Oct. 10, 2001
TEMPE, Ariz. -- Returning a cast that includes five All-Americans, there is reason for head coach Michael Chasson to be optimistic about his fourth year with the Arizona State men. Coming off a 14th-place finish at the NCAA Championships last season, not to mention the Sun Devils' fifth fifth-place finish in the last six years at the Pac-10 Championships, Chasson will lead an experienced group of returnees and a promising group of newcomers that have the ability to produce the best NCAA finish of his tenure.
"The men should place somewhere in the top-14," Chasson said. "If everybody comes through, we have a chance to be in the top-10, but somewhere between ninth and 14th is a realistic goal. There is the potential for this year's recruiting class to be the best since I've been here. We've had some better individual guys come in here in the past, but the classes were always small, three or four guys. This year we have some balanced quality, but it's inexperienced quality. It's a lot of potential, but we'll just have so see how things go."
The following is an event-by-event look at the men:
Returning its top five sprinters in the event from a year ago, the Sun Devils look to be strong in the 50 free. Leading the way is All-American sophomore Nick Brunelli, who placed 19th at the Pac-10 Championships last year with the 10th-fastest time in school history (20.34). Fellow sophomore Mark Hill also showed promise at Pac-10s last season, placing 21st in 20.41. Although he failed to match the effort last season, senior All-American Simon MacDonald is No. 5 all-time at ASU with a best of 19.94. Adding depth to the event will be junior All-Americans Anders Lyrbring (20.53) and co-captain Bo West (20.70).
The Sun Devils lose their all-time No. 7 swimmer in the 100 free in Scott VonSchoff, but return two men who are tied for 10th all-time at ASU in Brunelli and Lyrbring (44.23). West (44.75) and senior All-American Gavin Meadows (44.99) will also help out in this event.
Newcomers in the sprints for ASU include a pair of transfers, junior Justin Mathias and sophomore Gerrit Hillebrand, plus freshman Ryan Fetterly.
Coach Chasson: "One of the strengths of our entire team is Nick Brunelli. With all the guys we have returning and some experienced newcomers coming in, I think sprint freestyle will be one of our strengths."
MIDDLE DISTANCE FREESTYLE
Gone from last year's lineup in the 200 free is all-time No. 9 swimmer Scott VonSchoff. Leading the returners is Gavin Meadows, who placed 12th in his NCAA debut last season, and notched the seventh-best time in school history at the Pac-10 Championships (1:36.31). Also returning is all-time No. 4 Anders Lyrbring (1:35.89) and Bo West (1:36.52), both of whom have been NCAA consolation finalists in the 200 free during their careers.
In the 500 free, all-time No. 7 Meadows (4:21.85) is again ASU's leading returner, followed by senior Mike Dowling (4:28.40), who neared his personal best with a 15th-place finish at Pac-10s last year (4:28.95). Lyrbring (4:23.96) and West (4:24.64) will add formidable talent and experience.
Coach Chasson: "This is where losing VonSchoff hurts, but we'll still be pretty good in the middle free. Between Gavin Meadows, Anders Lyrbring and Bo West, I'm hoping at least one of them can move up from consolation finals into 200 free finals. Gavin is strong in the 500 free and has trained really hard, so he'll be a lot more valuable to us this season."
ASU's top distance freestyler last year, Mike Dowling returns to lead ASU in both the 1000 (9:24.36) and 1650 (15:35.55) free events. Counted on for much needed depth will be freshman Derek Miller, who has the opportunity to step-up and help out immediately. In dual meet situations, ASU will use sophomore Rich Jacobs, ASU's second-fastest swimmer in the 1000 free last year (9:29.31), and redshirt sophomore Adam Bugledich.
Coach Chasson: "We go from being pretty strong in the 500 free with Gavin to being a little thin in the distance events. In dual meets, we have some help with Richie Jacobs and Adam Bugledich, but in championship meets we'll rely again on Mike Dowling and hope that Derek Miller can adjust quickly to collegiate swimming."
ASU returns its No. 5, No. 6 and No. 8 100 backstrokers all-time in Nick Brunelli (49.27), Ahmed Hussein (49.54) and Bo West (49.86~), respectively. Added to what should be a strong discipline for the Sun Devils is junior Christian Harcsas, who redshirted last season.
In the 200 breast, Hussein, who is No. 3 all-time at ASU (1:46.16), will undoubtedly be the leader, followed by Brunelli (1:49.82) and Harcsas. In his training season last year, Harcsas saw his biggest improvement in the 200 back, creating optimism that he could make the jump to being an NCAA qualifier this year.
Coach Chasson: "After the sprint and mid free, this is one of our next strongest areas. Ahmed Hussein has had a great summer and is swimming really fast, so I would expect him to qualify for his first NCAAs. Christian Harcsas will need to improve as the year goes on, but he's talented enough that he and Ahmed could make a great one-two punch in the 200 back."
The Sun Devils lose school record holder Otto Hinks in the 100 breast, but bring in the third and fourth best prep breaststrokers in the country to replace him. Russell MacDonald is primarily a 100 breast swimmer, while Joshua Gemmell is strong in both the 100 and 200 breast. Returning is junior Brian Spetman, who last year turned in ASU's second and third fastest times of the season in the 100 (57.95) and 200 (2:08.18) breast, respectively.
Coach Chasson: "Breaststroke is an area where we don't have a lot of depth, but we could be okay. Joshua Gemmell and Russell MacDonald are very talented, but some of our success will depend on how they adapt to collegiate competition. If they come along quickly, that would certainly help."
A thin discipline for ASU, the Sun Devils return their top 100 and 200 flyers from a year ago, but will predominantly fill this event with swimmers competing away from their strengths. Simon MacDonald is the leader in the 100 fly (49.24), while Rich Jacobs (1:50.70) was tops in the 200 fly last season. Added to the mix is redshirt junior Ace Tate, who is coming off a strong year of training and will be relied upon heavily. Sophomore Jonathan Shaw (200 fly 1:53.49) and transfer Gerrit Hillebrand will add depth.
Coach Chasson: "Butterfly is probably our thinnest event. In the 100 fly we have Simon MacDonald returning, but we don't really have a standout guy in the 200 fly. We're hoping Ace Tate can help us out a lot and that Jon Shaw can improve. Richie Jacobs will be our second best 200 flyer behind Ace and we'll count on him a lot."
ASU has a pair of young promising IMers in sophomore Rich Jacobs and redshirt sophomore Adam Bugledich. Making a strong debut, Jacobs was ASU's second-best swimmer last year in the 200 IM (1:50.86), as well as the 400 IM (3:54.39), where he recorded the seventh-fastest time in school history at Pac-10 Championships. Mike Dowling will likely contribute in the 400 IM (3:57.62), with additional depth provided by Jonathan Shaw (200 IM 1:54.23, 400 IM 4:02.69), plus Nick Brunelli (200 IM 1:52.91) in dual meet situations.
Coach Chasson: "Adam Bugledich and Richie Jacobs will be our main guys here. They've both had good summers and hopefully they can get close to some NCAA qualifying times. We have a couple guys who can fill in for the third spot in dual meets, so we should be okay here."
At the 2001 NCAA Championships, ASU placed fourth in the 800 free (6:26.27), eighth in the 400 free (2:54.03) and 11th in the 200 free (1:19.79). Gone from all those teams is last year's anchor, Scott VonSchoff. The rest of the crew returns however in a committee of Nick Brunelli, Simon MacDonald, Anders Lyrbring and Gavin Meadows. Brunelli is expected to fill VonSchoff's position admirably in the 800 free, while the 200 free team should receive a boost from ASU's wealth of incoming sprinters. Taking the biggest hit is the 400 free team, which still has the ability to repeat its appearance at NCAA finals provided other team members step up to fill the void left by VonSchoff.
In the medley relays, Brunelli again will be asked to assume VonSchoff's anchor position in the freestyle leg. Freshmen Joshua Gemmell and Russell MacDonald will battle it out for the breaststroke position. In the butterfly, Simon MacDonald has the post-season experience, but Ace Tate could contend for his spot. In the backstroke leg, Ahmed Hussein is the early favorite, with Christian Harcsas also likely to see time in that event.
Coach Chasson: "I like where we are in the freestyle relays. Nick Brunelli will replace VonScoff in the 800 relay, so we could be able to hold our position among the top three or four in the country there. We'll have to get better in the 400 relay, and our new sprinters will have to perform in the 200 relay, but we should be able to make a run at the top-eight in both of those. In the medley relays, I'm not concerned about the anchor leg because of Nick, but my question is who will step up in the back, breast and fly. Hopefully we'll at least be able to score in the consolations. Last year we didn't have a breaststroker at NCAAs, so we didn't have a medley relay and that really hurt us points wise."
The Sun Devils must go on without Marc Briggs, their multi-record-setting leader from the past two seasons. Sophomore Gordon Blukis returns to lead ASU, coming off a fine post-season in which he finished seventh in the 1-meter, third in the 3-meter and fifth in the platform at the Pac-10 Championships.
Joining the team are freshmen Thomas McCrummen and Nathan Sheffer. In addition to the 1-meter, head diving coach Mark Bradshaw expects his squad to be strongest in the platform, where his athletes can combat their youth and inexperience with a touch of depth that is often rare in that discipline.
Coach Bradshaw: "Our biggest challenge is going to be qualifying someone for NCAAs. We have a young and inexperienced team, but I think we can do well in our dual meets. Gordon finished the season strong last year, Thomas McCrummen is a high school All-American and Nathan Sheffer will really solidify our team. All three of those guys do platform pretty well, so that's an area we should be able to rack up some points when Pac-10s come around."