Over the next few weeks, as the Long Course season closes out, new freshman are arriving on campus, and fans everywhere ramp up for another exciting NCAA Season, we will be running a team-by-team preview of the upcoming NCAA season. Starting with the no.12 teams and finishing with the defending National Championships (Texas men and Florida women) we will work our way down the top finishers from last year’s NCAA’s, and will also jump into some rising teams that we expect to break into the top tier this season. Click here to see the other women’s previews, and click here to see all of the previews, Men’s and Women’s.
Key Losses: Alexi Spann (4 NCAA points last year)
Key Additions: Lily Moldenhauer (Back, Fly, Free), Samantha Tucker (Free, Back), Ellen Lobb (Back, Fly), Lauren Ross (Distance free, 400 IM), Melanie McClure (Back), Marylyn Toledo (Fly, Breast), Ashley Brewer (Back)
Last Year’s Highlights – To say that the 2010 NCAA Championship season was disappointing for the Texas women is an understatement.
Texas had a great dual meet season. They beat in-state rivals Texas A&M by 32 in November. They beat 8th ranked Auburn and 1st ranked Georgia in the course of 3 days. They did lose a tough 2-day dual to Arizona, but their times seemed to have them poised to do big things in February and March. They ended the dual meet season ranked 3rd in the CSCAA polls.
But then, at the Big 12 Championships, A&M outscored the Longhorns by 99 points to claim their third title in four years. At the NCAA Championships, the Longhorns had a meltdown of sorts. They missed their taper. Kathleen Hersey, the team’s marquee swimmer, medaled in three events in 2009. In 2010, she finished no higher than 4th. Not a single Longhorn relay qualified for the A-final.
NCAA Implosion – It all came to a head when a clerical error by the Texas coaching staff led to the disqualification of Kelsey Amundsen from the entire meet when she failed to properly declare a false start. This caused the 400 free relay to be disqualified, and through some fairly cryptic, confusing, and complicated NCAA rules also caused the 200 free relay to be posthumusly DQ’ed. This was certainly not a positive end to the season for the Longhorns.
For Every Action… – But the Longhorns have to believe that this will be a huge rebound season for them. Hersey spent the summer training with Eddie Reese and regained her form, including a Pan-Pac medal in the 200 fly as a member of Team USA. Junior Karlee Bispo had an outstanding Nationals performance where she scored the Consolation (B-final) Championship in both the 50 and 200 freestyles. Sophomore Laura Sogar also swam the B-final in both breaststroke events.
The coaching staff had a huge learning experience last year too, both from an administrative and training perspective. I wouldn’t expect the Longhorns to miss their taper so badly again.
Breaststroke Backup – The Longhorns only major loss was Alexi Spann, who provided the team with solid leadership, but Sogar provides more than enough in the breaststroke events. Her classmates Bethany Adams and Spindrift Beck will give the Longhorns even further depth in those races to compensate for the loss of Spann.
Unheralded Freestylers – I expect Amundsen to have a big rebound of her own from the NCAA debacle and swim well this season, and should move in to an NCAA B-final. Brie Powers, one of the few (if not the only) impact seniors on this roster, will also be very strong on the freestyle relays.
Texas Diver Maren Taylor also had a great summer, including top-6 finishes in three events at USA-Diving Nationals. She should be a big scorer for the Longhorns this year.
Backstrokers – If this Longhorn squad has a weakness, it’s in the backstroke events. It was the only of the 5 disciplines in which Texas didn’t score at NCAA’s after a disappointing meet from Katie Riefenstahl. Head coach Kim Brackin recognized the weakness and went about shoring it up in a huge way.
Depth Finder – Brackin aimed her sights first of all on perhaps the easiest target in her class, Lily Moldenhauer, whose has strong family ties to the University. Moldenhauer briefly held the National public high school record in the 100 back this year, when she threw down a blazing 52.89 at the Texas State Championship meet. (Of course, Cindy Tran came in a few months later and made Moldenhauer look like a summer-leaguer in comparison, but I digress). That time is already fast enough to score points at NCAA’s, even if she doesn’t get any faster. She is also a very good butterflier (53.2/1:57.9) and freestyler (49.9/1:46.53). Moldenhauer should improve every relay immediately, especially the medleys.
Samantha Tucker is another lethal freestyle/backstroke combination. Tucker was one of the best high school freestylers in the country last season. As a senior, she went 49.7/1:47.07 in the 100 and 200 freestylers, but has gone as fast as 48.53/1:44.54 in a tech suit. Tucker is also a Nationals qualifier in the backstrokes, with 56.64/2:01.2 season bests last year.
Add to them Ellen Lobb (55.38 textile), Melanie McClure (55.62/1:57.57 textile), and Ashley Brewer (56.87), and backstroke goes from the Longhorns’ biggest weakness to maybe their biggest strength.
The Longhorns also bring in Marylyn Toledo out of Dallas, with a 56.00 100 fly as a senior.
Season Outlook – While Brackin certainly did a good job of shoring up a strong need for her roster, her recruiting patterns are a bit concerning for the long term. Most of the team’s butterfly strength is concentrated in her juniors, most of the breaststroke strength is concentrated in her sophomore class, and most of her backstroke strength will now be concentrated in their freshman class. The Longhorns have now brought in three very impressive classes in a row, but might be entering a two-year window, with Hersey and Bispo as the leaders, to challenge for a National Title.
Texas has a freshman class capable of contributing big points immediately. If they can avoid the debacle they had last year, they should be closer to the 5th place finish they saw in 2009 than the 11th from 2010.