PHOENIX – Led by sophomore sensation Léon Marchand, Arizona State’s men’s swimming and diving team dominated most of the regular season. Now, the top-ranked Sun Devils hope to carry that momentum to the finish line as they prepare for the Pac-12 and NCAA meets.
“We have, by far, our most talented team,” said Bob Bowman, who has coached the Sun Devils since 2015. “We have a team that is very goal-oriented and very process-oriented to achieve those goals. Everyone has bought into the philosophy we have that the process is more important than the outcome.”
Highlights for the Sun Devils include the No. 1 ranking in the College Swimming & Diving Coaches Association of America poll multiple weeks in a row, a 7-1 dual record with the only loss coming in late September, and Marchand’s incredible individual season that includes an NCAA-record setting swim in the 400-yard individual medley.
That mentality has allowed the Sun Devil squad to flourish, especially Marchand, a sophomore who completed a perfect pre-championship season and leads the conference in seven out of 13 individual events heading into the Pac-12 championships, including the 100-yard backstroke, 100-yard breaststroke, 200-yard breaststroke, 200-yard butterfly, 200-yard IM, 400-yard IM and the 500-yard freestyle.
He also has the fastest individual times nationally in four events.
“I didn’t know I would be at this level when I came to ASU,” Marchand said. “I’ve been improving a lot in the last three months, my times are more precise, my backstroke is better.”
With his leading times, Marchand now holds multiple ASU and two NCAA records. This year he broke the record for the 400-yard individual medley, where he swam a 3:31.84 – during a midseason dual meet against second-ranked California – and last year in the NCAAs he set the 200-yard individual medley record at 1:37.69 to become ASU’s first national champion in 22 years.
Crushing an NCAA record in a dual meet is virtually unheard of.
“It was different,” he said of the 400 record he set in January. “We were against the defending champions Cal and we were at home, so my family was in the stands. We packed the house. My teammates were on the deck, so it was just really fun to do it here.”
Setting records has become routine for Marchand, but Bowman said the 400 mark is still “very impressive.”
And impressing Bowman isn’t easy. He coached Michael Phelps, the most decorated Olympian in history.
“When you see someone breaking an NCAA record in a dual meet – which I don’t know if that’s happened in the last 50 years – it just gives you an idea of what’s possible if you work really hard,” Bowman said.
Associate coach Rachel Stratton-Mills, who primarily works with the women’s team, agreed, calling Marchand a “phenomenal, next-level swimmer.”
“He’s just an example for all of us,” she said.
The rest of ASU’s men’s squad hopes to follow Marchand’s example at the Pac-12 Men’s Swimming Championships March 1-4 at the Weyerhaeuser King County Aquatic Center in Federal Way, Washington.
Most recently, in the regular season finale, the team competed against rival Arizona on Senior Night with the Sun Devils making a clean sweep of the Wildcats, 223- 58. Marchand again had a record-breaking day, this time recording a 4:07.81 in the 500-yard freestyle to shatter the school record by nearly six seconds.
Bowman said that, while the win against Arizona was expected, it allowed him and the team to evaluate and prepare for the Pac-12 Championships.
“Every swimmer has at least one or two things we learned that we can take back to practice next week and use to be better,” Bowman said.
He also said that practices would be standard for the next couple of days, with more changes coming as the Sun Devils inch closer to the conference title round.
Marchand’s sights are set on something bigger: an NCAA team title in Minneapolis in late March.
“We want to win the NCAA Championship,” Marchand said, grinning. “I feel like this year we’re in a good spot to do it and that would be crazy to win with my boys.”