The Big 12 is not a very deep conference on the women’s side. This meet for quite some time has really been a two-horse race between the two southern teams: Texas and Texas A&M. During this millennium, no other team has seriously challenged for the conference crown, though Nebraska actually won the first two Big 12 titles in 1997 and 1998.
The A&M women are on a streak of sorts at this meet, but they just graduated the most successful class in school history that has won 3 out of the last 4 Big 12 titles. Texas lost a little to graduation, but more significant than that was when one of their top swimmers, Kathleen Hersey, took the year off to train with Eddie Reese and his boys. Both teams, however, are getting great performances from their young swimmers this season and are helping make up for what was lost.
Texas missed a little bit on their year-end taper last season, but I don’t see that happening for a second-straight year. A&M posted some pretty good times at November’s Georgia Tech Invite, even against defending National Champions Florida, and will do well if they can replicate that success.
Despite an overall very young squad, A&M does have veteran leadership to rely on in diving. A&M will be hurt by missing Jaele Patrick, who is not on entered in the meet. The Aggies will, however, have Janie Potvin, who has taken huge strides this season. Missouri, who is the probable third place team in this meet, has also built the beginnings of an oustanding diving program. Lauren Figueroa is having one of the best seasons of any freshman diver in the country and was second in the 1-meter at USA Winter Nationals (2.5 points behind defending NCAA diver of the year Kelci Bryant from Minnesota). She will be supported by Jordan Morcom and Sharon Finn, who are both possible NCAA scorers this year.
Missouri’s rise in the diving, though it could steal some points from the Aggies, will overall play in their favor in the team scoring. That is because for every point a diver like Figueroa steals from the Aggies, it’s likely two or three are stolen from Texas. Texas has 3 or 4 very solid divers, but none at the level of Figueroa. Texas should have a sizable advantage in diving, with Missouri second and A&M third.
Races To Watch
This race is going to be an awesome battle between a few swimmers you have heard of and a few that you may not have heard of. Texas freshman Lily Moldenhauer, the former public-high school record holder holder, will be the top seed with a 53.00 this year. Besides being chased by some stellar teammates, like Jessica Guro and Katie Riefenstahl, she will also be fighting off Kansas’ Iuliia Kuzhill and Missouri’s Dominique Bouchard, both of whom have NCAA A-final potential.
Texas has definitely improved in this event over a year ago, but A&M’s young backstrokers Tess Simpson and Paige Miller have also looked very good. This will be a very tight race from 1-8, and any of four or five swimmers could pull off the title.
Texas’ Laura Sogar is a big favorite in the 200 breaststroke, but this 100 yard version could be a big swinging point of the meet. A&M has two very good freshman breaststrokers (Breeja Larson-1:00.03 and Erica Dittmer-1:02.26), but as freshman it’s yet unknown how they will respond to the taper. The rest of the top 5 seeds will be made up of Longhorns. Besides Sogar (59.07), they will also get big points from Bethany Adams (1:01.09) and Catherine Wagner (1:01.96).
A&M seem to have a depth advantage in this event, but Texas’ Leah Gingrich is the defending Big 12 Champion. Last year, she touched the wall first in 16:09.6 ahead of A&M’s Maureen McLaine in 16:12.9. There’s a chance that Gingrich won’t swim this event (she swam it in 2010, but dropped it from her NCAA schedule), but if she does this is going to be one of the best races of the meet.
400 yard IM
When people think of freshmen IM’ers, the big names that come to mind are Stanford’s Maya DiRado and Florida’s Elizabeth Beisel, who scored an SEC Championship in this event last weekend. But this year’s freshman class is incredibly deep, especially in IM’s, and Texas A&M’s Sarah Henry should definitely be included in that group. She’s already beaten Beisel head-to-head in this event, at November’s Georgia Tech Invitational, and in this meet should easily beat Kathleen Hersey’s championship record of 4:07.76 in a techsuit.
This meet will be a constant back and forth battle. Both Texas and Texas A&M have areas of great strength, and those of great weakness. The funny thing is that these usually come in pairs. Texas will dominate the sprint freestyles, but A&M will be equally as dominant in the distance freestyles. Texas will probably take more points in the 100 backstroke, breaststroke, and butterfly, but A&M will return the favor in the 200 yard versions. A&M will have the upper hand in the IM’s and diving, but Texas will have the edge in the 200 freestyle and most of the relays. But in such a shallow conference, any single relay win will likely only result in a 6 point difference for one squad or the other.
On paper, Texas probably is the favorite, but not by much. They are a little better in their “off events,” and will have a huge psychological edge by taking a probable big lead before the final day of competition. On that final day, will a talented, but very young, A&M squad have the mental fortitude to remain in the team race mentally? They should make up a ton of ground in that last day’s 200 yard distances and the mile, but it will be up to the team’s few seniors, like Maria Sommer and Melanie Dodd, to keep the freshmen engaged.
Expected Finish Order:
1. Texas Longhorns
2. Texas A&M Aggies
3. Missouri Tigers
4. Kansas Jayhawks
5. Nebraska Cornhuskers
6. Iowa State Cyclones