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Key Losses: Meredith Oliver (1 NCAA relay), Claire Brandt (conference scorer)
Key Additions: Sara Metzsch (OR – sprint free, back), Karling Hemstreet (TX – distance free), Kathryn Portz (sprint free), Kornkarnjana Sapianchai (Thailand – sprint free), Ashley McGregor (redshirt, NCAA scoring breaststroker)
The Aggies had a fantastic showing last year, finishing ahead of Georgia to take the SEC crown before posting a 4th place finish at the 2016 NCAA Championships.
Usually a team with lots of depth, the A&M IM group was especially stellar last season. Bethany Galat, Lisa Bratton, and Sydney Pickrem each made the 400 IM NCAA ‘A’ final after finishing 1-2-3 in that event at SECs, while Bratton and Pickrem made the NCAA A final in the 200 IM. Additionally, names like Kristin Malone and Esther Gonzalez were forces at the conference level to add to the depth of A&M in the IM’s.
Beryl Gastaldello and Sarah Gibson were two more big names for the Aggies, as Gibson finished 2nd in the 100 fly at NCAAs and Gastaldello was a sprint machine to garner individual points as well as boost relays significantly.
Texas A&M is a regular powerhouse, and they showcased that with top-end talent in most every discipline last season.
Sprint Free: B+
Beryl Gastaldello has been great thus far in her Aggie career, and the Frenchwoman is back after scoring in the top 8 in both the 50 and 100 free at NCAAs last year. Her value is heightened by the lack of other elite sprint power on the Aggie lineup, making her a necessity for sprint relays.
Though Gastaldello didn’t have anyone close to her level in sprint free last season, the Aggies did bring in a largely sprint-heavy freshman class, including Thai sprinter Kornkarnjana Sapianchai, a medalist at the 2015 SEA Games. Additionally, A&M brings back Kristin Malone, Claire Rasmus, and Lexie Lupton— three sprinters who have continued to improve while in College Station.
If needed, Sarah Gibson can always be subbed in; she threw down a very strong anchor leg on the Aggies’ 400 free relay (47.71) last season at NCAA’s. While her focus will be on mid-distance free and butterfly, Gibson is always a card waiting to be played, and she’ll be a valid option to draw upon to mix things up in dual meets.
Distance Free: B
Sarah Gibson was the only NCAA scorer for the Aggies in the distance free events, placing 10th in the 500 free and playing a key role in the 800 free relay. That relay, as per usual, will be a strong point for the Aggies, especially after bringing in Michigan sprint standout Kathryn Portz, whose best race is the 200 free.
Other than Gibson and the relay, however, there isn’t much distance power on the Aggies roster. Caitlynn Moon did place within the top 10 in the mile at SECs (9th), but there wasn’t much behind her in that race or Gibson in the 500.
Newcomer Karling Hemstreet could have a substantial impact here– she’s solid in the 200 free, and gets better the longer she’s in the water, with bests of 4:45.33 and 16:23.26 in the 500 and 1650, respectively.
The Galat-Bratton-Pickrem trifecta is monstrous. The three of them rocked it at SECs, and followed up with another slew of impressive performances at NCAAs last season.
After the kind of summer Galat had, including two third-place finishes at the Olympic Trials (one in the 400 IM), we could see her elevate her game even further in her junior season with the Aggies. The individual scoring is absolutely here for A&M– this is the strongest group of their entire team, and it doesn’t stop with these three. Last year at the SEC Championships, Kristin Malone blasted a 1:56 in the 200 IM to finish in the top 8, while Esther Gonzalez swam a 4:13 in the 400 IM to win the C final.
Malone has the speed to final at NCAAs in the 200 IM, but even without the support between her and Gonzalez, the Aggies still have the deepest IM group in the country.
This stroke isn’t terribly deep for the Aggies, but that said, the team leaders here are very salient on the national level.
Sarah Gibson is the fly queen in College Station– she is the reigning SEC 100 fly champion, and finished 2nd to Olympian Hali Flickinger in the 200 fly at that meet. Gibson followed up her stellar SEC swims with another runner-up finish, this time in the 100 fly behind only Olympian Kelsi Worrell. She’s got the chops to finish in the top 3 nationally in the 200 fly, and is an early favorite to win the 100 fly next season.
Meanwhile, Béryl Gastaldello finished right behind Gibson in the 100 fly at SECs and is an incredibly strong 2nd option for butterfly events and medley relays. While sticking to back and free on the medley relays, Gastaldello can reach the 100 fly NCAA A final if she can have a solid swim in March. There’s not much high-impact talent behind the two of them, but there doesn’t really need to be. The Aggie medleys will have perhaps the best butterflier in the NCAA, coupled with a secondary butterflier who can also score nationally.
The versatile Lisa Bratton is the name to watch for the Aggies. She finished third in the 200 back at the 2016 U.S. Olympic Trials, nearly touching out Missy Franklin and earning a spot on the Olympic team this summer. Bratton, like Galat, has continued to see improvements while at A&M, and is certainly capable of finishing in the top 3 in the 200 back at NCAAs this season.
Bratton is busy with the IM’s, so she isn’t a force in the 100 back, though she’ll most likely be the one leading off the Aggie 400 medley again this year. She didn’t swim in the 200 medley last year, as it was sprinter Gastaldello who split a 23.99 leading off at SECs and then a 24.12 at NCAAs. With that, the Aggies have their backstroke covered with elite talent from the 50 up through the 200.
Depth is a slight issue for dual meets, however. Claire Brandt, a dependable conference scorer in both backstrokes, graduated, while Bratton and Gastaldello don’t swim the 100 back individually all too often. Laura Norman, who won the 100 back B final at SECs last season, will be depended on along with some of the freshmen (like Oregon sprinter Sara Metzsch) to flesh out the backstroke group a little more.
Just like in the IM, the breaststroke is absolutely loaded for the Aggies. At the top are Galat and Gonzalez, who were both under 2:08 in the 200 breast last season. Both women were able to score in the NCAA A final in 2016.
After the kind of summer Galat had, we could see something closer to a 2:05-2:06 in the 200, or perhaps even better. In addition to the two of them, Sydney Pickrem was also under 2:08 but was unable to repeat at NCAAs. Still, that’s three different women capable of 2:07s in the 200 breast. Add in Ashley McGregor, who’s back from a redshirt year, which makes that number four. McGregor’s best time is a 2:06.53 from 2014, and she, like Galat, can also put up a 59 in the 100.
On the sprint side, ASU transfer Jorie Caneta led the way on the 400 medley relay last year, with Sycerika McMahon swimming on the 200 medley relay. McGregor and Galat can pitch in, when needed, in the medleys or the 100 breast, though Caneta and McMahon are pretty capable of holding it down on their own. The Aggies have a lot of depth here, and while they’re better in general at the 200, some of their 200 breaststrokers can hop down to the 50 or 100 when needed.
The Aggies, like #7 Indiana and #5 Virginia, don’t have an all-star freshman class coming in (on paper). Nevertheless, like IU and UVA, they already have loads of talent to keep them very relevant on the national scene.
Breaststroke, IM, and butterfly are the obvious strong points for this program, though the sprint-oriented freshman class will help bulk up the free relays and the freestyle corps in general. This is a team that can produce stars through the improvement progressions from freshman to senior year– think Louisville (Worrell, Cottrell, and Comerford in the making) and think Breeja Larson.
The Aggies have a lot going for them, and they’ll return this season as a serious threat to shuffle things up and shoot for a top 3 finish at the 2017 NCAA Championships.