A week ago, at the deadline to qualify for the 2012 USA Olympic swimming trials, Tucson Ford Dealers Aquatics coach Johno Fergusson drove UA swimmers Briana Wilford, Jeff Amlee and Brian Stevens to the Phoenix Invitational.
Talk about pressure.
It was a happy drive home for the coach and the athletes. The three swimmers - Amlee, a Rincon High School grad; Wilford, who is from Amado; and Stevens, who is from Phoenix Brophy Prep - all made their Olympic cuts and will be in Omaha this week.
That gives the UA/Ford Aquatics program 55 swimmers in Omaha, shattering its 2008 Olympic trials record of 41. It is the most of any club swimming program in the country.
"I remember at the 1992 Olympic trials, I think we took three people," said former UA swimming coach Frank Busch, now director of the U.S. national team. "We took Crissy Ahmann, Seth Pepper and Kelli King. Crissy made the Olympic team. It was the start of something pretty good."
Eleven of the 55 swam at Southern Arizona high schools, and eight are incoming freshmen, a testament to UA coach Eric Hansen's first full recruiting class as Busch's replacement.
And it's not that the 11 Tucson-area swimmers are just filling out the heat sheets. Here's a look at the local swimmers bound for Omaha:
• Caitlin Leverenz, Sahuaro. A senior-to-be at Cal, Leverenz was the NCAA's leading female swimmer of 2012 and is a strong favorite to make the Olympic team in the 200 IM, the 400 IM, a relay event or two, and possibly the 200 breast stroke.
• Marcus Titus, Flowing Wells. The UA grad is one of six swimmers at the top of the 100 breast stroke field whose best times are within 0.58 of a second of one another.
• Sarah Denninghoff, Sabino. A five-time All-American at Arizona, Denninghoff has qualified in five events and is a serious contender, 14th overall, in the 100 backstroke.
• Bryan O'Connor, Catalina Foothills. The former Falcons state champion and 2007 NCAA All-American is a veteran of the 2008 trials. He is ranked in the top 50 in the 100 back and 200 IM.
• Emma Darlington, Salpointe. A three-time All-American at Arizona, Darlington hopes to make the final 16, the semifinals, of the 100 freestyle.
• Nick Hadinger, Sabino. He's hoping to crack the top 20 in the 100 backstroke.
• Sara Borendame, Ironwood Ridge. The youngest of Tucson's 11-member brigade in Omaha, the prep senior could be making the first of several appearances in the 100 breast stroke.
• Brandon Young, Douglas. Barely scratching the surface of his swimming potential, Young, who will swim collegiately at Utah, faces a strong field in the 200 breast stroke.
• Jeff Amlee, Rincon. He swam so well in the Phoenix Invitational last week that the UA junior moved into the top 82 among all 50 freestyle swimmers.
• Briana Wilford, Amado. Home-schooled during high school before becoming an Arizona Wildcat, Wilford is ranked No. 94 in the 50 freestyle.
• Maggie McCord, CDO. Headed to Houston on a swimming scholarship, McCord qualified in the 50 freestyle.
RichRod buys some time
Wildcats get a good jump on football's rebuilding
In three productive June weeks, UA football coach Rich Rodriguez received commitments from 11 high school seniors, unprecedented in UA football history.
However, none of the 11 is rated any higher than three stars by Rivals.com. In an Arizona perspective, so what?
I trust Rodriguez's experience, judgment and overall recruiting strategy. Arizona would be wiped out if it targeted unattainable four- and five-star recruits. Rodriguez has instead elected to target capable midlevel recruits before they get swarmed by other programs in the fall and winter.
The hay is in the barn at a time Arizona football is in desperate need of capable players to restock what was lost in the Mike Stoops meltdown. The emergency needs at linebacker and quarterback have been filled.
If even 10 of the 18 players already committed to Arizona football turn out to be capable players - a Brooks Reed here and an Eben Britton there - Rodriguez's 2012 strategy will pay off in 2014 and thereafter.
Of particular note, Pasadena, Calif., quarterback Brandon Cox, a lefty in the mold of RichRod's standout Michigan QB Dennard Robinson, gives great hope for the next five seasons.
In the final seven months of recruiting, Rodriguez and his staff can hand-pick a few star-level recruits and pursue them in earnest in an attempt to close out a bountiful recruiting year.
Holt, Dobyns follow dads' steps in Notre Dame visit
You might imagine the happy memories that came back to former UA defensive lineman Julius Holt and ex-UA receiver Jay Dobyns this week. Their sons, freshman lineman Justin Holt and senior receiver Jack Dobyns, were part of the Salpointe Catholic football team that is taking part in a 7-on-7 passing tournament on the Notre Dame campus in South Bend, Ind. In 1982, Holt was the UA's game captain and Dobyns caught two passes as the Wildcats stunned undefeated Notre Dame 16-13 on the Irish's hallowed turf. Salpointe finished 10th out of 70 teams in the competition and junior Cameron Denson was offered a scholarship by Notre Dame coaches. … The Tucson City Council last week voted to rename some of Bristol Park in Barrio Centro as "Mike Dawson Field." It was the boyhood neighborhood of the 1976 UA All-America lineman, a nine-year NFL defensive lineman who died at 54 in 2008. If it stands for anything, it is that kids in the Barrio Centro neighborhood should realize you don't have to live in more affluent areas to be a success. A plaque honoring Dawson, who led Tucson High to the 1970 and 1971 state championship, will be unveiled in October. … Santa Rita High and UA grad Barrett Baker, who made a mark as a walk-on special teams player on Arizona's 12-1 football team of 1998, is now a captain in the Tucson Fire Department. Baker has been promoted as the TFD's public information officer.
By finishing tied for second at the U.S. Open, Tucsonan Michael Thompson now qualifies for the 2013 Masters and 2013 U.S. Open. Even better, he is now No. 52 in the world rankings, qualifying him for the four lucrative (guaranteed paydays of $40,000 minimum) World Golf Championships events, such as Marana's WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship. Thompson isn't new to success: in 2002, he led Red Morrow's Rincon/University High Rangers to the state title.
More Short Stuff
Ex-Sabino golfer wins, sets record, on to Q-school
Sabino High grad Nate Tyler earned $21,000 earlier this month when he won the National Pro Tour's summer championship in Scottsdale. Tyler, who has played in the U.S. Open and reached the final stage of PGA Tour qualifying school, had rounds of 65-66-68-67, winning by 10 strokes, a record on that tour. He has earned $41,365 this year as he awaits Q-school in October. … The Pac-12 Network is going to change the culture of non-revenue sports at Arizona and elsewhere. Consider this: UA volleyball coach Dave Rubio learned last week that his 2012 team will be televised 13 times on the Pac-12 Network. Some games will start at 11 a.m., and others at 2 p.m., to accommodate the TV schedule, but that's a small price to pay for the exposure … The awkward departure of Larry Ray as Arizona's assistant softball coach is the third time in five years that Mike Candrea encountered unrest on his staff. No wonder the Wildcats have struggled to maintain their national success. Previously Nancy Evans and Teresa Wilson left Candrea's staff in less-than-happy circumstances. Now Candrea must worry that pitcher Kenzie Fowler, who was misused under Wilson, might not be able to get through the summer without back surgery. … Kyryl Natyazhko signed a two-year contract with Azovmash Mariupol of the Ukraine pro basketball league. It's the top division of the Euroleague, and good work for someone who averaged 1.1 points as an Arizona junior this season.
UA's LaRose a leading Pac-12 administrator
Next June, Rocky LaRose will complete her 34-year career as a UA associate athletic director as one of the three leading female figures in Pac-12 history. Only former USC associate AD and Washington AD Barbara Hedges and Wazzu's Marcia Saneholtz, who retired in 2007 after 28 years, can come close to LaRose's accomplishments. LaRose has two enduring qualifications that set her apart: She gets things done and she is fair. I can't remember a negative word about her in 30 years. … When the NBA Charlotte Bobcats hired ex-UA assistant Mike Dunlap to be their head coach last week, the NBA world didn't raise an eyebrow. That's because the lack of people skills that kept Dunlap from being a big-time college head coach don't matter in the NBA. In the pros, it's all about X's and O's and W's and L's. In college basketball, the coach becomes the face of the program, always on stage. ASU's Herb Sendek is a lot like Dunlap and, over time, probably would've made a better NBA coach.
My two cents
Salpointe slugger, other '13 recruits give UA hope
Incoming Salpointe Catholic senior Michael Hoard was named to the Louisville Slugger high school All-America first team last week.
When Hoard, a power-hitting lefty first baseman, committed to Arizona coach Andy Lopez last summer, some in the college baseball industry thought he should've waited. Weren't there better offers out there?
But now Hoard's decision to be a Wildcat looks absolutely brilliant.
On paper, Lopez's incoming recruiting class of 2013 seems sure to be less affected by the MLB draft than at any time in the last decade. Only Salt Lake City pitcher Brady Lail (17th round, Yankees) and Ramona, Calif., second baseman Jackson Willeford (12th round, Royals) continue to be pursued by pro teams and must be signed by July 15.
The other 12 from Lopez's recruiting class seem likely to be the core of another run to Omaha by 2014 or 2015, when Hoard is in a Wildcat uniform.
After Arizona won the 1986 NCAA title, Jerry Kindall brought in a freshman class that included future major-leaguers J.T. Snow and Alan Zinter, leading to a 1989 club that dominated the Pac-10 at 23-7, the best league record in school history.
So this isn't likely to be Lopez's last big run at the national title.