2010-2011 College Preview: No. 6 A&M Women Graduate Elite Class

Braden Keith
by Braden Keith 1

September 29th, 2010 College

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 NCAAs 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: Julia Wilkinson (53 NCAA Points, 4 NCAA Relays), Kristen Heiss (30 NCAA Points, 1 NCAA Relay), Alia Atkinson (33 NCAA Points, 3 NCAA Relays), Melissa Hain (2 NCAA Points, 2 NCAA Relays), Sarah Woods (2 NCAA Relays), Ella Doerge (1 NCAA Relay)

Key Additions: Cammile Adams (fly, distance free), Sarah Henry (middle distance everything), Katherine Caldwell (breast), Melissa Cooper (breast/sprint free), Liliana Ibanez (sprint free), Breeja Larson (breast/sprint free), Anna Heller (backstroke-Oregon State transger), Caroline McElhany (IM-Texas transfer).

2010 Season Recap: In 2010, A&M had arguably their best NCAA Championship meet in program history. Though there 6th place finish wasn’t as high as the 4th they had in 2008, it was accompanied by the school’s first two individual national championships.

The Aggies had probably the single most exciting day in program history on the third and final day of the NCAA Championships. First up was Canadian Julia Wilkinson in the 100 free. Wilkinson was the runner-up in the event in 2008, and redshirted 2009 after shoulder surgery. In 2010, she wasn’t going to be denied, and became the Aggies’ first ever National Champion in 47.61.

It didn’t take long for them to get their second. Alia Atkinson, a Jamaican national, charged hard on the last 50 of the 200 breaststroke to nab the top spot, in what many around the country considered an upset.

More than Fast Swimmers: But the 2010 class meant way more to this program than just National Championships. This group saw A&M pull even with (or even surpass) the mighty University of Texas in reputation. They have won 3 out of the last 4 Big 12 Championships, and four straight top-8 finishes.

Ella Doerge won the Phillips 66 Award for having the highest GPA of any swimmer who participated at the NCAA meet, and was a Rhodes Scholar finalist. Sarah Woods matched her perfect 4.0 GPA in Chemical Engineering. Melissa Hain broke the Big 12 record in the 400 IM as a freshman.

Kristen Heiss, who like Wilkinson missed the 2009 season with shoulder surgery, was a huge leader for this team, and had an untouchable work ethic. She finished 5th at the 2008 Olympic Trials just a few days after spending five days in the hospital with a life-threatening pulmonary embolism. After continuing on to have an impressive US Open meet, it turned out that Heiss had been training with a badly injured shoulder that would require surgery. Suffice to say, Heiss was an emotional rock for this Aggie team.

Simply put, the class that A&M graduated was irreplaceable. They were responsible for 13 of the 20 relay slots at NCAA’s, and 118 individual points.

A New Chapter: The Aggies’ will move on behind sophomore Maureen McLaine, who is developing into one of the Nation’s top distance swimmers. Last season, she was 11th at NCAA’s in the mile (16:07.4) and 19th in the 500 (4:24.83). She is A&M’s top returning point scorer (excluding divers) and should be a double scorer this season at NCAA’s.

A&M will also return their two best butterfliers: junior Rita Medrano and sophomore Kendra Chernoff. Medrano finished 16th last year in the 200 fly in 1:57.34, though she had the 9th best time in prelims. Chernoff was 36th in the individual 100 fly in 54.0, but split a very impressive 51.9 in the medley relay.

The Aggies also return a very good sprinter in senior Maria Sommer. Last season, Sommer finished one spot out of the B-final in the 50 free in 22.50. She also finished 22nd in the 100 at 49.24. Sommer will be counted on to lock down the A&M relays in what will be a major rebuilding year.

Not New, but New to Them: Although A&M doesn’t bring back much experience of their own, they do bring two top transfers from other Universities. One is junior Anna Heller, who is transferring from Oregon State. Last year, she was 24th at NCAA’s in the 100 back in 53.54; one spot ahead of A&M sophomore Tess Simpson (53.56). Those two will do very well to push each other through practices.

The other big transfer is sophomore Caroline McElhany. McElhany was one of the prized recruits at the University of Texas before last season. She was a four-time Texas state champion in high school, and was a 2008 Olympic Semi-finalist in the 200 IM. McElhany’s transfer from Texas to mega-rival Texas A&M is a huge deal. Imagine if Terrell Pryor transferred to Michigan. Yeah, it’s sort of like that. Her freshman year at Texas was somewhat disappointing, prompting the transfer to A&M, where she will be looking to return to her ascent up the National standings. Sometimes certain situations, regardless of the coaching and quality, just don’t work out for certain athletes, and that seems to be what the case was here. Look for McElhany to reap big rewards from her new training environment and make some noise in her first year with the Aggies.

Double Vision: To replace the important class they lost, A&M brought in a huge group of 15 athletes, in addition to their transfers.

The Aggies got two for the price of one in twin sisters Cammile and Ashley Adams. Cammile has the best resume of the two, which includes a fourth place finish at the 2009 World Championship trials. She is good at a lot of different events, but her most immediate impact will be felt in that 200 fly, where her textile best of 1:56.51 last season would have put her solidly in the B-final at NCAA’s last season. She also has a 4:46.2 in the 500, and a 16:16 mile, which will both put her in a good position to score as a freshman.

A&M’s other top recruit, Sarah Henry, is very much in the same mold as Cammile Adams. When she was just 16, Henry was a semi-finalist at the 2008 US Olympic Trials. Henry’s career took a bit of a detour in 2009, when she tore her ACL, which required many months of rehab and time out of the pool. Now Henry, who holds dual U.S. and Canadian citizenship, and has chosen to switch her athletic citizenship to Canadian prior to the 2012 Olympics, is back full-strength, and is an absolute stud recruit for the Aggies.

Despite her long layoff, she was able to throw down a 1:47.9 and 4:44.6 in the spring in the 200 and 500 frees. She also has match 2:00’s in the 200 fly and IM, and a 4:13.3 in the 400 IM. She didn’t swim any breaststroke in yards competition last season, likely as a precaution for her recovering knee, but in her first long course race she dropped a 2:35, which converts to a 2:16 in yards. As her knee continues to strengthen, she could become a serious threat in that event too. All of these times should drop based just on her being back in the water and training full time, let alone the transition to the collegiate level.

Along with these middle-distance swimmers, A&M also brought in one of the best sprinters in the class in Mexican Liliana Ibanez. She is a 2009 World Championships qualifier who holds the Mexican long course records in the 50, 100, and 200 freestyles, as well as the short course 50 and two relay marks. This now gives A&M a grand total of 10 Mexican all-time bests on their roster (Rita Medrano holds the other 4). Her best meters times from 2010 give her yards converted times of around 22.6 and 49.1.

This class also brings in a slew of breaststrokers to try and replace Alia Atkinson, including three swimmers who are 1:02’s or better in textile (Erica Dittmer, Breeja Larson, Katherine Caldwell). They also picked up Melissa Cooper out of Florida, who de-committed from Clemson after the announcement that their program would be phased out, who is in the 1:03 range.

The trick about rating a Steve Bultman class (and this is probably one of the better ones he’s brought in) is that he has a huge passion for taking swimmers from the second-tier of major D-1 recruits and turning them into superstars. Take Christine Marshall, for example, who wasn’t ranked in the top 200 U-19 200 freestylers when she finished high school, but by 2008, after her junior year, she was a U.S. Olympian as a part of the 800 free relay.

This year’s class has a few good candidates for that sort of transformation, including Kim Pavlin out of San Antonio, who is a backstroker/IM’er, and Paige Miller, a sprint butterflier from Canada.

Thank the Heavens for Divers: The Aggie diving squad will be the strongest part of the roster this season. Last year, senior Jaele Patrick was third on both springboards at NCAA’s, scoring 32 big points. This year, she has a good shot at a silver, or better, on them behind Kelci Bryant of Minnesota. She had a similarly impressive summer, which included a 2nd place finish at Australian Nationals and a spot on their Commonwealth Games roster. Although Patrick does not do platform diving, she is backed up their by junior Janie Potvin, who was 9th in that event last year and should move into the A-final this season. Potvin also look home 8th place points on the 3-meter. A&M will probably have the best diving squad this season amongst all of the elite NCAA teams.

The Aggies, who often carry a large diving squad thanks to their elite-level facilities, will have 6 on their roster this season. Among the freshmen coming in are Jessica Macaulay, the 2007 AAU platform National Champion, and Claire Toomey, a former Jr. Nationals qualifier on the 3-meter whom the Aggies ripped from the clutches of the University of Texas.

The Aggies will probably be down this season; it’s almost unavoidable. It would take the nation’s best recruiting class and then some to immediately replace the points that they lost. But they will not be down for long. Two-thirds of their roster is made up of freshman and sophomores, making this one of the youngest teams in the country. Given their youth, it’s hard to pick where they’ll end up, because there are a ton of unknown quantities.

But given the quality of the A&M staff, big point expectations from their divers, and the quality of talent that they’ve recruited in the last two seasons, another top-10 finish is likely here. Look out again for the Texas A&M down the road in 2012 and 2013, however, as serious national contenders.

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About Braden Keith

Braden Keith

Braden Keith is the Editor-in-Chief and a co-founder/co-owner of SwimSwam.com. He first got his feet wet by building The Swimmers' Circle beginning in January 2010, and now comes to SwimSwam to use that experience and help build a new leader in the sport of swimming. Aside from his life on the InterWet, …

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