TEMPE – At the beginning of the season, Arizona State men’s swimmer and graduate student Grant House dubbed the Sun Devils swimming & diving team as the “Greatest Show On Surf”.
The team has more than earned the title this season. Earlier this month, ASU became the first non-California team to bring home a Pac-12 championship behind 897.5 points to finish 78.5 points clear of the California Golden Bears, winners of the past five Pac-12 titles.
“I’m so happy we can do it for ASU,” ASU coach Bob Bowman said. “We get so much support and we have had a plan in place for going on eight years to kind of get to this level, so it’s nice to see it come to fruition.”
The Pac-12 tournament win signifies the next step in Bowman’s rebuild of the Sun Devils program. Now Bowman holds the reins to the nation’s top squad with the national title just strokes away at the NCAA Division I men’s and women’s swimming and diving championship, which kicks off Wednesday.
It’s a scenario few could fathom when the team was cut from the university’s athletic budget in 2008.
“Ever since Bob’s come here, it’s shaken up the swimming world,” Dolan said. “We’ve built a program over the past few years that has (brought us to) where we are now, a real contender for the title. I think other teams have taken notice and obviously nobody wants to get beat by a team that was cut 10 years ago.”
Bowman is no stranger to the top of the swimming world as the former coach of Michael Phelps throughout his legendary career. After the Pac-12 championship victory, Bowman sat down and analyzed the team’s performance with the Olympian, and according to the ASU coach, Phelps was “super pleased about it”.
It’s hard to not be pleased with such a deep roster of swimmers, headlined by the presumed heir to Phelp’s throne in sophomore Léon Marchand. The French phenom took home six Pac-12 titles, winning the 200 breast, 400 IM, 200 IM, 200 medley relay, 400 medley relay and 800 free relay.
Coming off his unbelievable performance, Marchand’s focus remains on the top prize.
“It’s kind of difficult to do because we left a lot of energy (at Pac-12’s), it was very intense,” Marchand said. “You want to enjoy it too because we won the Pac-12 so that’s a good thing for the team, but we got to go back to training.”
ASU’s backbone also includes House and redshirt junior Jack Dolan, each of whom brought home three Pac-12 titles. House and Dolan are major pieces of the Sun Devils relay squads, one of ASU’s strengths as a team. As great as the Sun Devils relays have been this season, Bowman doesn’t believe he has seen the best and expects to see even faster times.
“It’s how we compete with each other every day. There’s probably six or seven guys who could make each relay that we have,” Dolan said. “So I think just having that competition every day in practice, everybody just has to fight to get a spot on the relay.”
House, the first building block of Bowman’s Sun Devils squad, has been with the team since his freshman year in 2017. The Ohio native is in awe of the lengths ASU’s program has made since his arrival in Tempe.
“This year to see a class of like seven freshmen holding up the Pac-12 title trophy definitely got my tears going on that one,” House said. “So that was pretty incredible to see and the difference that it can make. It seems like a long time but honestly it’s just five years.”
Considering the program was cut from the school’s budget in 2008, this is uncharted waters for ASU with a roster full of future Olympians. Bowman acknowledged House’s important role to leading the program to this point.
“There was never a conversation about him leaving. He’s been 100% bought into ASU from the day he committed and his commitment has brought in a lot of the other people. He’s one of our biggest recruits,” Bowman said. “He knows how to talk about ASU and the great things that are going on. He’s done so much, not only as an undergrad, but now in graduate school.”
Similarly to Marchand, House viewed the Pac-12 victory as just a stepping stone towards becoming a national champion.
“Honestly, we ultimately used Pac-12’s as a stepping stone onto the platform that we want to utilize to be the best at NCAA’s,” House said. “Truly none of us talked about winning a Pac-12 title this year, it was just gonna be a byproduct of the process we’ve been on. I didn’t really talk about it too much. I was focused on the end of the season.”
Working under a coach like Bowman is as difficult as advertised, given the names on the coach’s resume.
It’s the Sun Devils’ commitment to the coach’s intense training regiment that gives House the confidence to cruise into NCAA championships knowing they have outworked the competition.
“(Bob) knows, being the Olympic coach multiple times, very few people in the world and definitely the nation are working as hard as us,” House said. “The people that come in, the pros that come in, you’ll hear it in Chase’s interviews, compared to what he was doing at Georgia, this is exponentially harder and more difficult.”
“Just leaning on that work and when we get to the end of the season being like, ‘I did 30 weeks of this style of work at this intensity,’ and knowing that when I step up on the blocks by these guys they’ve done that work. Honestly, there’s absolutely no pressure on any of us.”
The NCAA championships end Saturday in Minneapolis, and the No. 1 team in the nation will need a repeat of their Pac-12 performance if it wants to raise the NCAA title at the competition’s end, but it would be naive to expect any less from Tempe’s most stacked program.