The New Mexico State Aggies Women’s Swimming and Diving Team picked up a verbal from Arizona-native Picabo Bender who is a middle distance freestyler who represents YMCA Westside Silver Fins on the club level and Verrado High School during high school season. Bender is the reigning Arizona Division II State Champion in the 200 and 500 yard freestyles, events in which she has best times of 1:52.96 and 5:01.68 respectively. In long course action, Bender has been 2:07.5 in the 200 free and a 4:28.75 in the 400 free.
New Mexico State finished 5th at last year’s Western Athletic Conference (WAC) Championship Meet with a total of 250.5 points. Though the Aggies did not suffer from depth issues in the middle distance freestyles, they did not have any A-finalists in the 200 or 500 free at last year’s conference meet. In the 200 free, sophomore Kaitlyn Hogan was a 1:52.20 in prelims and senior Alex Fenton was a 1:52.53 in the morning session, though both girls added a little time in finals to settle for 15th and 16th place respectively.
In the 500 free, the Aggies had three scorers at conference, with then-senior Haley Gansneder taking 10th in a 4:57.75, current sophomore Emily Nightingale taking 11th in a 4:59.33, and current sophomore Mackenzie Soper taking 16th in a 5:02.76.
In the 800 free relay, the Aggies took 4th with the quartet of Terrin Seaver, Nicole Brennecke, Kaitlyn Hogan, and Alex Fenton combining to go a 7:25.09. Notably, Seaver, who is a junior, led off the relay in a 1:49.94, though she did not compete individually in the 200 freestyle.
Bender will be a valuable addition to the Aggies as her times already approach the fastest flat-start times recorded from her teammates last year. Her 1:52.96 in the 200 free would have scored in the 200 freestyle at last year’s conference meet, and had she been only a second-and-a-half faster at 1:51.38, she would have been in the A-final. It is not improbable that she can make the necessary improvements during her senior year to be an immediate big heat threat upon entering her freshman year.
The same goes for Bender’s 500 freestyle. Her 5:01.6 would place her 2nd amongst Aggie returners, and it only took a 4:59.6 in prelims to place in the top-8. This also bodes well for the 800 free relay, where Bender will surely be an immediate option, as the Aggies graduate Fenton from last year, and will also need to replace their multi-relay threat Seaver after this season.
It is also not out of the imagination to think that Picabo would contribute to other relays over the course of her collegiate career. Judging from last year’s conference results, the Aggies generally have sprinters in the high 50 second, low 51 second range for the 400 freestyle relay, and as she is a 53 low flat start already, she may be able to make the cut for the sprint relays depending on how her training goes once Head Coach Rick Pratt gets his hands on her.