We’ll be previewing the top 12 men’s and women’s programs from the 2017 NCAA Championships – 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 some inside looks at the life of a college swimmer as told by college swimmers themselves, plus full-length profiles of a few of college swimming’s biggest names, including our cover athlete, Simone Manuel.
#3 TEXAS A&M AGGIES
Key Losses: Sarah Gibson (27 NCAA points, 5 NCAA relays), Ashley McGregor (12 NCAA points), Lexie Lupton (transfer to NC State)
Key Additions: Taylor Pike (AR – fly), Anna Belousova (MD/Russia – breast), Joy Field (TX – distance), Jing Wen Quah (Singapore – fly), Haley Yelle (TX – distance)
We’ve tightened up our criteria from last year, where our first stab at a letter grading system got hit by a little bit of classic grade inflation. Again, 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
Led by butterfly and relay machine Sarah Gibson, the Texas A&M Aggies stormed to a third place NCAA finish after claiming the 2017 SEC team title by almost 200 points over Georgia. Gibson’s fly splits were huge on the Aggie medley relays, both of which finished 2nd in the country at NCAAs.
Bethany Galat and Sydney Pickrem, who would both go on to pick up individual medals at this past summer’s World Championships, raced in the 200 and 400 IM A finals at NCAAs, heading up one of the strongest IM groups in the country. Both women scored in the 200 breast, with Pickrem in the A final and Galat in the B final. Ashley McGregor was a 200 breast A finalist and Jorie Caneta was a 100 breast B finalist, proving just how deep the Aggies were in their biggest strengths.
Beryl Gastaldello was a key sprint presence for A&M, A-finaling in the 100 free and B-finaling in the 50 free, while also contributing big-time to all relays except for the 800. Claire Rasmus was yet another piece of the puzzle for head coach Steve Bultman, charging into the A final of the 200 free and contributing on two relays, while Lisa Bratton was the 400 medley relay backstroker and a scorer in the 200 IM and 200 back.
SPRINT FREE: B+
A&M is really relying on one person in terms of individual sprint free scoring, and that’s Beryl Gastaldello. She scored up in the A final in the 100 free but was in the 50 B final, and with a race like the 50, it’s anyone’s game past the few favorites to go top 4 or 5. Gastaldello is a reliable source of sprint power, but there’s nobody else on her level on the current roster.
They have the depth to stay competitive on sprint free relays with Kristin Malone and Raena Eldridge, to name a couple, but it’s not likely anyone but Gastaldello will be scoring individually in the 50 or 100 free next year at NCAAs. Malone might be the one to do it, in the 100 free, where her 48.44 was only .34 from reaching 16th place last year at NCAAs.
DISTANCE FREE: B+
Including the 200 free in this analysis, a couple names are important to watch for the Aggie distance group. Claire Rasmus made it to the 200 free A final at NCAAs last year, and she continued to build on that success with a great long course showing this summer, reaching the 200 free final at the World University Games in Taipei and earning medals on the 400 and 800 free relays for Team USA. Malone, meanwhile, was 17th in the 200 free at NCAAs, and could end up on the right side of the bubble next season.
The other big name, who could have an impact in the grittier distance races like the mile, is Joy Field. A huge distance pickup for the Aggies, Field’s 16:02.0 mile time is in scoring range. Additionally, she and another freshman, Haley Yelle, have bests of 4:43 in the 500 free. Rasmus went 4:41.0 in the 500 at SECs last year, so she has a fighting chance to score in that event, too, at NCAAs, though it’ll take a sub-4:40 performance.
Bethany Galat and Sydney Pickrem all day, every day. They will likely both A final in the 200 and 400 IMs again, while Malone and Bratton are returning B final scorers in the 200. In the 400, Monika Gonzalez-Hermosillo is back after B finaling, giving the Aggies five returning NCAA scorers. Bratton is fast enough to score in the 200 IM A final and 400 IM B final, at least, if she’s on form, too.
The Aggies easily outscored any other team in the nation with 67 IM points from the five aforementioned women, and they’re all back this year.
Losing Gibson was a huge hit to the butterfly group in College Station, but the cupboards are definitely not bare.
Gastaldello, in addition to being a fantastic sprint freestyler and backstroker, went a 50.8 in the 100 fly at the 2015 SEC Championships. Considering the fact that she didn’t score in the 100 back at NCAAs last season and noting Gibson’s departure, it’s very plausible that Gastaldello will swim the 100 fly at the end of the season instead. Though Bultman will have to figure out who to put on the end of the medleys, Gastaldello could slot in as the butterflier, too.
Freshman Taylor Pike is a great 200 flyer, and she’s been fast enough to score in that event at NCAAs with a PR of 1:54.95. Her 100 needs some work if she’s going to contribute in that race nationally (she’s been 53.3), but she could readily contribute in the 200 at NCAAs.
Jing Wen Quah could certainly factor in here, too– she brings in LCM bests of 59.3 and 2:12.0, which could translate over well to SCY.
Gastaldello is a potential scorer here, though less likely considering how badly the Aggies need her to stick to fly for her secondary stroke this year. Lisa Bratton should lead the team in the backstrokes, with the most upside coming from her 200 back. She hit a PR in the 100 back last season (51.60) but was off in the 200– if she can get back to her 2016 form in the 200 back (1:50.64), she could squeak into the A final. In the 100, she would’ve B finaled with her time from the medley relay, but she swam the 400 IM instead on Day 3.
It’ll be up to the two of them this year, as they’re the only ones on the roster in scoring range.
In the 200 breast, the Aggies are absolutely stacked. In addition to having the Worlds silver medalist on the roster in Galat, they also have returning 200 breast NCAA A finalist Sydney Pickrem on the roster. Galat puzzlingly did not make the A final this spring at NCAAs, but with the momentum she’s been bringing, she’s a solid bet to get into the top 8 this season. Esther Gonzalez dropped a 2:07.9 during the 2015-16 season, and she was still under 2:10 last year, while sprint specialist Jorie Caneta posted a 2:10 last season.
Caneta is much better in the 50 and 100, making her a key medley relay piece. She scored in the 100 breast individually, too, last year, going a time in the B final (58.85) that would’ve made the A final had she done it in prelims. Galat has been under a minute in the 100 before, but it’s not likely she’d forego the 400 IM for the 100 breast.
Freshman Anna Belousova has been 1:00.5 in the 100 and 2:09.6 in the 200, the latter of which would’ve scored at last season’s NCAAs. Her LCM times are far more impressive, holding bests of 1:07.9 and 2:26.7, but she looks to be another in a long line of fantastic breaststrokers under Coach Bultman.
Gibson’s loss hurts, but the Aggies will be able to utilize the versatile Gastaldello to try to make up for lost time on relays. Her individual contributions will likely be too difficult to overcome with one single addition from the incoming class, though there is plenty of potential between Pike, Belousova, Field, Yelle, and Wen Quah to make up for it.
It will be another year of IM and breaststroke dominance, but there are some obvious depth holes on the roster, particularly in backstroke and sprint freestyle. There is still enough at the top to keep relays and some individual points afloat (Gastaldello and Rasmus in the free, Gastaldello and Bratton in back), though, and the team overall is looking ahead at what should be another big year.