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Gators freshman Mitch D'Arrigo wants to cap his first season with a strong performance at the NCAA Championships.

Thursday March 27, 2014Gators Freshman Mitch D'Arrigo a Natural Born Racer

Gators freshman Mitch D'Arrigo wants to cap his first season with a strong performance at the NCAA Championships.

Scott Carter
By SCOTT CARTER
GatorZone.com Senior Writer

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Once the gun sounds, once he dives from the platform and into the pool, something takes over Mitch D'Arrigo.

It's his world in the water, surrounded all around by threats that want to take him down. A UF freshman from Rome, Italy, D'Arrigo is at his best in these turbulent waters.

The race.

Mitch D'Arrigo

"The innate skill of racing, he really understands,'' Gators coach Gregg Troy said. "That's hard to teach. It can take a lot of time to acquire that. He knows how to throw it in the right gear at the right time and isn't afraid to go to that pain threshold sometimes. Some athletes it takes a while to figure out."

The fresh-faced D'Arrigo is one of the top newcomers in college swimming. The back-to-back SEC champion Florida men's team is in Austin, Texas, this weekend for the NCAA Championships.

While there, D'Arrigo can further validate his standing among the sport's best freshmen.

D'Arrigo earned three silver medals at his first SEC Championships last month, including runner-up finishes in the 500 freestyle and 1,650 free, his two primary events.

D'Arrigo grew up swimming on club teams in Italy but believed to really reach his potential he needed to come to America. His mother Mary is from Florida and the family vacationed in the U.S. often during D'Arrigo's youth.

His brother moved to the U.S. for college two years ago to attend the University of Miami. D'Arrigo tried briefly to join him and finish high school in America, but he soon retreated back to Rome.

He tried again last year and moved to Gainesville to attend P.K. Yonge High and continue his quest to swim at an American college.

"In Italy it's harder to swim and study,'' D'Arrigo said. "It's two opposite worlds. I wanted to come here because this is where all the biggest swimmers come and develop. If you want to be big, you need to come here."

Troy was familiar with D'Arrigo and his desire to swim and study in the U.S. The Gators and others recruited D'Arrigo, who ended up at Florida and is one of the program's building blocks for the future.

D'Arrigo enters the NCAA Finals as a favorite in the 500 free, posting the fourth-best time in the event this season. He finished second to teammate Dan Wallace at the SEC Championships, exactly two seconds off Wallace's winning time of 4 minutes, 10.73 seconds. Wallace and D'Arrigo give the Gators two top candidates against Michigan's Conner Jaeger, the defending 500 free NCAA champion.

D'Arrigo's emergence as a consistent scorer for the Gators as a freshman has impressed his teammates.

Senior Sebastien Rousseau, the SEC Male Swimmer of the Year, sees a future star.

"This guy is a freshman and he is throwing down ridiculous times,'' Rousseau said. "He is very talented. He works really hard, but he has a lot of talent."

D'Arrigo wants to cap his freshman season with a better showing in the 500 free than his second-place finish at the conference tournament.

He dissected the race afterward and determined the flaws.

"I was a little too confident,'' he said. "I got out too fast. I didn't have a good race. I want to get better."

Troy approves that attitude from any of the Gators, certainly one as young and talented as D'Arrigo.

D'Arrigo is a natural racer who has blossomed within the team concept of American college swimming. In Italy, D'Arrigo grew up swimming on club teams. The competition within the teams was fierce and very individually focused.

When Troy coached the U.S. National Team at the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, he told the U.S. swimmers one advantage they had was a true belief in the team system. That often lacks in other countries.

"It's engrained in our society,'' Troy said. "Mitch is one of those guys who really benefits from the leadership we have in and out of the pool."

D'Arrigo has embraced his new team and his teammates.

The move to America has fit the script he played out in his head before crossing the Atlantic.

"I was very stressed out by swimming and school there,'' D'Arrigo said of Italy. "It's much more stressful, the competitiveness in the teams. It's not fun. Here, there are a lot of guys and it's fun. There is a lot of support."

D'Arrigo has excelled in middle-distance sprint events over his career. Since coming to UF, D'Arrigo has trained more extensively in other events, and Troy said he has potential to be strong long-distance swimmer.

More than anything, D'Arrigo is a skilled racer.

Training can help him improve in specific events. Natural talent is a necessity to be a dangerous racer.

"The biggest skill-set he brings to the plate is a tremendous skill for racing," Troy said. "Mitch has a tremendous feel for what's going on in the race, a good grasp for what it's going to take to be successful, not afraid of anyone, challenges himself at big levels.

"He's good."

 

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