The 2010 Big 12 Championship swim meet will be hosted at the Texas A&M Student Rec Center Natatorium in College Station, Texas from February 26th-28th. The venue was also the host of the 2009 NCAA men’s and women’s championship meet. The Texas Longhorns won both 2009 Big 12 titles, followed by Texas A&M in second. The only other men’s team is Missouri, whereas Missouri, Iowa State, Nebraska and Kansas all field women’s programs.
At the Big 12 Championship, swimmers are allowed to swim a total of 7 events, with no more than 3 of them being individual events. Each team is allowed to enter a maximum of 18 scoring swimmers and divers, although more can swim for exhibition. For divers, a total of 6 diving events count as 1 roster spot, divided amongst different divers. Exhibitioned swimmers are not allowed to swim in the A or B finals (16 places score), but can swim in the C final if their time qualifies them. Individual events are scored at 20-17-16-15-14-13-12-11 in the A final, and 9-7-6-5-4-3-2-1 in the B final. Each team is allowed 1 relay in each event, which are scored double.
We’ll start with the women’s meet, which should be the more hotly contested of the two. Last year, Texas won the meet 893-831, with Missouri, Kansas, Iowa State, and Nebraska rounding out the field. A&M and Texas were neck-and-neck headed into the final day of competition, before Texas pulled away to a relatively comfortable win. A&M was significantly short-handed at that meet, as senior superstars Kristen Heiss were both redshirted while recovering from twin shoulder surgeries, Olympian Alia Atkinson missing the first half of the meet (and exhbitioning the 200 breast, her only event) due to a tragic death in her family, and top diver Jaele Patrick missing the meet while competing for her native Australia.
This year, with A&M back at full-strength, and Texas returning an impressive stable of top guns, including Kathleen Hersey, Katie Riefenstahl, and Leigh Gingrich, the meet should come down to the wire. A look over both teams’ top times shows that by-and-far the majority of the season best times were swam at Texas A&M’s trip to the Houston Invite in November and Texas’ S&D Hall-of-Fame invitational in early December. Texas won the dual 166-134, but being in early November, it has very little relevance. This leaves a lot of mystery as to how the team’s will perform come Big 12’s.
There’s are a few events where there seem to be clear favorites. Atkinson should have no problem winning both breaststroke distances, and Gingrich should have the 1650 in hand. Beyond that, all races are tough to call, either due to the swimmers in the races, or because both teams have swimmers who could score big points in many different events, and the coaches will have to strategize to maximize their results.
Texas’ Hersey will likely swim the 200 fly, her specialty (although she didn’t at last year’s Big 12 championships, she was the NCAA runner-up), an event which she would almost certainly win. Gingrich will probably take the 400 IM, as Hersey, the defending champion, will likely opt to swim the 100 fly instead. A&M’s Wilkinson is the favorite in the 100 and 200 freestyles, and her senior experience will more than likely carry her to a win in those events.
There will be very few head-to-head battles for top spots at the Big 12 level, because of teams strategizing to maximize their points, but there are a few races that I’m really excited about. If Wilkinson and Hersey, both swimmers with gobs of international exeperience, get an opportunity to go head-to-head in the 200 I.M, it would expect to be the epic duel of the meet. If it happens, expect Wilkinson to out-touch Hersey, who tends to specialize in longer distance races. Atkinson, who excells beyond her breaststroke specialty, is the third name that could challenge in the I.M. She would have a significant advantage over the other 2 swimmers on the breaststroke leg. Atkinson could place well in several other individual events, but based on the meet schedule, this is what she’s most likely to swim as her third individual.
In the 500 free, Kristen Heiss has the nation’s best time so far (4:38.24), which is a school record and collegiate best for her. Although Heiss is known to be an extremely hard worker, it still caught the crowd by surprise at the Houston Invite, which was the first opportunity for many Aggie fans to see Heiss competing in the area after her surgery. Heiss will be pushed the whole way by Gingrich, and both women are back-half swimmers, so the race should be nose-to-nose the whole way.
In the 100 fly, which Hersey will be the top seed in if she swims it, the Longhorn star will be chased by A&M freshman Kendra Chernoff. Hersey’s seed is a 52.32 and Chernoff’s is 53.22, but is a bit of an unknown quantity as a freshman. Hersey is the favorite, but Chernoff is just close enough that with a great taper she could upend Hersey in a monumental upset.
The other exciting race is the 50 freestyle, not for it’s star power, but because of its lack of starpower. Texas A&M’s Triin Aljand has dominated the race for several seasons, but her graduation has left a vaccuum of sorts, and will give many lesser-known swimmers an opportunity to step up and score big for her team. The top seed will belong to A&M’s Maria Sommer (22.54), followed closely behind by Bispo (22.62). Lisa Nathanson of Missouri (22.75) and Sarah Woods of A&M (22.88) also will look to make some serious noise in the final outcome.
Missouri, who is firmly entrenched as the third best team in the conference, has quite a few hopes to medal at the meet. In addition to Nathanson in the 50, Missouri will have Kimberly Jasser as the no. 3 seed in the 100 free at 49.82. Jassmer is ver strong at the 100, 200, and 500, but in the other events, there appears to be too much power ahead of her to crack the podium. Tiger super freshman, Dominique Bouchard has top 5 rankings in both backstroke events, and looks to have a bright future in the Big 12.
Iowa State will be led by Nan Liu. The versatile senior has the 3rd best conference time in the 100 fly, and 4th best in the 100 back this season.
The Cyclones and the Jayhawks will like be battling it out for 4th place. Kansas’ best chance at a top-5 individual finish is backstroker luliia Kuzhil, who is a top 10 performer in both distances this season. After some of the top swimmers choose to swim other events, Kuzhil will probably be the 5th seed in the backstroke. Although Iowa State is a little better at the top, Kansas has a little bit more depth, which will serve them well in the relays. Nebraska is likely to finish in last place again, but will be paced by Kaitlin Arntz, who has the conference’s 7th best time in the 100 breaststroke this year.
A&M has the best diver in the meet, in the form of Jaele Patrick. Patrick, an Australian, broke A&M School Records in both the 1m and 3m at their most recent meet against North Texas, including the 3m pool record which was set by NCAA Champion Anastasia Pozdniakova at last year’s National Championships. Her immense talent seems to have been further enhanced in the last few months thanks to an extended winter break at home in Australia, as well as some well-spent time with Jay Lerew, the Aggies’ new diving coach this semester who is a former Olympic team coach. Lerew said that they have worked with Patrick’s confidence on a lot of the tougher dives, which has really propelled her to a new level. The other Aggie divers have also made great strides under Lerew, and expect to contend for medals on all 3 boards.
As to who will win this meet, its a toss-up between Texas and Texas A&M. A&M will likely win the lion’s share of events, but this meet will be decided in the trenches by the 7th-18th roster spots. Without knowing who’s going to swim what, it’s really difficult to figure who’s going to win. This meet will come down to the last event or 2, and any DQ’s by top swimmers will likely spell doom for either team. Simply based on recent meet results, as well as their depth and the flexibility of their lineup, I’ve got to pick A&M, with the disclaimer that it is my alma mater. But I reitterate that this meet will be extremely close, and there are a huge multitude of variables that could affect the outcome.
The men’s meet will be significantly less exciting than the women’s. The Texas Men are clearly the top team in the conference, without much debate, although A&M and Missouri are beginning to close the gap ever-so-slightly. Nobody would be surprised if Texas swept all of the events. The Longhorns are extremely loaded in every event, which is why they are one of the favorites at the NCAA Championships in March.
The real battle will be between Texas A&M and Missouri for second. For many years, the Big 12 meet was very predictable: Texas first, A&M second, and Missouri third. Last year, however, Missouri upset Texas A&M and nabbed the second place behind Texas. A&M well outpaced the Tigers at the NCAA Championships.
This year, order should be restored, and A&M should retake their spot as the number two team in the conference. Texas will be led by Jimmy Feigen, one of the premier sprinters in the nation, and Ricky Berens, a very versatile swimmer who will likely 3 out of: both butterflies, the 200 IM and the 200 free. Both swimmers have been named National Swimmer of the Year at least once this season.
Texas A&M will be paced by a Freshman, Omar Enriquez, who has already broken multiple school records in the distance freestyle events this season. Enriquez, a Mexican national, seems to get faster at every meet, and even in the peak of his training was swimming very fast, an impressive feat for a distance swimmer. I’m very excited to see exactly how low he can push his time when he hits his taper. Enriquez will really give the Aggies a boost in this meet, as it’s been a few years since they had a really good distance swimmer.
Also, don’t sleep on A&M’s Boris Loncaric, who had a huge taper last year to finish 7th at the NCAA Championships in the 100 fly. If Loncaric can pull off another performance like that, he might be able to upset Texas’ Hill Taylor and Berens, who will be the favorites in the event if they swim it.
Missouri has a very good sprinter of their own, in the form of Jordan Hawley. Unfortunately, Feigen is so good, that an upset is unlikely. Jan Konarzewski has a chance in the backstroke events. He is seeded 3rd in the 100 with a 47.91, and 2nd in the 200 with a 1:44.87.
Missouri also has the only non-Longhorn swimmer with a top Big 12 time this season, which is sophmore Yaniv Shnaider in the 400 IM. His time of 3:52.73 is just ahead of Texas’ Bryan Collins in 3:53.53 for the top spot.
In the diving events, Texas’ Drew Livington, an All-American, is the star. A&M lost their top diver from last year, Eric Sehn, but still have a very good stable of guys, including Henry Stevents and Grant Nel. Nel swept the 1-meter and 3-meter in last weeks dual with Texas, although Livingston was absent from the meet. Missouri’s Greg Destephen should pick up at least 1 top-3 finish in the 3 meter.
Texas is going to win this meet. But the real question is can Missouri repeat their second place performance from last year? My answer is no. Although Missouri has a core of very strong swimmers, A&M’s freshmen and transfers have really sewn up a lot of weak events for them, as well as bolstering their depth. A&M has no obvious weak spots, but the Tigers are very thin in the breaststroke and butterfly events. The Aggies should beat the Tigers in most of the relays, which will be huge.