Editor’s note: Seventh in a series of articles examining how each BYU program will stack up against its new conference foes. Today’s program: men’s swimming and diving team.

Bud Shields is the greatest BYU student-athlete you’ve never heard of.

A Stockton, Utah, native who first competed at Provo High, Shields was named Most Outstanding Swimmer at both the 1928 and 1929 collegiate swimming championships, breaking national and college records in both the 440-yard freestyle and 220-yard freestyle each year. In 2021, the College Swimming and Diving Coaches Association of America named Shields to its list of the 100 greatest men’s swimmers and divers from the past 100 years.

Since Shields, the BYU men’s swimming and diving program has continued to compete well in the Western Athletic Conference, then the Mountain West Conference, and most recently the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation, winning team and individual conference championships at each stop.  

Much of the program’s history has been led by two coaches: Tim Powers, who led the Cougars swimmers for 37 years from 1975 to 2012, and Keith Russell, who guided the divers for 23 years from 1992 to 2015. Together they coached more than 50 All-Americans and almost two dozen Olympians.

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The Cougars have put up points at the NCAA Championships 19 times in program history, finishing as high as 20th in 1972. BYU last scored at nationals in 2016, finishing 21st overall.

The Cougars are now led by Shari Skabelund, a longtime assistant coach who took over as head coach of the men’s and women’s swimming teams in 2021. The divers have been coached since 2015 by Tyce Routson. For the past 12 seasons, BYU has competed in the MPSF, winning seven conference titles, including each of the last three.

Returners for BYU include last year’s MPSF Swimmer of the Year Brad Prolo, who won the 100 breaststroke and 200 butterfly and competed at nationals. Three-time MPSF Diver of the Year Mickey Strauss also is back; the senior has won a handful of conference titles and holds multiple school records.

Seniors Tama Tuitama (400 individual medley, backstroke) and Tony Puertas (100/200 butterfly, 200 individual medley) and juniors Emerson Edwards (breaststroke), Jacob Ballard (versatile) and Diego Camacho (Mexican 50-meter backstroke record holder competing at the world championships on July 29) will also look to lead the Cougars.

They’ll be joined by freshmen Joshua Reed (sprints), Carson Hamblin (freestyle, butterfly) and Bryce Broadhead (backstroke) along with Tennessee transfer and Pleasant Grove native Jordan Tiffany (versatile).

Big 12 men’s swimming and diving

One program sums up almost the entirety of the history of Big 12 men’s swimming and diving: Texas. In 27 years of Big 12 competition, the Longhorns have won 27 titles. Legendary head coach Eddie Reese has guided Texas to 15 national championships (most of any school in the nation), including four straight from 2015-18 and most recently in 2021. At least one Longhorn wins an individual national title almost every year, too.

TCU and West Virginia have been the only other two Big 12 teams sponsoring men’s swimming and diving but will be joined this year by Cincinnati as well as BYU. West Virginia has largely held the edge over TCU lately, taking second in the conference meet six straight seasons up until last year.

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The Mountaineers’ most recent appearance at the NCAA meet was a 32nd-place finish in 2021; they’ve posted points eight times at the NCAA championships since 2006. TCU has only two NCAA scoring seasons, once in 1994 and again in 1997.

Fellow newcomer Cincinnati’s most recent NCAA appearance was in 2010. In its last three seasons in the American Athletic Conference the Bearcats have only had SMU to compete with and have taken second all three years, though Cincy did win AAC titles in 2018 and 2019.

 How will BYU fare?

Swimming and diving season begins in the fall then picks up again in the new year with the Big 12 championships in February and the NCAA championships in March.

The Cougars’ plethora of upperclassmen will be a real asset in 2023-24. While Texas will most assuredly win the conference meet one last time before moving on to the SEC, BYU should be in the mix with their remaining conference competition. With so many events and athletes competing it’s tough to predict outcomes, but I believe BYU will finish a respectable third behind Texas and TCU in its first year in the Big 12.

BYU competes against TCU during the 2022-23 season. BYU is now conference mates with the Horned Frogs as members of the Big 12. | Jaren Wilkey, BYU Photo
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