Editor’s note: This summer, Star columnist Greg Hansen is counting down the top 10 of just about everything related to Tucson sports. Today’s list: The top 10 Arizona Wildcat men’s swimmers:
During Arizona’s 20-year run as one of the NCAA’s leading swimming powers, 1993-2012, the Wildcats recruited globally to match any of the national contenders.
South Africa. Venezuela. England. Israel. Mexico. France. Brazil.
In 2004, then-UA assistant coach Augie Busch noted the impressive times of a Venezuelan swimming at a Fort Lauderdale, Florida, academy. Albert Subirats had moved to America in part to learn English, get a scholarship to an NCAA school and work toward the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
Busch, who is fluent in Spanish, flew to Florida in attempt to steer Subirats away from Auburn and Ohio State, which had already offered scholarships.
Subirats enrolled at Arizona in the fall of 2004. Head coach Frank Busch later said, “When we recruited Albert, he was a decent swimmer but nothing great. But we thought he was worth a gamble.”
His progress was remarkable. At the 2007 NCAA championships, Subirats won both the 100 backstroke and 100 butterfly. A year later he led the Wildcats to the national championship and completed his career with five NCAA championships in relay events, with three individual titles and a pair of second-place finishes.
Now, Augie Busch has returned to Tucson — his official press conference is Tuesday afternoon at McKale Center — intent on reopening the global recruiting lanes that helped turn Arizona swimming into a consistent NCAA championship contender.
Here’s our Top 10 list of UA men’s swimmers, which reflects the foreign influence of the Frank Busch years:
1. Ryk Neethling. The South African distance freestyler won nine NCAA individual championships, second in Pac-12 history. He then converted to sprints and helped South Africa win a gold medal at the 2004 Athens Olympics in the 4x100 freestyle relay.
2. Albert Subirats. A three-time Olympian with six Venezuelan records, Subirats became such a celebrity in his home country that a newspaper headline read “SUBIRATS BRONCE!” – something like ‘‘Subirats is king” – after leading Arizona to the national championship.
3. Kevin Cordes. Although he missed a 2016 Olympic bronze medal by inches, Cordes won six NCAA individual championships at Arizona and has been America’s leader in the breaststroke on and off dating to 2013. He was twice the Pac-12’s men’s swimmer of the year.
4. George DiCarlo. His gold medal at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics was a tip that UA swimming was a rising power. He won two NCAA championships in the 500 freestyle.
5. Roland Schoeman. At Arizona, the freestyle sprinter from South Africa won the NCAA championship in the 50 freestyle, and placed second twice and third in three other sprint events. He won a gold, silver and bronze at the 2004 Olympics.
6. Simon Burnett. Recruited from Great Britain, Burnett won the NCAA freestyle in 2003, 2005 and 2006 and helped four UA relay teams win NCAA titles.
7. Chad Carvin. America’s 1997 men’s swimmer of the year won two NCAA individual titles at Arizona, set three American records and made the 2000 Sydney Olympics team, assisting on a gold medal relay team.
8. Seth Pepper. Part of Busch’s building years at Arizona, Pepper won the 1993 men’s 100 butterfly and added a second and two third place finishes in the NCAA finals. His brother, Martin Pepper, won the 1996 NCAA 100 butterfly.
9. Mariusz Podkoscielny. The Polish distance swimmer was a standout for Busch’s first UA team after winning the 1989 NCAA title in the 1,650 freestyle. He added a second-place finish in 1990 and a pair of No. 3 finishes in later seasons and became the head coach at Oregon State and Miami of Florida.
10. Darian Townsend. After transferring to Tucson from the Florida Gators, Townsend, of South Africa, won the NCAA title in the 200 freestyle in 2008, was second a year earlier and was part of four NCAA championship relay teams.