No. 1 Texas Heads to Hostile Environment at no. 19 Texas A&M
The Texas A&M Aggies will play host to the no. 1 Texas Longhorns at the Student Rec Center Natatorium in College Station on Friday. The Longhorns are coming off of a tough defeat against no. 3 Arizona in Tucson. The Aggies are riding high off of a two-meet win streak against no. 17 LSU and no. 23 SMU, the latter of which came in dramatic fashion by 1 point, via a 1-3 finish the the meet’s last event: the 400 free relay.
At last year’s meeting, the Longhorns won 108-90, although they exhibitioned the last 2 and a half events out of respect for their Rivals. While the Longhorns are expected to win this year’s meet as well, the Aggies seem to have sufficiently narrowed the gap to where the Longhorns will be forced to score through the last races.
The Longhorns also have a dual on Saturday against the SMU Mustangs in Dallas. It’s expected that the Longhorns will use the back-to-back meets as a preperation for championship season, and thus will try and get all of their swimmers into all of the events that they are likely to swim at the Big 12 meet. For this reason, it’s hard to predict which swimmers will swim which events against the Aggies, but one matchup we’re hopeful to see is freshman-phenom Omar Enriquez vs. sophmore-star Jackson Wilcox. Wilcox is the class of the Big 12 in the distance events, but Enriquez is nipping close at his heels. Enriquez has already broken the oldest A&M school record on the books in the 1000 free, which had stood since 1983.
The two have the top times in the 1000 and 1650, and 2 out of the top 3 times in the 500, in the Big 12 this season.
This meet always involves a lot of fanfare, and this year Texas A&M has invited the band and “yell leaders” (their all-male group that leads the student body in highly choreographed yells), which is unusual for any swim meet anywhere. Also, at “half-time”, members of the Texas A&M football team will participate in the “big splash” contest, to see who can do the best cannonball. As one can imagine, hilarity often ensues.
No. 6 Texas A&M Women Head South to Houston, Back Home for North Texas
The A&M women will travel 90 miles south to the University of Houston for the second time this season on Friday to face the Cougars, this time in a dual meet.
The Aggies swam well in their last trip to Cougartown in November, where they dominated the Houston Invite. Many of the times the Aggies swam at that meet still stand as the top times in the country for those events, including Kristen Heiss’ 4:38.24 in the 500 free, which is an amazing time for that early in the season. Her fellow senior Julia Wilkinson also swam impressively in the 100 free. In the prelims of that meet, Wilkinson swam a 48.60, which was the second best time in the nation at that point. Apparently unsatisfied with being only second, Wilkinson came back and blew the field away in the finals by going a 48.24, which still sits as the top time in the country. Finally, a third senior, Alia Atkinson, took the breaststroke events by storm. She went a 59.98 in the 100 distance in what is still the only A-cut and sub minute time in the country this year, and a 2:10.04 in the 200 breast, which is also an A-cut and the second best time in the country this year.
Needless to say, the Aggies will out-match the Cougars, but Houston has been slowly building it’s program on the back of it’s world-class facility. The CRWC Natatorium is one of the best, if not the best, in Texas, and one of the tops in the country. It runs 70 meters long by 25 yards wide and has 3 bulkheads, which allows for a multitude of setups to run many different programs. It’s hosted the Division 3 National Championships and several Zone Qualifying Diving Meets.
On the strength of this incredible facility, the University of Houston landed it’s first major swimming recruit in a long time prior to the 2008-2009 season in Beccy Hillis from Glasglow Scotland. Hillis was the 2006 Scottish Junior Swimmer of the year. Hillis’ specialty is breaststroke where she has season bests 1:03.33 and 2:15.68 in the 100 and 200 respectively. The 200, where she currently sits 44th in the nation, looks to be her best shot at being the first Cougar swimmer to qualify for the NCAA Championships in over a decade. In the 80’s and early 90’s, Houston was recognized as one of the top swimming programs in the nation, and routinely produced multiple all-americans. After the breakup of the Southwest Conference, however, Houston had trouble attracting top recruits.
Their diving program, however, is the top women’s program in the nation, and has been a steady pipeline of Russian Olympians looking to parlay their talents into a solid education and NCAA titles. The current torch-bearer is Anastasia Pozdniakova, whose list of accomplishments is too long to list here, but includes a silver medal at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
The A&M Women will return to College Station on Saturday for it’s annual dual against North Texas. The Mean Green, like Houston, has been slowly building it’s program under the watch of head coach Joe Dykstra. North Texas is led by Alicia Hale, who is a 3-time Sun Belt Conference Swimmer of the Week, and senior Emily Floyd, who is currently ranked 83rd in the nation in the 1650 freestyle at 16:53.71. North Texas has had several mileston achievements this season, including the program’s first ever dual meet win over Rice.