Greg Hansen: UA, Tucson already strike gold

'Amazing' week results in NCAA title, 9 bound for London Games
2012-07-03T00:00:00Z Greg Hansen: UA, Tucson already strike goldGreg Hansen Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
July 03, 2012 12:00 am  • 

At 2 a.m., last Tuesday, I walked alone down Cass Street in Omaha, past the glass of the Hilton Hotel, and saw in the lobby 20 or 30 baseball fans dressed in Wildcat red. It was last call, and the party was nowhere near an end.

Athletic director Greg Byrne was still there, as giddy as he had been three hours earlier when Arizona won the College World Series. Nearby were several UA baseball players, including Brandon Dixon, whose ninth-inning double had won the national championship.

All of the celebrations from The Greatest Week in Tucson Sports History were distinctly different.

Tucson Ford Aquatics swimmer Clark Buckle, bound for London, shared his Olympic moment in downtown Omaha, sipping Dom Perignon champagne with his family.

UA hurdler Georganne Moline spent four hours being processed, first by USA Track and Field's drug-testing people, and then by those who put in order her travel itinerary to London. A Sunday night celebration? Her flight from Eugene, Ore., would leave at 5:45 a.m. Monday.

Sahuaro High grad Caitlin Leverenz, Olympic trials swimming champion in the 200 IM, took her little sister, Brianna, to Ted and Wally's Ice Cream Shop in downtown Omaha.

There has never been another week like it in Tucson sports, now or then, at the Final Four or at the Fiesta Bowl or anywhere at any time.

"My God, it's such a special time," UA track and field coach Fred Harvey said. "I haven't had time to do research on what other institutions have ever done what we did last week, but it's a very small number."

These are the statistics from the Greatest Week in Tucson Sports History:

• In Omaha, the Arizona Wildcats won the NCAA baseball championship, a 10-0 march through the postseason.

• In Oregon, Harvey's track and field program, including undergrads, post-grads and volunteer coaches, placed four athletes on the USA Olympic team: Moline, the 400 hurdler; distance runner Bernard Lagat, shot-putter Jill Camarena-Williams; and inimitable high-jumper Brigetta Barrett. (And that doesn't include ex-Wildcat Abdi Abdirahman, who qualified for the U.S. Olympic marathon team months earlier.)

• In Canada, UA defending national shot-put champion Julie Labonte won her country's Olympic trials, clinching a berth in London.

• In Omaha, Leverenz and Eric Hansen's UA swimming stable, including the Ford Aquatics post-grad program, put Burckle, superstar Matt Grevers and Alyssa Anderson on Team USA, destination London.

All of that, from Arizona's CWS victory over South Carolina to Ford Aquatics' Christine Magnuson's third-place finish by 0.05 of a second in Monday's 50-meter freestyle, required eight days.

An NCAA championship.

Four Olympic swimmers.

Five Olympic track and field athletes.

It was a period unparalleled in Tucson sports history.

"The scope of what we accomplished is amazing," Hansen said. "We brought 54 swimmers here, the most of any program in the country, and, beyond those who made the Olympic team, we had many others in the finals and semifinals who were so close."

(Though he's not part of Hansen's stable, another swimmer with a Tucson tie also is London-bound for the U.S. Nick Thoman, a five-time All-American for the UA in 2005 and 2006 who now trains in North Carolina, will join Grevers in the 100 backstroke.)

The reputation of Arizona's swimming program is such that one of Hansen's friends is a pilot for Omaha-based Werner Enterprises, an aircraft charter service. They joked that Hansen's contingent was so large that it might be cheaper to lease a $30,000 jet for today's return to Tucson.

July is usually the slowest month on Tucson's sports calendar, but now it becomes a transition period for the Olympics.

Harvey and three assistant coaches, one for each discipline, placed an athlete on the Olympic team. Throws coach Craig Carter will go to London to be with Camarena-Williams and Labonte. Jumps coach Sheldon Blockburger will accompany Barrett. Distance running coach James Li will be there with Lagat. And now Harvey, whose expertise is in sprints and hurdles, will be at Moline's side in England.

"This is a very rare thing and it hasn't settled in, honestly," Harvey said. "We have been rewarded for a great deal of hard work and preparation."

Hansen was the busiest man in Omaha. Remarkably, Tucson had 25 swimmers qualify for the finals. How good is that? There are just 26 events.

Of the 208 positions in the finals - the final step to the Olympics - Tucson swimmers occupied 25 of those spots, or 12 percent. Did we say it was a week unmatched in Tucson sports?

The timing was such that Hansen and his assistants were on duty when the NCAA-mandated July recruiting/contact period began Sunday.

"The nice thing is that the majority of kids we are interested in are here, in Omaha, at the trials," Hansen said. "So we've been able to meet with the top kids. They can see what we are capable of producing. Our stock is pretty high."

Asked if any of the nation's elite-level recruits had made contact with him in Omaha, Hansen laughed.

"Plenty," he said. "Plenty."

By the numbers

8 days

From June 25 to Monday

1 championship

Won by the UA baseball team on June 25

9 Olympians

4 Tucson swimmers and 5 UA track and field athletes qualified for the Olympics

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