2018 NCAA Previews: #6 Texas A&M Rebuilding After Big Departures

We’ll be previewing the top 12 men’s and women’s programs for the 2018-2018 season – stay tuned to our College Swimming Previews channel to catch all 24. Can’t get enough college swimming news? Check out the College Preview issue of SwimSwam Magazine for more in-depth college swimming coverage, including a bird’s-eye view of the flood of coaching changes and our ever-popular rankings of the top 50 individual swimmers in college swimming.

#6 TEXAS A&M

Key Losses: Bethany Galat (46 NCAA points), Beryl Gastaldello (28 NCAA points, 4 NCAA relays), Lisa Bratton (22 NCAA points, 2 NCAA relays), Jorie Caneta (5 NCAA point, 2 NCAA relays), Esther Gonzalez (11 NCAA points), Kristin Malone (3 NCAA relays)

Key Additions: Gabrielle Kopenski (TX – distance), Emma Carlton (WA – sprint fly/free), Kylie Powers (TX – breast)

GRADING CRITERIA

As the NCAA finish order is determined by points, we base our grading scale on projected NCAA points. Versatility and high ceilings are nice, but they don’t win you NCAA titles unless they bring points with them. Bear in mind that all of these grades are projections more than 6 months out – and as none of us has a working crystal ball, these projections are very subjective and very likely to change over the course of the season. Disagreeing with specific grades is completely acceptable; furiously lashing out at a writer, commenter or specific athlete is not.

  • A = projected to score significant (10+) NCAA points per event
  • B = projected to score some (3-10) NCAA points per event
  • C = projected on the bubble to score likely only a few (1-2) or no NCAA points per event
  • D = projected to score no NCAA points

We’ll grade each event discipline: sprint free (which we define to include all the relay-distance freestyle events, so 50, 100 and 200 plus the 200, 400 and 800 free relays), distance free, IM, breaststroke, backstroke and butterfly.

2017-2018 LOOK BACK

Texas A&M was everywhere last year, scoring at least one swimmer in nearly every individual event (only the 100 fly and 500 free were without Aggies racing in finals), and things really got ludicrous for them when there were FOUR Aggie swimmers in the 200 breast A final at NCAAs. Despite only having one elite sprint freestyler on the roster in Beryl Gastaldello, the Aggies still scored in the top 8 of the 400 free relay and had top 8 medleys, too.

This A&M team found the strength to climb to a third place finish at NCAAs, not terribly far behind Cal in a year where 2nd place was the real battle thanks to Stanford domination. A talent-laden senior class made up most of the scoring for this team, and from looking at the key losses mentioned above, it’s hard to see how the Aggies won’t take a big hit in the standings by March in 2019. There’s still hope, though, and we’ve learned not to question coach Steve Bultman and co’s ability to develop talent in College Station.

SPRINT FREE: B-

Since the sprint free grade includes the 200 free, A&M gets as high as a B- here, though as far as their 50/100 free and 200/400 free relay prospects go, things aren’t so cheery. The Aggies lost half of their sprint free relays, though, with 50/100 free A finalist Beryl Gastaldello part of the departed group as well as sprinter Kristin Malone.

The wind isn’t completely out of the A&M sails, as Emma Carlton comes in with a 22.58 best in the 50 free and in-state pickups Amanda Armstrong and Amber Conrad are at 22.77 and 23.04, respectively. Raena EldridgeMcKenna Debever, and Golf Sapianchai return from the 200 free relay at SECs, as does Jing Quah, who anchored the relay at NCAAs.

While things aren’t looking good for A&M to score the 200 and 400 free relay at NCAAs, they should still be middle-of-the-road at SECs, and 200 freestylers like Claire Rasmus and Katie Portz might be able to salvage the 400 for a finals appearance at NCAAs.

Meanwhile, things look just fine for A&M in the 200 free and 800 free relay. Rasmus returns for another likely A final appearance, while Portz will fight for a shot at scoring after falling a few tenths short in prelims last year. With Pickrem back after splitting a 1:42 at SECs and Debever back after a 1:45.9 from SECs, there’s still some great talent to work with.

DISTANCE FREE: B-

Claire Rasmus has been 4:37.30 in the 500, from 2018 SECs, and she would’ve been 9th in prelims at NCAAs if she had duplicated that time. She wound up just out of B final range and added almost two seconds, but the senior has a very good shot at scoring in the A final. The spread from bottom of the A final to bottom of the B final in the 500 free is pretty thin, though, so it could really go either way.

Haley Yelle impressed as a freshman last season with a 4:38.52 in a last chance swim, which would’ve B finaled at NCAAs, but she couldn’t replicate that at the big meet. She did finish 21st in the mile with a 16:08.04, so she’s a potential scorer there, too. Katie Portz was 4:41.47 mid-season but wasn’t able to improve during champs season.

Freshman Gabrielle Kopenski and her 15:56/4:37.9 times from early high school are intriguing. She’d be an immediate scorer in both the mile and the 500, but because of how dated her bests are, things get iffy.

A&M could end up either scoring quite well in these events or fail to score at all, so they middle out at a B-.

IM: A

It’s true that the Aggies lost a significant senior class, including IM juggernauts Bethany Galat and Lisa Bratton. The good news for this team is that in addition to having a front-end IM group that only Stanford and Cal can rival, the Aggies are incredibly deep here.

A key part of that front-end is Sydney Pickrem, who returns for her senior year. If anyone can challenge Ella Eastin for the 200 IM title, it’s Pickrem, who was 1:52.35 in that event at NCAAs. She’ll also be a top candidate for 2nd behind Eastin in the 400 IM, as she was 3:59.0 at NCAAs.

McKenna Debever and Anna Belousova are both 1:56’s returning in the 200 IM, while Monika Gonzalez Hermosillo is back after dropping a 4:08 in the 400 IM last year. Rising sophomore Camryn Toney was 4:09.80 at a last chance meet after SECs, and she’s riding a big improvement curve after a 4:16.64 PR from high school.

BUTTERFLY: B+

Losing Gastaldello is tough, but pure sprinter Emma Carlton comes in at a great time to try to fill in on the medleys. She’s been 52.11 in the 100, just off the 51.92 it took to score at NCAAs last year, and sophomore Jing Quah‘s 52.00 from SECs puts her in the running for that relay spot in the 400 medley, too. Both could score in the 100 fly, but it’s no guarantee.

The 200 fly has much more NCAA scoring potential for the Aggies between Quah and another sophomore, Taylor Pike. Quah is the defending SEC champ in this event (1:53.05), though she gained a lot of time and missed scoring in this event at NCAAs. That time, though, is good enough for an A final appearance if she has a good NCAA meet this coming year. Pike, meanwhile, put it together in March and went 1:54.40 at NCAAs to touch 12th.

BACKSTROKE: D

Bratton held things down on the backstroke front for the Aggies, and Gastaldello was a more than capable second option for relays. Now, though, there’s no go-to backstroker for the Aggies.

Raena Eldridge is the top returner in the 100 back (53.14), and Pickrem and Sara Metzsch hit 53-mids last year, too. Of course, Pickrem has other things to be doing besides swimming back on their medleys. Metzsch was also 1:55.0 in the 200 last year, which is solid, but this is not a backstroke group that can hang with the top-8 programs that A&M will be dueling with this season.

The sprint weapon freshman, Carlton, brings in bests of 25.0/53.4. The 50 is pretty solid and might make do for the 200 medley, and any big developments from her in backstroke would be great for the Aggies, but her bread and butter has been sprint fly.

BREASTSTROKE: A

200 breast runner-up Galat *AND* medley breaststroker and individual scorer Caneta both leaving might spell disaster for any other program, but not the Aggies. While Cal and UGA have had their breaststroke woes, College Station is brimming with talent in that discipline.

Anna Belousova returns after an A final performance in both breaststrokes, and she actually beat Caneta in the 100 by several tenths, meaning the Aggie 400 medley may improve from last year on that leg. Pickrem will be the fastest returner besides Lilly King in the 200 breast, meaning the Aggies will probably get two women into the 200 breast A final after getting four in last year.

Freshman Kylie Powers is the next project for Bultman, with her 100 at 1:00.40 already and her 200 at 2:12. Finally, junior Victoria Roubique was 1:00.04 at the A&M last chance meet this year, adding even more depth.

2018-2019 OUTLOOK

Sprint free takes a huge hit due to Gastaldello’s departure, and the medleys may run into trouble finding a strong enough lead-off leg. The sheer depth on this roster shows, though, as A&M will still have a fantastic IM and breaststroke group led by Pickrem and Belousova.

Rasmus and Portz will be key in keeping the free relays together, Quah and Pike could do substantial damage in butterfly, and key sophomores like Yelle and Toney will be relied on to pitch in individually. Freshmen Kopenski and Carlton might end up yielding considerable contributions, while Carlton will be a very important piece in the medley and sprint free relay re-works.

A&M will be hard-pressed to repeat in the top 3 with their relays under renovation, but there are still several high-impact individuals on this roster who have a proven record of getting the job done — this team is down, but they’re not out.

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Fan

Missed Caroline Thiel as a key addition. She had a great summer. I’d include Mollie Wright too.

paloozas

guessing the top five are Stanford, Cal, Michigan, Louisville, Texas?

VolFAN

Top 5 = Stan/Cal/Mich/TENN/Louisville

canswim1331

Tennessee was just ranked #8

Jeff

I will be surprised if they are not in the top 5. Sydney P. will be dominant.

Pickrem is a great swimmer, but I don’t see a scenario where she’s ‘dominant,’ given that she still is racing Lilly King and Ella Eastin in her 3 primary events.

Right Dude Here

Nobody ever said Dean Farris isn’t dominant because he has to race Haas and Pieroni…

About Karl Ortegon

Karl Ortegon

Karl Ortegon studied sociology at Wesleyan University in Middletown, CT, graduating in May of 2018. He began swimming on a club team in first grade and swam four years for Wesleyan.

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