In late March, Max McCusker watched with the Florida State swim and dive team as Leon Marchand and Grant House combined for four top-two finishes in the men's 2022 NCAA swim and dive championship. When he decided to put his name in the transfer portal, ASU was at the top of the list.
McCusker transferred to ASU because of the high-quality coaching staff and to be a part of the world-class sprint program that is growing at the Mona Plummer Aquatic Center. He is the newest addition to the Sun Devils roster that boasts championship experience and pedigree.
Before McCusker headed to ASU, he was the captain of his team at FSU and was the 2022 Irish National Champion in the 50 freestyle, 50 butterfly, 100 freestyle, and 100 butterfly. He is also the FSU record holder in the 200-medley relay.
With all of his accolades and prior experience, McCusker can add a lot to the team this year. But for now, he is still trying to find his role on the roster, even with his experience.
"Every week I'm struggling to find my place but not overthink it too much," McCusker said.
He says the confidence was there before, and now he is working on getting that back. With the experience he has with being an Irish National Champion, he is trying to transfer that energy into a team scenario.
Big transitions aren't new to McCusker. At 18, he left his home of Harlow in Essex County, England to swim at FSU. He admits he was pretty naïve about his transition then, but that experience has prepared him for this one.
Moving from Florida to ASU was a bit more difficult because of how fast and skilled the ASU swim team is. For McCusker, it's been a task to get used to the team as a fifth-year and to transition from being a captain.
"You (have) the likes of Leon (Marchand) and Grant (House), they are NCAA champions in their own right, each," McCusker said. "Realizing that I need to relax and get into it a bit more is what I need. That works for me and not comparing myself to everyone on the team, but being a part of (the team)."
A significant factor in why he chose ASU was assistant coach Herbie Behm. Everything he discussed with McCusker aligned with what he wanted moving forward in his swimming career.
"I spoke to a load of teams in the transfer portal, but as soon as I spoke to Herbie, we just got on really well," McCusker said.
McCusker likes how Behm is specific with his training and how everything has a purpose. It is easy for McCusker to talk to him and learn from a strategic standpoint.
"I feel like he is the Elon Musk of swimming sometimes," McCusker said.
Behm believes McCusker is starting to overcome the pressure he puts on himself and adjusting well to being at ASU to swim faster. Behm sees the potential in McCusker if he can get out of his own head.
"He is a 23-year-old fifth-year senior who has already trained quite a bit but still has improvement left, which is exciting," Behm said.
McCusker has made his mark here at ASU within the first couple of weeks. In the team's first home opener against Wisconsin, he won the 50-meter freestyle and 100-meter butterfly.
Before that, McCusker helped his teams place second in the 200-freestyle relay against Georgia and third in the 400-freestyle relay against Missouri.
"He has done a really good job of overcoming that struggle, and this last meet, he did really well, winning every event he swam in," Behm said.
For the team, Behm said McCusker brings a lot of maturity for someone in his first year at ASU. He understands what college is like, and he brings a lot outside of the pool too.
"It's cool to hear him talk about how the team's culture is and how this is a special thing for him even though he has already been through four years of college," Behm said.
Behm knows how significant a contribution McCusker will bring to the relays and that he is one of the best in the NCAA.
Coach Bob Bowman believes McCusker can bring leadership and work ethic to the team.
"We have been fortunate to add such hard-working, talented student-athletes to our roster," Bowman said.
Now McCusker and the team head to Los Angeles for their next meet against USC on November 4.
Edited by Walker Smith, David Rodish and Grace Copperthite.