FEDERAL WAY, Wash. -- If you were expecting Kevin Cordes to be all excited after setting the American record in the 100-yard breaststroke Friday morning, well …

“It was good,” the 6-foot-5 Arizona freshman said calmly. Then he paused.

“The American record was my goal and I thought I would get it out of the way in prelims and bring it home and get the win [Friday night].”

Certainly the spotlight will be on Cordes when the Division I Men’s Swimming and Diving Championships continue at the Weyerhaeuser King County Aquatic Center. His was the premiere swim on the morning of the second day of the three-day meet as he finished in 51.32 seconds, breaking the mark of 51.35 set by Michael Alexandrov in 2010.

“He’s a good kid. He’s very coachable. It’s been fun to watch him make progress because his progress has been very steady,” Arizona coach Eric Hansen said.

“Whenever you give him something to work on he’s a kid who digests it and you see the changes in workout. So I can’t say [the record] honestly surprised me, because I’ve been seeing him kind of transform and it’s really good.”

I’d like to carry this momentum into the 200 [breaststroke]. It’s a different race but I think I can handle it.
-- Arizona freshman Kevin Cordes after setting the American record in the 100 breast

Cordes swam a 51.76 at a meet in Texas in December, which was the fastest time in the country this season. 

“Ever since then I thought I would get it at NCAAs,” he said.

His coach thinks this is just the beginning.

“He’s great in short course, but I can’t wait till Olympic Trials to watch him swim long course,” Hansen said. “He’s way better in the long course.”

Most important is that he’s way better in the pool than he was at football, basketball and baseball.

“Swimming was probably my fourth sport until after my freshman year,” the lanky Cordes said. “I quit all the other sports and started year-round training for swimming my sophomore year and it seemed to pay off.”

He admitted that his swimming coaches feared injury because he was a catcher and outfielder in baseball, running back and defensive end in football and a power forward in basketball, the sport he really missed “like when I was waking up at 4:45 in the morning [for swim practice]. That’s not a good feeling, but it paid off.”

Cordes is from Naperville, Ill., not far from where his father, Bill, grew up in Dekalb. Bill, also 6-5, also went to Arizona. He was there from 1984 to 1989, where he played quarterback for the Wildcats until surgeries on both shoulders ended his career. He met his wife, Kristin, there.

In the seventh grade, Kevin's football team played in a tournament in Tucson. “So I gave the guys a tour of the athletic department and he loved it from that point forward,” Bill said.

Kevin said his parents never pressured him to go to Arizona -- he was also recruited by Cal, USC, Virginia and Auburn -- but obviously they’re thrilled.

“When I got my first letter from Arizona I was pretty happy,” Kevin said. “They were always up there for me when I was trying to decide where I was going to go.”

Friday night, Cordes swam the breaststroke leg on Arizona’s national title-winning 200-yard medley relay and then won the 100 breaststroke final in 51.71. He’ll swim the 200 breaststroke Saturday.

Arizona, which won the team title in 2008 and finished second in 2006, is one of the teams considered to have a shot at the title, and breaststroke is a big reason why. Junior Carl Mickelson, who won both the 100 and 200 breasts at the Pac-12 Championships, qualified third for Friday’s final (51.86) and teammate Kevin Munsch made the consolation final, qualifying 16th.

“I’d like to carry this momentum into the 200,” Cordes said. “It’s a different race but I think I can handle it.”

At this point, there doesn’t seem to be much he can’t handle. As his dad said, “He was a late bloomer physically. He always was smaller and skinnier but competed pretty well. And the fit at Arizona has been perfect and he’s really taken off.”

Hansen said he knew that Cordes had a bright future.

“I saw the things that made him great. Those are things that are hard to teach. He’s a glider and he’s a kid who works with his body line really well,” Hansen said. “He’s gotten a lot stronger, he’s gained probably 15 pounds, and he’s got a great training group and that helps as well.”

Hansen is also tall and lanky but the real similarity between Cordes and him is “he hates to lose, I’ll tell you that,” the coach said. “That’s a great quality to have.”

Hansen that he enjoys Cordes’ sense of humor.

“He’s a funny kid. His smirk is worth everything to me when he gets out,” Hansen said. “He’s very soft-spoken so when he gives you that smirk it’s worth a lot.”

He joked that Cordes is “always injured. He’s got the Kevin Cordes training plan. His breaststroke is basically his only stroke and you don’t want to beat it to death, so we do a lot of different stuff with him.”

Like have him swim freestyle with a snorkel. Cordes laughed when asked about it. Of course, he had just broken an American record a short while earlier, so pretty much everything was worth laughing about, even being overlooked until this year.

“There were other great breaststrokers in my class who were far ahead of me in high school,” Cordes said. “That just pushed me and motivated me to get to their level. Just being in the sport more and practicing has helped me put everything all together.”