Big 12 Aqua-Athletes of the Week
Balazs Makany (Texas A&M)-In an explosive meet beginning for Texas A&M, Makany’s 200 free was perhaps the most impressive. En route to a winning time of 1:36.24, he took down two of the top-15 200 freestylers in the country, including number three Dax Hill.
Lauren Figueroa (Missouri)-This is the first time this season that we’ve given this award to a diver, and Figueroa was a very deserving recipient of that honor. Minnesota’s Kelci Bryant looked like a lock to win NCAA’s on the 1-meter and 3-meters, but Figueroa might have opened that battle back up after her performance at Winter Nationals.
Texas-Texas A&M Men’s Dual Injects Life into Both Programs
Scanning through the NCAA top-50 times lists, there weren’t many Texas A&M men to be seen. The team was barely ranked in the top 20 in the country, despite a 12th place finish at NCAA’s. But coach Jay Holmes and his charges were confident. They knew what was coming: the beginning of a monster taper. An early burst of power from the Texas A&M men during their annual dual-meet with super rivals Texas snapped the Longhorns back to attention for a strong finish, but they were definitely caught off guard at the beginning of the meet.
The A&M men started out by upsetting the Texas 200 medley relay. The Aggies had a faster swim on 3 out of the 4 legs of the relay, including freshman Kyle Troskot barely out-splitting Jimmy Feigen on the anchor leg 19.62-19.63. A&M’s winning time was 1:28.17, to Texas’ 1:28.48, and moved them into the top 10 times in the country.
Aggie sophomore Omar Enriquez, who as a freshman set all of the school records of 400 yards or longer, blasted the field in the mile with a time of 15:06.23. This time, ranked 12th in the nation, finished him nearly 35 yards ahead of his next closest competitor, Michael McBroom, who was 4th in this event at NCAA’s last year before transferring to Texas. Enriquez had an incredible exclamation point on the end of his race, with a closing 100 of 52.43.
The A&M men earned themselves a turkey with their third event win to lead-off the meet, the 200 free. Senior leader Balazs Makany turned in an impressive 1:36.24 to win an event that has historically been the Longhorns’ best by over a second ahead of runners-up Scott Jostes (1:37.32) and Dax Hill (1:37.33). After that, Texas was able to stem the bleeding a little with a 1-2 finish from Cole Cragin (48.77) and Madison Wenzler (49.46) in the 100 backstroke. This was another great finish from Wenzler, who has a breakout couple-of-weeks. For the A&M men, this is their weakest event, but John Ariens is starting to show a little bit of life with a season-best time of 49.48, his first under 50 seconds.
A&M got right back into the win column in the 100 breaststroke, thanks to Amini Fonua (who swam the backstroke leg on their medley). He won in a 54.35, with Texas’ Nick D’Innocenzo finishing second in 54.62, using a great start and fantastic underwaters. This made 4 wins in 5 events for A&M leading off the meet, and put them ahead by over 10 points.
At the first diving break, the Texas men ventured into the locker room and emerged re-suited and re-focused. After switching into what appeared to be Speedo LZR jammers, the Texas men came with a huge fury. They wouldn’t lose another swimming event on the night (separated only by a pair of 1-2 finishes on the boards by A&M’s Grant Nel and Cam McLean). This was punctuated by a 4:17.79 win in the 500 from Jackson Wilcox, after which he reminded us of the significance of this rivalry, despite it’s lopsided history. Wilcox celebrated this victory with one of the more energetic celebrations that you’ll see in a college dual meet, and it was a great sight to see the excitement and enthusiasm from the junior. That time is currently ranked 3rd in the country: just a few tenths behind Virginia’s Matt McLean. Enriquez also had another great swim in this race for A&M with a mark of 4:22.69, which is a career-best time for him.
The final score for this meet was 170.5-127.5, but that score didn’t really tell the tale of the meet. The country sat up and took notice of both teams in this meet. Many people are getting their first exposure to some of the explosiveness on the A&M team, and we also saw huge resilience from Texas. A&M outperformed their No. 19 ranking, and Texas proved their top-4 ranking. The Longhorns probably can’t take out Cal, but this meet was a big wake-up call for them, and that 100 breaststroke probably officially ended their honeymoon from the National Championship. Make no mistake though, this team is very good, and I expect them to carry the way they finished this meet forward to Big 12’s and NCAA’s for a second place national finish.
Other Big 12 News
Texas men’s coach Eddie Reese was at full-strength and enthusiasm at this meet, seeming to show no ill-effects of his frightening heart surgery. This is a great sign for both the Longhorns and USA-Swimming…
The Missouri women pounded Nebraska on the Cornhuskers’ senior night 181-90. This was a swift farewell to the Huskers in their last Big 12 dual meet before moving to the Big Ten. Missouri chose to leave their top swimmer active through the end of the meet to really show Nebraska how they felt about the move, which Missouri had previously turned down. Their most impressive performance on the weekend came just north in Iowa, however, as freshman diver Loren Figueroa placed runner-up on the 1-meter at USA-Diving Winter Nationals in Iowa City. Missouri’s diving program is one of the fastest-rising in the country, and are the first dividends being paid for their spectacular new aquatics facilities…
Kansas beat Iowa State 195-99 on their senior day. The meet featured a 16-event schedule of abbreviated distances (50 fly, 100 IM, 150 breaststroke, 800 free) to reinforce the ideas of the taper, so not many of the times were relevant on a national scale. Despite, Iulia Kuzhil looked very strong in the 50 backstroke (26.52). Kansas head coach Clark Campbell said of the outgoing group, including Kuzhil, that “I’ve been coaching for 18 years and this is one of the best senior classes I’ve ever had the pleasure of working with.” This is often hyperbole by coaches after sentimental senior nights, but in this case, I’m confident that he really meant it…