‘It'll be fun to see where he takes it’
Record-setting spin has Cordes excited about the future
INDIANAPOLIS -- The buzz around the Indiana University Natatorium at IUPUI began as soon as Arizona's Kevin Cordes hit the water from his starting block Saturday night.
Cordes ripped through the water as the crowd rose to its feet. Ahead of his own American-record pace at every interval of the 200-yard breaststroke, Cordes polished off his stay at the Division I Men's Swimming and Diving Championships by winning the event in an unheard-of 1:48.68.
Arizona coach Eric Hansen ran up to Cordes afterward and told him, "You're starting to get fast."
Cordes, a sophomore from Naperville, Ill., flashed back a smirk in typical fashion with his coach.
"It's our little humor," Hansen said.
Oh, yes, Cordes is getting pretty fast.
Less than a year after he missed making the U.S. Olympics Team by less than half a second, Cordes has emerged as the top men's breaststroker in the United States. Every time he went into the pool this week for breaststroke events, he broke NCAA Championship and American short-course records. When he was in the pool to compete on a relay team, school records fell.
Cordes broke his own record in the 200 breaststroke prelims Saturday by nearly a second, finishing in 1:49.79. Then he dropped it by more than a second in the finals. No breaststroker had ever covered 200 yards in less than 1:50.
Records, Cordes said, is not the first thing he is thinking about.
"I guess the time is in my mind," he said. "I really just try to go out swim the best that I can, the best to my ability."
Friday, he broke his own American record in the 100 prelims, then blasted the American, championship and U.S. Open records in the finals with a time of 50.74 seconds. Thursday, his split time of 49.56 seconds in the butterfly segment of the 400 medley relay was the fastest in NCAA history.
"He's redefining this stroke more than I've ever seen," Hansen said.
Adding to Cordes' joy was that Arizona pulled off a one-two sweep in both the 100 and 200 breaststroke races. Kevin Steel was runner-up in the 100 and Carl Mickelson was second in the 200.
Because Cordes is just an 18-year-old sophomore, the best is still to come.
"You'd think he's a veteran (swimmer)," Hansen said. "He's not. He's not a veteran, he's a rookie. It'll be fun to see where he takes it."
Soon, that will be to the long-course Olympic distances where yards turn into meters. Cordes is now aiming to make the U.S. team that will compete this summer at the FINA World Championships. He is already a strong contender to make the U.S. Olympic Team for the Rio de Janeiro 2016 Olympic Games.
"Without a doubt," Hansen said. "My hat's off to him. I think he's going to be a better long-course breaster than short course just because of his ability to glide."
Cordes is quick to credit his club coach back home in the Chicago suburbs for much of his success. Dave Krotiak, a coach at the Fox Valley Swim Club, was the influence that sent Cordes into the breaststroke. Before working with Crotiak, Cordes was a swimmer at the Maverick Swim Club for seven years, beginning at age 7. Not surprisingly, Cordes holds the Naperville Neuqua Valley High School record for the 100 breaststroke. He also was on the water polo team for three years as goalkeeper.
"I have to give a lot of credit to my club coach back at home," Cordes said. "He made me really realize I could be a breaststroker and only a breaststroker. Really, the style of training in college, like being able to be more specific with it, is really what took it to the next level."
And now at Arizona, Cordes trains with not only a breaststroke squad that has proved to be the best in the country, but also several former Arizona stars including four-time Olympian and seven-time medalist Amanda Beard.
"It's awesome. Practicing with them every single day, pushing each other, especially the breaststroke group," Cordes said. "I think we have one of the best breaststroke groups in the country. It helps all of us to push each other every day."
Cordes is following a path that both of his parents took. Bill Cordes was a quarterback for the football team at Arizona in the 1980s. Kevin's mother, Kristin, is also an Arizona graduate. Kevin and Bill attended an Arizona football game during his freshman year. Kevin played football for two years at Neuqua Valley.
"The big thing for us was to find a place where he could succeed and progress," Bill Cordes said.
Standing atop the awards podium after winning his race Saturday, Cordes looked up into the stands to spot his family, which included his parents, brother and grandparents and his old coach Krotiak as well.