As we continue on with our recaps of the first-half of the 2011-2012 NCAA Swimming & Diving season, we move from the country’s biggest major swimming conference, the Big Ten, to its smallest, the Big 12. The Big 12 is a bit of a tricky conference to give awards in.
On the men’s side, there are only 3 teams, and out of the three, only Missouri has shown their cards even a little bit, so the awards are probably slightly skewed towards the Tigers. The women’s awards have gotten a bit more interesting with a surge from the Missouri women, which cuts into the Texas/A&M dominance in the conference.
Basically, with less depth in the conference, the awards-pool is shallower than, say, the Pac 12 or the SEC – it would be hard to choose an honorable mention for Men’s Coach of the Semester in the conference. (It’s going to be even worse next year when A&M and Missouri are gone). What does this all mean? I’m not really sure, but just something to keep in mind when scoping out these awards.
Men’s Swimmer of the Semester – Jackson Wilcox, Texas – The man who Eddie Reese has called “one of the hardest working swimmers” he’s ever coached leads the conference in both the 500 and the mile. He’s been swimming very well this first semester, and it looks like this might be his year to finally break through. After winning a ton of Big 12 Championships and finishing with five individual First Team All-American Awards (top 8’s) in his three years at Texas, with the way he’s swimming, this might be the year that he takes home a title (though, the distance free fields might become the deepest in the country).
Honorable Mention: Nick D’Innocenzo, Texas; Jimmy Feigen, Texas
Women’s Swimmer of the Semester – Karlee Bispo, Texas – Bispo has been on fire early this year – she leads the conference in 4 different events (50, 100, 200 free; 200 IM). She’s going to get a much bigger push than she’s used to at Big 12’s – especially from Missouri’s senior-transfer Shara Stafford (who ranks 2nd in the conference in all four of those events, plus is the top-ranked 100 butterflier). Still, Bispo will probably earn this same award at year’s end, and is the key to this entire Texas squad. Honorable Mentions: Shara Stafford, Missouri; Breeja Larson, Texas A&M; Cammille Adams, Texas A&M
Co-Ed Coach of the Semester – Greg Rhodenbaugh, Missouri – The Tigers had a great first semester – and not just from their two stars Stafford and Dominique Bouchard. Rhodenbaugh has this Missouri program running full-steam ahead in both the men’s and women’s programs. He’s getting big contributions from freshmen, upperclassmen, divers, and everywhere in between. The women are probably not deep enough to contend with the top two, but the men could make the fight for 2nd with A&M interesting. Honorable Mention: Clark Campbell, Kansas; Eddie Reese, Texas
Men’s Favorites – Texas Longhorns – Not much to say. The Longhorns, once again, will dominate the Big 12. Their sites are set squarely on the National Championship this season.
Women’s Favorites – Texas Longhorns – This meet is always a barn-burner, and I expect it to be no different this season. The Aggies have diver Jaelle Patrick back and swimming very well. But with their injuries to Lili Ibanez and Sarah Henry, the Longhorns are going to dominate the sprints. The only chance at an A&M upset is if Missouri plays spoiler in a big way – their two biggest areas of depth (backstroke and short freestyle) are the two where A&M has holes.
Men’s Freshman of the Semester – Neil O’Halloran, Missouri – Texas has had some nice swims from their freshmen, but with all of the big performances coming out of Columbia, this award had to go to one of theirs. O’Halloran currently ranks 2nd in the conference in the 100 fly in 47.58 and 3rd in the 200 in 1:47.24. He’s not the biggest guy in the world (listed at only 6 feet tall), but is using some strong experience from the 2010 World Cup to break into the college circuit in a big way.
Honorable Mentions: Kip Darmody, Texas; Clay Youngquist, Texas; Eegan Groome, Missouri; Sam Tierney, Missouri
Women’s Freshman of the Semester – Kaitlin Pawlowicz, Texas – Pawlowicz came to Texas with some serious open water credentials, but I don’t think that anyone knew how quickly she would turn that into pool success. She’s currently leading the conference in the 500, and is 2nd in both the 1650 and the 400 IM. She’s not dropping a few tenths here and there, she’s crushing her career bests by 5, 10, 30, and more seconds. If she hits a good taper, she will be one of the huge stories at this year’s NCAA Championships.
Honorable Mentions: Gretchen Jacques, Texas; Kelsey LeNeave, Texas
Men’s Breakout Swimmer of the Year – Neil Caskey, Texas – There’s not many swimmers who can hide well-enough in the Big 12 to be considered “breakouts,” especially in Austin, but Caskey has taken himself from a good relay piece and a fringe NCAA finalist to one of the top butterfliers in the country early this season. He currently ranks 4th nationally in the 200 fly in 1:44.29. That’s a lifetime best by over a second.
Honorable Mentions: Mark Conroy, Missouri; Yaniv Shnaider, Missouri; Kerrington Hill, Texas
Women’s Breakout Swimmer of the Year – Abigail Anderson, Kansas – For the swimmer formerly known best for being Taylor Swift’s best friend (who among us hasn’t used that factoid to earn street-cred with our own swimmers?), she’s punctuating her collegiate swimming career with some great performances. She’s got a best of 53.39 in the 100 fly (4th in the Big 12) that is a lifetime best. She historically has a pretty strong year-end taper too, so an NCAA berth seems a near-certainty, with an All-American honor well within reach.
Honorable Mentions: Cassie Cunningham, Missouri; Ashley Adams, Texas A&M
Men’s Waiting for a Big Second Semester – John Dalton, Texas A&M – Not many people picked up on this, but A&M’s Dalton was the 2nd-highest placing sophomore last year in both the 50 and 100 freestyle at NCAA’s (behind only Dax Hill). He’s already blowing away his mid-season times from last year (20.49/44.49/1:38.2), and the Aggies don’t do a mid-season rest. He could be a three-event individual scorer at NCAA’s, which is huge for the relay-oriented A&M program.
Honorable Mention: Woody Joye, Texas; Tim Johnson, Texas
Women’s Waiting for a Big Second Semester – Leah Gingrich, Texas – Whileas most of the Texas women swam very well at the Texas Hall of Fame Invitational, you’d have to dig pretty hard to find Gingrich’s results. In fact, she only swam two races – the 200 fly (where she placed 7th) and a leg of the 800 free relay. She swam well at the beginning of the season, but the absence at the HOF Invite skews her season rankings. She’s ready for a big senior season though.
Honorable Mentions: Megan Latone, Texas A&M