Twenty months, 91 weeks, 637 days. This is how long of a hiatus the ASU swim and dive team took from competing after head coach Bob Bowman sent waves through his entire team by redshirting his players through the 2020-21 season due to COVID-19.
Little did each player know that sitting out a whole year and solely honing their craft would be the best thing that would happen.
"I think individually everyone had to figure out what they were training for and why they wanted to train, which made them stronger in the long run," redshirt junior Jack Little said.
Upon hearing they would be redshirted for the entire season, all the athletes were emotional.
"It was really tough mentally just being practice dummies all year," redshirt junior Lizzy Spears said. "It was like the pulling back of a slingshot preparing us for this year."
While the Sun Devils were unable to compete against other schools, they participated in intense training all year, including intrasquad meets. Training helped the Sun Devils since they were not distracted by COVID-19 and could just focus on their love of swimming.
"I was really appreciative that Bob and the rest of our coaching staff took the initiative to ease our minds about COVID-19 because a lot of other teams would travel for a meet just for it to be canceled hours before and we never had to go through that," Spears said.
Through the trials and errors of the 2020-21 redshirt season, the Sun Devils were able to improve through hard work and dedication. It may not have been worth points, but the Sun Devils worked just as hard competing against one another.
"For each person, the redshirt year made them even stronger," Little said. "We trained and trained and trained. No one else worked as hard as us."
Not only did the Sun Devils grow as a team, but individually, there were lessons to be learned by all the athletes.
"(The) redshirt year was a time to reflect and dig deep," redshirt sophomore Savannah Mitchell said. "I think each athlete needed to find that place of resilience and perseverance. Nothing worth anything in life is easy. The year tested our collective spirit, but we have come out stronger because of it."
Coming out stronger was an understatement as the women's team started the 2021-22 season beating Washington State 157-105 in their opening meet. It was followed by a victory against UCLA 173-121 with wins from Emma Nordin in the 1,000-yard freestyle and Erica Laning in the 200-yard freestyle.
On the men's side, while the final scores may not show it, they demonstrated they were a talented bunch. In their opening meet against USC, they secured a victory in the 100-yard backstroke, and redshirt sophomore Alex Colson swam a 47.78 on the 100-yard butterfly, winning that competition with ease. Colson has continued the season into competitions against Stanford and Cal.
As well as being able to compete against other schools, fans have finally been allowed back into the Mona Plummer Aquatic Center giving the Sun Devils a jolt of energy and something more to play for.
"It really meant a lot to us," Little said. "Even though we were not facing a rival school, watching everyone come out just to see us compete against ourselves was really awesome. I just know that they always have our back and are really supporting our program."
It hasn't all been good. ASU took a road trip to California and came back with losses to Stanford and Cal. But the redshirt year taught them to handle adversity which the team believes will help them finish the season strong.
"I think I have really learned to live in the moment," Spears said. "You can't change the past and you never know what can change in 24 hours so it's really important to live life one lap at a time."
The Sun Devils look to end their regular season against the UA Wildcats on Feb. 5 at noon MST.
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