Louisville has long been synonymous with basketball thanks to the likes of Charlie Tyra, Wes Unseld, Darrell Griffith and Pervis Ellison. One could even make the case that UofL is a football school, boasting legends like Johnny Unitas, Teddy Bridgewater and Lamar Jackson.
While UofL swimming may not have the same deep history, the program’s trajectory is indeed on a similar path. In the past four years alone, UofL has crowned three NCAA champions in the pool – Joao De Lucca, Kelsi Worrell and Mallory Comerford.
This trajectory can be traced back about 15 years, when head coach Arthur Albiero moved his young family to Louisville – a city he had never stepped foot in prior – to coach a swim team that had dated facilities and very few resources.
Today, the team practices at the state-of-the-art Ralph Wright Natatorium on the eastern edge of the Belknap Campus. Arthur is currently in Irvine, California, with a sizable group of Cardinals – including his son Nick – for the 2018 Phillips 66 National Championships. In August, Arthur will take on head coaching duties for the U.S. women’s swim team at the Pan Pacific Championships in Tokyo.
Earlier this year, he was named ACC Women’s Swimming Coach of the Year, while Nick was voted Men’s Freshman of the Year.
In other words, Louisville swimming is now on the map, and Arthur Albiero and his family are a big reason why.
Coaching style traces back to powerhouse Kenyon College
Arthur himself was a college swimmer, winning the Division II NCAA title in the 200 Individual Medley for Oakland University, where he met his wife Amy, who was also a swimmer.
After college, the Albieros headed to Kenyon College in Ohio, where Arthur was hired as a graduate assistant under swimming giant Jim Steen. Under Steen, Kenyon College won 31 consecutive NCAA DIII national championships. No other program in any sport or division has come close to this feat.
“I called it the Jim Steen accelerated learning program. At that time, I wasn’t sure if coaching would be a career, but I knew I invested a lot of time and energy into the sport and it would be silly to put it in a box and put it away,” Arthur said.
He spent three years learning the ins and outs of Steen’s program before moving on as an assistant coach at the University of Alabama.
“I knew if I was going to coach, I wanted to coach DI. That’s where the best of the best are. The biggest shock was for me to go from Kenyon to Alabama. There’s something powerful to be said about a winning culture. You can’t quantify it, but you can see it and you can feel it and you certainly know if you don’t have it. Alabama did not have it,” Arthur said.
By his fourth year in Tuscaloosa, however, the culture started to change. Three swimmers went onto the Olympics.
After that fourth year, an opportunity to come to Louisville came up. Arthur sent his resume on a Saturday, had a phone interview on Monday, visited on Thursday and shook hands with then-AD Tom Jurich on Friday. The program had less than four full scholarships on the men’s side (the limit is 14), one assistant coach and the six-lane, antiquated Crawford Pool. The coach was excited about the idea of building something from the ground up.
With Arthur Albiero at the helm, UofL has gone from the bottom of Conference USA to the top of the Big East to the top of the ACC. This year, both the men’s and women’s teams finished in the top 10 in the country.
Nick’s rise under Coach Dad
When middle son Nick was named ACC Freshman of the Year in the spring, Arthur admits he was surprised.
“I knew he was going to get better and I knew he was going to have a great experience based on his personality, but I did not see that coming. He worked hard and he delivered exactly what we talked about,” Arthur said.
Nick said his main focus now is to keep getting a little bit better every day.
“My focus is simply enjoying the process, having fun, working hard and, whatever happens in the future happens,” Nick said.
Arthur has now had the chance to coach two of his three children at the collegiate level. His oldest, Estefan, who has since graduated, battled his way onto the Cardinal team against significant odds – an infection at age 12 and hip replacement at age 14.
“It was brutal and we almost lost him. We count our blessings every day,” Arthur said. “He started dabbling in swimming during his junior year of high school and started year-round when he was a senior and kept getting a little better. He asked what it would take to swim at UofL, I told him and he did it. He battled his way onto this team and came to work every day and contributed.”
Nick had a completely different track, Arthur said.
“He always believed he could be here alongside Kelsi (Worrell) and Mallory (Comerford) and everyone. I never stood in his way,” he said.
When Nick qualified to swim for Team USA last year, that further motivated him to focus on the ACC season.
“That experience, to swim for Team USA and to put on an American flag cap with your name on it, it’s pretty special and it really put Nick on a different trajectory,” Arthur said.
The Albieros’ youngest – daughter Gabi – is also a swimmer and, as an incoming high school junior, is starting to think about college. Last year, she won junior nationals.
“Everybody has asked her if she’ll swim in college. I have not asked that question. There will be a time and this is not the time. I want her to be a high school kid,” Arthur said.
Gabi and Nick have a close relationship, however, and Arthur concedes that Nick will likely have a big influence on her future decisions.
“I’ve had some coaches approach me to tell me that they want to recruit Gabi and I tell them to go for it. I think it’ll be hard for her to go elsewhere because of Nick,” Arthur said. “But, as a father more than a coach, that is OK. Ultimately, swimming or not, I have been thrilled with the education my children have received at the University of Louisville.”
When asked how long he can keep this pace and this success going – for UofL, Team USA and his children – Arthur only answers that the job is tough.
“What we do is intense. I’m just trying to get a little better and to make sure my swimmers are all getting a little better,” he said. “I’m a small piece of this puzzle. I have surrounded myself with great people. This is their passion. This is personal for all of us.”
The 2018 Pan Pacific Championships are Aug. 9-13 in Tokyo. This is Arthur’s biggest U.S. appointment yet after serving as head coach for the 2016 World Short Course Championships and an assistant for the 2017 World Championships. According to SwimSwam, he’s likely to have at least two Cardinals on his Team USA, Worrell and Comerford. Andrea Cottrell is also a national team member.
The UofL swimming and diving season kicks off later this fall.
Editor’s note: The Albieros were recently featured in UofL Magazine. View the summer 2018 issue here.