We haven’t had college sports for more than three months now due to the coronavirus pandemic, making this the longest offseason ever. Literally, not just figuratively.
But with student-athletes returning to campuses across the country, it looks like our long national nightmare might be over sometime soon.
So now is as good a time as ever to take a look at each of the Arizona Wildcats’ 19 different men’s and women’s programs to see what shape they’re in and what prospects they have for the near future.
To help prepare you for the 2020-21 seasons of Arizona’s 19 different men’s and women’s programs
Over the next few weeks we’ll break down each team and evaluate how it is performing under its current coaching staff, looking at the state of the program before he/she arrived and comparing it to now (as well as looking at this season and beyond).
NOTE: The information in the ‘before’ section has been repurposed from last year’s series to provide continuity.
Next up: Augie Busch’s men’s and women’s swimming teams
How it looked before
Swim and dive has been one of Arizona’s most successful programs over the years, producing numerous individual and relay national titles and winning both the men’s and women’s NCAA championships in 2008. Legendary coach Frank Busch ran the program from 1989 to 2011, then left to run USA Swimming, with former assistants Eric Hansen (2011-13) and Rick DeMont (2013-17) taking over
Arizona’s performance at the Pac-12 and NCAA level tailed off a bit under Hansen and DeMont’s guidance. That’s when then-new athletic director Dave Heeke made his first coaching hire by bringing back a familiar face in Augie Busch, Frank’s son.
Augie had been an assistant at Arizona from 2003-11 before leaving to be the women’s coach at Houston for two seasons. In 2013 he was hired by Virginia to run both programs, and in four seasons in Charlottesville he led the Cavaliers’ women’s squad to three ACC titles and a pair of fifth-place finishes at the NCAA meet.
Where things stand now
The men’s squad has certainly seen an uptick under Busch, with the second-place showing at the Pac-12 meet in early March the school’s best since 1996. Junior Brooks Fall, a Tucson product, won the 1,650-meter freestyle and was named an All-American in four different events, while Bjorn Marketin was named the conference’s Freshman Diver of the Year.
Arizona’s women’s squad was sixth at the Pac-12 meet, down a spot from 2018. The NCAA meets were cancelled in March due to the pandemic.
Busch earned $160,000 in 2019-20 to run both programs.
One big question
How will the Olympics getting pushed back affect the 2020-21 season? The UA swim and dive program has developed dozens of Olympic-level swimmers, most recently Kevin Cordes who won gold as part of USA’s 4x100-meter relay team at the 2016 Rio Olympics. Former Wildcat divers Sam Pickens and Delaney Schnell were in the hunt for a spot on the 2020 squad before the Tokyo Games were postponed until 2021.
Collegiate swimming is always a little different just prior to an Olympics, as some athletes opt to focus on preparing for qualifying rather than be part of college teams. Now that’s going to be the case for two consecutive college seasons, while uncertainty about the coronavirus also likely to have an impact.