
Middle Distance Freestyle
This looks to be an area that is lacking deep experience for the Sun Devils and several newcomers may get a chance to perform. Gone from the 200 free are Gavin Meadows and Anders Lyrbring-two of the top six performers in ASU history-and Bo West. Nick Brunelli again leads the returning contingent here (1:37.47) with Federico Martin coming off a 17th-place finish at the Pac-10s (1:40.23). Eric Souther (1:45.42) saw limited dual experience last year as a freshman and looks to contribute more this year.
The 500 free returns Derek Miller, the third-best performer of last year for the Devils (4:34.48). The depth here will be limited as no other swimmer saw this event more than three times during the season. The loss of West also hurts for the middle distance free.
Coach Chasson: "We brought in a lot of newcomers and lost some good swimmers who all had NCAA experience. We have a lot of young people that are going to have to step up in there. John Zemaitis, Tommy Hickman, John Raatz and transfer Evan Rahaeuser, are all people we're hoping can gain experience at the collegiate level. We'll see how they do and hope we can fill the void there. That's an area with inexperience, I think we have some talent, but we'll have to see."
This is also an area where depth is a concern for coach Michael Chasson and Derek Miller will be looked to for solid contributions. The 1000 free returns Miller, the second-best performer from last year (9:22.33) but he's listed as the only distance free specialist on the men's roster. David Kolozar will provide assistance in duals and the rest of the contingent swimming this event will be away from their strengths.
Miller comes back this year after finishing 17th at the Pac-10s in the 1650 free (16:03.20) which was off his personal best of 15:45.01 he set his previous meet.
Coach Chasson: "On distance freestyle, that's probably our thinnest area on the team. We have our top returning distance swimmer in Derek Miller and David Kolozar can swim distance free, so he'll help us in dual meets but he won't swim the long distances in the championship meets. Some of our middle distance guys will have to fill in and we'll have to see how that goes."
The Sun Devils look to be very solid in these events and return three of the top seven 100 backstrokers in ASU history. Ahmed Hussein comes off a season that saw him finish sixth-place at the Pac-10s and set the all-time 100 back record at ASU (47.62). Number five all-time Christian Harcsas comes off a ninth-place finish at the Pac-10s (48.77) while number seven all-time, Nick Brunelli (49.27) did not compete last season in this event. Co-captain Ace Tate returns after a 20th-place finish at the Pac-10s that missed his personal best (51.53) by .02 seconds. Sophomore Bobby Crowder also looks to make an impact after a freshman season that saw him record a 51.89.
The 200 back may be even stronger, with two of the top three performers in school history returning. Harcsas gained the men's highest individual finish last season with his seventh-place effort at the NCAAs that was almost a second off the school record he set in the preliminaries (1:43.11). Hussein comes back after a seventh-place finish at the Pac-10s where he recorded the third best time in school history in the preliminaries (1:44.26). Crowder finished 13th at the Pac-10s (1:50.94) and set a personal best of 1:50.13 earlier in the season.
Evan Rahaeuser comes in as a transfer looking to have a impact on the squad after having a year of experience at the collegiate level.
Coach Chasson: "Backstroke is one of our strongest events. Christian Harcsas, who was our top finisher at the NCAAs last year, he's back for one more year in the 100 and 200 back. Ahmed Hussein, who has some of our best times, is back. Those two are leading the way and we have some depth here. Bobby Crowder and Evan Rahaeuser in particular add depth to these events and Nick Brunelli can also sprint backstroke so that adds even more."
A pair of sophomores leads the returning group of breaststrokers after both had fine freshman seasons. All-American Russell MacDonald comes in this year having finished seventh at the Pac-10s last season in the 100 breast after setting a personal mark of 56.16 in the preliminaries. Joshua Gemmell finished 13th at the Pac-10s after barely missing his personal best (56.78) that he set in the preliminaries. Senior co-captain Brian Spetman looks to be a factor after recording a 57.46 last season and Emerson Ward comes back after turning in a 57.97 his freshman season.
Gemmell is set to be the leader in the 200 breast and comes in as number ten on the all-time list of ASU 200 breaststrokers (2:02.25). He placed 15th at the Pac-10s. MacDonald set a personal record last season of 2:07.51 and was the fourth-best performer on the squad. Ward should contribute after turning in a 2:08.81 during his freshman year and Spetman returns after posting a 2:09.08 last year.
Coach Chasson: "We have a couple more breaststrokers and I think we're real deep there but somebody has to separate themselves from the pack. Russell MacDonald comes back along with our best 200 breaststroker from last year, Josh Gemmell. We brought in two new breaststrokers, Joey Clements and Leonardo Martins, who both swim the 200, so I think we've added a lot of depth there. One of our most improved swimmers last year was Emerson Ward in the 100 breast so we're hoping he can continue to improve. We'll see what happens in this event, but it looks good on paper."
The Sun Devils bring back three of their top five 100 fly swimmers from last year including co-captain Ace Tate, who earned a 20th-place finish at the Pac-10s by just missing his personal record he set in the preliminaries (49.78). The two other top-five returners, Ahmed Hussein (50.87) and Bobby Crowder (51.10), each only swam the 100 three times apiece and look to have only limited action in the fly this year.
The 200 fly sees Tate, ASU's top performer from last year, returning from a 16th-place finish at the Pac-10s after recording his personal best in the prelims (1:50.13). Kyle Horton (1:54.41) and Jonathan Shaw (1:55.15) are the other returning top-five performers from a year ago.
This stroke will be exceptionally solidified by the addition of freshman David Kolozar, one of the top swimming recruits in the nation. He comes off a fifth-place finish at the European Championships in the 200 fly this summer and, based on his prior times, could be an NCAA finalist as a freshman. Newcomer Steve McDonald arrives in Tempe as another highly touted recruit in the fly that should help this season.
Coach Chasson: "Our top freshman recruit is David Kolozar, one of the best in the world in long course meters and hopefully he can work on his turns and become on of the best in the NCAAs in short course yards. In that event we don't have a lot of depth but we have a big gun there so we'll see. Kyle Horton improved a lot last year and we're hoping he can continue to improve. Ace Tate is focusing more on the 100 fly but he can still do the 200 and we're hoping he can step up and make some improvement there. Steve McDonald comes in as one of the top 100 flyers out of high school last year and we're looking for him to help in the 100 and the 200 as well. Depth-wise we're a little thin, but we have some people who can step up."
The 200 IM sees the return of Christian Harcsas who placed 10th at the Pac-10s with a time of 1:49.70. That time places him eighth on the all-time ASU list. Bobby Crowder finished 18th at the Pac-10s after recording his personal best time of 1:51.72 in the preliminaries and should be effective this season. Kyle Horton rounded out the ASU top-five from last year (1:55.67) after only competing in the 200 four times and could see himself contributing more during the year.
The 400 IM appears to be thin this year, especially with the loss of Rich Jacobs, the third-fastest 400 IM performer in ASU history. The absences of Adam Bugledich and Mike Dowling also hurt as no one returns who was within nine seconds of any of the top three from a year ago. The quickest returning swimmer in the 400 is Christian Harcsas (4:08.18) who swam the event only once and does not look to swim this IM distance in championship meets. Jonathan Shaw is the returner with the second best time (4:09.97) after swimming the event at only four meets.
Coach Chasson: "Our top individual coming back is Christian Harcsas, he was our top 200 guy last year. Bobby Crowder improved a lot this summer so hopefully he'll be right up there. 400 IM is wide open, we lost our top 400 IMers from last year so we're looking to see who steps up on that. We have some people who can swim that event such as Joey Clements, Kyle Horton, Leonardo Martins, and Jon Shaw. There's a group of guys that need to make a breakthrough there and Steve McDonald also swims IMs so he could be a surprise here."
The free relays are looking to fill some gaps left by the absence of several top performers from last season. The top showing by a relay at the 2002 NCAA Championships was a seventh-place finish by the 200 free team (1:18.91). The other NCAA free relay finishes include 11th in the 800 free (6:29.55) and 12th in the 400 free (2:55.54). Gone from two of those relays is Simon MacDonald, who is missing from four NCAA relays in all. The 800 free got especially depleted with the losses of Gavin Meadows, Bo West and Anders Lyrbring. Trying to help patch up these holes will most likely be newcomers who will be asked to step up right away.
The nucleus of both medley relays is coming back-three of the four return for each relay-with the missing link being All-American Simon MacDonald on the butterfly leg. Ahmed Hussein, Joshua Gemmell and Nick Brunelli are coming back from the 400 medley relay group that set an ASU record (3:13.78) at the Pac-10 Invitational last year. The 200 brings back Hussein, Russell MacDonald and Brunelli. The medley relay finishes at the NCAAs include 12th in the 400 medley (3:16.60), 13th in the 200 medley (1:29.08).
Coach Chasson: "Our best last year was the 200 free relay but we've lost a lot to graduation there and in the 400 and 800 relays. We've got a good start with Nick Brunelli, Bobby Zaabadich and Wiley Wallace but then it's wide open after that for the spots in the 200 and 400 relay. The 800 relay will be Nick Brunelli and three other swimmers who are all pretty much inexperienced. David Kolozar has some good long course times and so does John Zemaitis so we'll see how they do in the short course yards at the NCAA level. In the medley relays, we'll have to replace the flyer Simon MacDonald, but the rest look really good. So if we find a good 100 flyer to step up and take over, our back, breast and free are all back and hopefully better so we should be good in the medleys."
Diving coach Mark Bradshaw has plenty to look forward to this season. Thomas McCrummen, last season's Pac-10 Newcomer of the Year for diving, is returning after placing third in the one-meter, fourth in the three-meter, and seventh on the platform at the Pac-10 Championships. He barely missed qualifying for the NCAAs and looks toward that goal this year. His presence is solidified by the additions of Finnish Olympian Joona Puhakka, the highest-profile recruit in Bradshaw's tenure at ASU, and local product Brant Bingham.
Puhakka is a Finnish National Champion and finished third in the one-meter springboard at the 2000 European Championships, in addition to competing at the Sydney Olympic Games. The contingent of three divers that Coach Bradshaw has, looks to have plenty of success and score some valuable diving points at the Pac-10s and the NCAAs.
The Sun Devils will miss the solid contributions of junior Gordon Blukis this season, who had three top-five finishes at Pac-10s last year. Blukis is studying abroad this academic year.
Coach Bradshaw: "This is the best group I've had since I've been here. I feel very good about our chances of getting at least one diver to the NCAAs and having them score in two events. I won't see it as a successful season unless we accomplish that. Seven men from our zone qualify for the NCAAs, which is the most since I've been here, and this bodes well for us. With Joona having experience on the world level, his talent and motivation will only raise the levels of the other divers."