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Saturday, April 19, 2014 | Last updated: 6:05am

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Swimmer Barber looks to lead Wildcats to national championship



Three-time All-American Matt Barber will be a driving force for Arizona’s nationally ranked men’s swim team this season and looks to lead the Wildcats to their first national championship since 2008.

“He’s just a solid guy,” senior Matt Hurko said. “He’s almost like a dad figure on the team. This year has been real good for him, he has been progressing steadily and preformed well this winter at short course nationals; so we are looking for some good swims out of him.”

Barber began swimming at a young age, developing a love for the sport and eventually enough passion to join a club team. As his passion and drive grew, his talent developed into skill and he soon became a highly recognized high school prospect.

“He was very headstrong and very determined to succeed,” Kingwood high school coach Brad Quindt said. “He looked at every opportunity to train well and swim well and always rose to the challenge. Overall, he is just a really good team player, and he matured well while at Kingwood High School.”

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By PAUL DYE / Arizona Daily Wildcat
UA Swimmer Matt Barber

During his senior year in high school, he won three gold medals in the state championships and was named by the Houston Chronicle as MVP for his swimming performances.

“It was a pretty awesome experience,” Barber said. “Our team was really close together and we were trying to go for the state title that year, but ended up placing second. Regardless, three golds were awesome, and I was really happy with that meet.”

Barber also competed on four junior national teams throughout high school and was invited to race with the National Club Swimming Association’s All Star team in Dublin, Ireland.

“It was an awesome experience and great international experience in competition,” Barber said. “It’s always going to be a high caliber meet and there is always going to be someone faster than you. You are going to be competing no matter what.”

As his high school career came to a close, Barber had difficulty choosing between Texas, Virginia and Arizona, but his trip here sealed the deal. He immediately fell in love with Arizona’s team and atmosphere.

“I’m glad he chose Arizona,” head coach Eric Hansen said. “He is a really hard worker, is a leader of our team, and just recently made the US National team, so he has momentum on his side. We are really anxious to see what he can do in March [at NCAA Championships].”

During his first season as a Wildcat, Barber contributed to the team’s overall cause while subsequently earning All-American honors in the 800 freestyle relay.

“It was awesome, a big surprise, I guess,” Barber said. “I wasn’t sure what All-American meant coming in as a freshman, but I’m glad I was a contributor to the team.”

That year at the Pac-10 Championships in Long Beach, Calif., he qualified in the top eight in both the 200 and 500y-freestyle events. He then proceeded to place within the top 35 in the country in the 200 and 500y freestyle and 200y butterfly events at the NCAA Championships.

“I think I still haven’t peaked in my NCAA Championship performances,” Barber said. “I’ve been going up every year though; it’s a work in progress and I hope to improve on that this season and next.”

In his sophomore campaign, Barber showed improvement and began to step up in a key role. At the Texas Invite that year, he posted personal bests in the 500y-freestyle and 200y-butterfly. At the NCAA Championships that March, Barber earned two All-American awards for his performance in the 800y freestyle relay and 500y freestyle event.

“It was better than my freshman year,” Barber said. “I was more of a contributor to the team. As a freshman I didn’t really know what was going on, I was kind of still getting used to the college atmosphere and the size of the competition. Racing in NCAA Championships is an atmosphere that is completely unique and more powerful than any other meet I’ve swam at — it’s a phenomenal experience. I was pretty disappointed with my results at my NC’s last year, but I got back in the water and cleaned up a few things, and then trained over the break and had a really good summer.”

This season, Barber looks to embrace his new role as a true team leader. He has already contributed to the Wildcats’ winning ways in many dual meets this season and looks forward to creating a splash as the season finishes off.

“I’m most looking forward to NCAA’s and having a full squad competing for a national title,” Barber said. “I think that’s pretty special and we have a very special group of guys here, and we can accomplish whatever we want to.”


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