The ASU men's swim and diving team ended its season with its highest all-time finish at the NCAA Championships.
Sophomore Léon Marchand was paramount to the team's success this season as he shattered multiple records and was named College Swimming Coaches Association of America's Men’s Swimmer of the Year for the second consecutive season.
Marchand’s 1:46.91 in the 200-meter breaststroke broke the NCAA record, which he set only three weeks prior at the Pac-12 Championships and broke records with his wins in the 200 IM and 400 IM. The Sun Devils took second place in the NCAA Championships, marking an extraordinary finale to an unforgettable season.
ASU finished with 430 points in the final standings with Cal finishing first with 482 points. This was the highest the Sun Devils have ever finished in the program's history. Last season, the team took sixth place at 236 points.
Marchand set school records in the 500-meter freestyle, 100-meter breaststroke, 200-meter breaststroke, 200-meter IM and 400-meter IM throughout the 2022-23 season, remaining undefeated with a sweep of all 27 individual events he has been in since the season began. He has also been a powerhouse in relay events: the 400-meter free relay, 800-meter free relay, 200-meter medley relay, and 400-meter free relay, all of which have broken progarm records this season.
Marchand's individual success, paired with ASU’s overall dominance in the sport, had been in the spotlight from day one of this season. Marchand’s impact was evident early on, shining at the Maroon and Gold Scrimmage in Tempe last September and through the Pac-12 Championships earlier this month.
Head coach Bob Bowman said during a Feb. 1 press conference that aptitude like Marchand’s was vital to assembling a history-making team.
"We have, by far, our most talented team,” Bowman said. “We spent a lot of time recruiting. So, you have to have 'Léons' if you're going to compete at the top level.”
Having “Léons” doesn’t just mean having fast swimmers. According to Bowman, it also means having swimmers know precisely what is expected of them, what needs to be done to meet those expectations and the ability to foresee and surmount the barriers that may stand in their way.
“We have a team that is very goal-oriented and process-oriented to achieve those goals," Bowman said. "Everyone is bought into the philosophy we have that the process is more important than the outcome."
For Marchand, the process hasn’t only been more important but more enjoyable. Since coming to ASU, the frequency of competitions has given him more practical feedback on the work he and his teammates have put in throughout the season.
Marchand wasn't the only Sun Devil standout in Minneapolis. Freshman Hubert Kos broke the ASU record for the 200-meter backstroke and finished third with a 1:37.96 time. ASU also had 14 all-Americans at the meet.
"You know, when I was in France, I was training for maybe three or four months until the first meet. Now we have a meet every two weeks, three weeks. I really like it,” Marchand said. “It's just way better for me because I know if my work pays off quickly. It's also easier for me to get to work when I know in two weeks, I'm going to compete against another team. So, I like going one step at a time.”
"One step at a time" became more than a process, but a mantra for the season.
Bowman said this short-term planning process to set more immediate goals and overcome more imminent obstacles resulted in the input of maximum effort and has built the team up to the historic championship caliber that it is now.
“What matters is what you do today when you walk in the pool at 2:00 p.m., not what you're thinking about doing six months down the road,” Bowman said. “When they come into practice today, they'll have a mission. I'll give them a plan for what we're going to do, and they will look it over, formulate the best way to accomplish it, and then give their full effort towards that.”
The program at ASU has become nearly unstoppable after a significant amount of time building itself up.
“If you do that day in and day out over a period of years, you can become very successful," Bowman said. "Our culture is very strong, and that's why the team is very strong,"
Bowman added that he believes that having a swimmer of Marchand’s distinction combined with that philosophy and culture of winning has helped shape their identity within the NCAA.
"When you see someone breaking an NCAA record … it just gives you an idea of what's possible if you work hard," Bowman said. "They (the team) see what he does every day in practice. So, it sort of raises their individual expectation of what they can accomplish in practice and in meets. It definitely helps."
Redshirt junior Jack Dolan said during a March 7 press conference that while the team had previously been fighting for recognition, it now feels validated among competitors.
“We were fighting to make a name for ourselves these past few years," Dolan said. "Now we have a belief in each other that we compete for an NCAA Championship. The coaches believe in us. We believe in each other, so that’s been the main difference."
Results for the 2023 NCAA Championships can be found online, with ESPNU airing tape-delay coverage on April 4 at 12:30 p.m.
Edited by Walker Smith, Jasmine Kabiri and Greta Forslund.