By Branden Lombardi
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Thursday February 27, 2003
How do you reward a team for a strong season against one of the most punishing schedules in the sport?
Put it in the Pacific 10 conference championships against seven other teams ranked in the top 25 in the country, that's how.
The No. 6 Arizona women's swim and dive team survived its rigorous dual meet season with an impressive 6-3 record overall and 4-1 mark in the Pac-10 conference, but as it arrives at the Weyerhaeuser King County Aquatic Center in Federal Way, Wash., its previous performances no longer matter.
As the top-ranked team in an ultra competitive field that includes No. 7 California, No. 8 Stanford, No. 9 USC, No. 12 UCLA, No. 15 ASU and No. 23 Washington, the Arizona women will have to be up to the challenge to place better than last year's third place finish here at the Pac-10 championships.
"I like where our girls are at," said head coach Frank Busch. "It's going to be a fast meet overall. I mean not just our girls, but everyone here will be swimming extremely fast times."
Busch has reason to be confident that his team will perform well. Senior Beth Botsford, sophomore Emily Mason and sophomore Jessica Hayes have had dominating spring seasons and even with the stiff competition, these three are favored to pick up victories for the Wildcats.
However, one problem the Wildcats will have to overcome is their lack of depth. Arizona carries one of the smaller teams in the Pac-10 with 15 swimmers and five divers. With places awarded to the top 24 swimmers in each race, it will be tough for the Wildcats to score enough points to keep pace with the larger teams in the competition.
"I think the 24 places really rewards mediocrity, rather than talent," said Busch. "It gets more swimmers involved, which I think is tied to Title IX; but I don't know, it affects how we are able to finish."
Another hurdle in the way of the Arizona women is California's all-American junior Natalie Coughlin, who holds the top time in numerous events this year.
Coughlin, who will be defending three Pac-10 titles this weekend, is sure to meet up head to head with both senior Beth Botsford and sophomore Emily Mason in various events throughout the meet.
Those races will be highlights of the weekend as Coughlin and Mason are ranked No. 1 and No. 2 respectively in the 500-yard freestyle, and Coughlin and Botsford are ranked No. 1 and No. 2 in the 100-yard backstroke.
"Natalie is about as close to being unbeatable as you can be" said Busch. "She is one of the greatest NCAA swimmers of all time, and a special gift to this sport."
Even though there will be difficulties to overcome for the Wildcats, their tough dual meet season has prepared them for the competition, and they will most certainly be up to the task.
"It is going to be a team effort for us to be at our best," said Busch. "We have a goal to perform well and get at least five more girls placed into the NCAA championships."
The swimmers will not be alone, as both the men's and women's diving squads will be here competing this weekend as well.
Junior diver Claire Febvay leads the Wildcat women, coming off a strong spring season that concluded with victories in both the 1-meter and 3-meter diving competition against Arizona State.
Junior Josh Anderson leads the men's dive team that last year had a strong performance at the Pac-10's including four of the top five places in the platform diving event.
The men's swim team has an extra week to prepare for its Pac-10 championship meet, which is set for March 6-8 in Long Beach, Calif.