By Jeff White (

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — When he learned that Tim Connery, then a student at Christ the King Catholic High in Huntersville, N.C., was headed to the University of Texas, Todd DeSorbo was disappointed, but he wasn’t shocked.

In men’s swimming & diving, Texas has won 15 NCAA team titles, all under head coach Eddie Reese.

“It’s like an uphill battle any time we’re trying to recruit against Texas on the men’s side, just because of their history,” said DeSorbo, head coach at the University of Virginia. “But at the end of the day, we just try to treat everybody well and put our best foot forward and recruit as hard as we can.

“I hear these horror stories from kids that when they call a coach to say, ‘I’m not coming to your school,’ then the coach gives them a hard time or gives them a guilt trip. We just try to treat people well, and even when they call us to say they’re going someplace else, we’re like, ‘Best of luck, congratulations,’ because you never know.”

Reality doesn’t always match expectations, and so it was for Connery at Texas. When he committed to the Longhorns, Connery recalled last week, “I didn’t really know much about what I wanted at school, what I was looking for, and what kind of environment I wanted to be in. All I thought to myself was, ‘I’ll just go to the school that has the best swim team.’ ”

Tim Connery

He swam well as a Texas freshman in 2021-22. At the Big 12 meet, Connery was named Newcomer of the Year after winning the 100-yard butterfly, taking third in the 200 individual medley and placing fourth in the 100 freestyle. Still, he didn’t feel at home in Austin.

“It was my first time being away from the East Coast,” Connery said. “I was living in a big city for the first time and I didn’t like that. It’s a huge school, just very far away from home. I kind of felt out of place.”

And so he entered the transfer portal in the spring of 2022, looking for a school closer to his hometown of Davidson, N.C., and eventually narrowed his list down to three: North Carolina, NC State and Virginia.

His brother, Mike, was then a student at UNC and tried to sell Connery on joining him in Chapel Hill. Connery had grown up rooting for the Tar Heels, but he approached his decision deliberately and visited all three schools before choosing Virginia, whose excellence in both academics and athletics won him over.

“I thought UVA checked both boxes, and it was a perfect fit across the board,” Connery said, “so it only made sense to come here.”

Academically and socially, the transition from Austin to Charlottesville went smoothly for Connery, who’s switching his major from American studies to politics.

“I was used to college classes already and I was out of the high school mode,” he said. “So I felt like I was starting at a new school, but I already understood everything to do.

“Socially, I grew up swimming against most of the people on this team throughout my club career, so I’d been very friendly with a good amount of the people here before I got to UVA. It was almost like I had known all these people already, and it felt like we became close friends and teammates really fast.”

In the pool, however, Connery’s adjustment period took longer.

“It probably took until December for things to start clicking with me,” he said. “All through the entire first semester, I was very kind of hit or miss and I wasn’t training very well. Things weren’t really translating into the pool as well as I would have wanted them to.”

It can take swimmers time to adjust to different styles of training, DeSorbo said. “But to be honest and transparent, I think with Tim’s situation, his biggest problem was he didn’t train much from the time he decided to transfer in the late spring till he got here. He wasn’t in the best condition, and our sport is such that conditioning is paramount. You can’t get better and you can’t get stronger and you can’t get faster unless you’re in really good shape.  And so for Tim it really took him the better part of the first semester, if not the entire first semester last year, to just kind of get back up to speed and get into shape and get to a place where he was thriving in practices rather than surviving them. And that’s not abnormal. You’d like it to not happen at all, and I don’t want to say it happens all the time, but it’s not rare for that to happen.”

Around the time the calendar flipped to 2023, Connery “turned a corner,” DeSorbo said. “We did switch up his training a little bit and started giving him a little bit more speed work. He started training in the sprint group with me a little bit more, because he’d gotten into shape and was in a good place conditioning-wise. Once we did that, he was a whole different person, a whole different athlete, and was performing at a much higher level.”

Connery has been competing in the 100 butterfly, 100 freestyle, 100 breaststroke and 200 IM, as well as in multiple relays.

“He’s in a much better place this year, I think physically and mentally, than he was last year at this time,” DeSorbo said. “He’s very, very talented.”

At Texas, the men’s and women’s teams have different head coaches and train separately. At UVA, DeSorbo oversees both programs, which train together.

“It’s been really good,” Connery said of the set-up at the Aquatic and Fitness Center. “It allows for more coaches to be on deck and working for us. And so more practices are offered within one practice. There’s five or six coaches, and there may be four different practices being run, like one is an IM practice and one is a distance freestyle practice. And it’s really nice, because every single day you can fit your needs, whereas at Texas we only had three coaches on deck, so we couldn’t really break up and individualize that much. Every single day I’m getting exactly what I need.”

Connery, now an avid golfer, played lacrosse, baseball and basketball as a boy in Davidson, which is about 20 miles north of Charlotte. His brother swam, and Connery was introduced to the sport when he was 7 years old.

“I hated it,” he said. “I quit, and then I came back to it probably about when I was 9. I started seeing a lot of progress. I was still kind of doing all the other sports at that time, but after that summer-league season, I decided to swim year-round.”

He starred for the SwimMAC Carolina club and won multiple North Carolina Independent Schools Athletic Association state titles at Christ the King.

At Virginia, where DeSorbo is in his seventh year, the women’s team has won three straight NCAA championships and is ranked No. 1 nationally again this season.

The UVA men, who defeated their Texas counterparts at the AFC in late October, are ranked No. 12. After three consecutive top-10 finishes at the NCAA meet, the Cavalier men placed 15th last season, in part because of injuries to key swimmers, but DeSorbo says the program is trending in a positive direction.

“Absolutely,” he said. “I think that we’re in a better place midway through this season than we’ve been in a long time, and maybe the best we’ve been since I’ve been here as a whole. From highest-performing athletes all the way down, we’re a significantly deeper team this year than we’ve ever been. Part of that’s because we’ve got a handful of fifth-years, and we’ve got a huge freshman class of 10 guys. There’s a lot of positive competition happening day to day in practice.”

Team members “are excited about the rest of the season, and they’re excited about the future of the program, as am I,” DeSorbo said. “I’m really interested to see how they continue to progress through this season, because I think it’s going to be good.”

So does Connery, who as a freshman helped the Texas men placed second at the NCAA meet.

“This group of people we have right now on the team, we all really care about the team’s future, which is really important,” he said, “because as a team, we constantly meet and we look at where we can get better and where we can make that next jump. We have a group of people who, one, all really like each other and like hanging out with each other and, two, really like the team, and we know that if we help each other it’s gonna make the team better too.”

The Wahoos don’t compete again until Jan. 13, when they travel to Blacksburg for an ACC dual meet with Virginia Tech.

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