Both the Texas A&M Aggies and the Texas Longhorns took impressive wins last weekend as the two prepare for their annual showdown that is amongst the most hyped dual meets in the country every year. If you don’t believe that swimmers care about dual meet outcomes, check out Twitter over the next few days. Swimmers from both sides have already begun talking about the upcoming battle.
This year’s meet will be in Austin at the Jamail Swim Center, with the Longhorns coming off of three-consecutive wins in the meet. The Big 12 Championships have seen significantly more parity in recent years, with A&M actually holding the edge in recent history, but the Longhorns have dominated the duals. That meet will be held on Friday at 6 PM Central Time.
Texas A&M 180, Missouri 120
A&M topped Big 12 foes Missouri in a dual meet at the Mansfield ISD Natatorium (where both squad’s male counterparts were preparing for the Southwest College Invite).
A&M sophomore Breeja Larson, who took silvers in both breaststroke events at NCAA’s last year, showed that she’s put her health problems behind her with huge season-opening swims. She won the 100 breaststroke in 1:00.89 by nearly four seconds (over Mizzou’s Courtney Rhodenbaugh). That’s easily the best time in the country so far this year for Larson (Ashley Wanland of Wisconsin and Melanie Margalis of Georgia have both been 1:01.70’s).
She was just as dominant in the 200 breaststroke, where she went a time of 2:10.37 for an 8-second win, though there were no other legitimate 200 breaststrokers in the race. That time is a full-second faster than Cal’s National Teamer Caitlin Leverenz went two weeks ago in a dual meet against Utah.
That 100 time is pretty similar to what she was going this time last year, but the progress is being shown in the 200, where she wasn’t in the same stratosphere in 2010. That sets up a great showdown with Texas breaststroker Laura Sogar later this week. Sogar is known to put up some pretty nasty times
But it wasn’t all bad news for the top-heavy Tigers, who actually won 7 out of the 16 events. Florida transfer, and All-American, Shara Stafford made her Big 12 debut with wins in the 100 (50.15) and 200 (1:48.00) freestyles. In the 200, she bested A&M’s Lili Ibanez (1:49.32), though she’s just off of a big taper for Pan Ams. In the 100, the Tigers actually took 1st and 2nd (Lisa Nathanson – 51.80), which shows A&M’s biggest weakness – their sprint freestyles. There were glimmers for the Aggies there, though, as freshmen Kelli Benjamin (51.85) and Sammie Bosma (51.97) took 3rd and 4th.
Defending 200 back champion Dominique Bouchard took that event for Missouri without much push in a 1:58.53. As has become her trademark, she severely negative-split the race (59.76 – 58.77) with a total time that ranks her 5th in the country this year.
The 100 backstroke, however, is where Bouchard is really looking to put in some work this year. She had a pretty good showing in that event to touch 2nd in 55.32, behind A&M sophomore Paige Miller in 55.02. For Bouchard, that’s about six-tenths faster than what she went the same weekend in 2010.
A great sign for A&M fans came in the performance of their diving crew, which will be a huge part of their NCAA success. Aussie Jaele Patrick, who redshirted last year, swept the springboard events with dominant scores (324/370, respectively). Her familiar cohort Janie Potvin took 2nd on the 3-meter (342), but then it was LSU tranfer Rebecca St. Germain who was the runner-up on her specialty, the 1-meter, with a score of 295.72. Missouri was without their star diver, Loren Figueroa, so it was hard to get a great gauge, but to simply have all three of those divers in attendance is still encouraging for the team’s scoring.
Texas Women Sweep Indiana, Michigan
The defending Big 12 Champion Longhorns took out the defending Big Ten Champions Indiana by a score of 165-133 in Ann Arbor (189-109 against the home team Michigan) on Friday.
Texas senior Leah Gingrich looks on her game early in the season and took wins in the 200 free (1:48.34), 500 free (4:46.22), and 400 IM (4:17.27). In that 400 IM, she faced off against Indiana’s Allysa Vavra in what appeared as though it might be an epic dual, but Gingrich’s conditioning paid off on the freestyle leg, where she out-split her fellow All-American 57.8 to 1:02.1. That split made all of the difference in what was an otherwise incredibly-tight race, with Vavra touching 2nd in 4:21.62. Vavra just returned from the Pan Am Games, like we mentioned with Ibanez above, and several days spent more focused on racing than training could have affected her finishing ability in this race, though that wouldn’t be expected as a long-term issue.
In the Texas press release after the meet, head women’s coach Kim Brackin had an interesting quote: “Leah Gingrich was great across the board…She is focused and happy – a great combination!”
It’s hard to read too much into these statements once they’re filtered through SID’s, but it was an interesting choice of words to bring up a swimmer’s “happiness”.
Laura Sogar, who we mentioned above, took top honors in the breaststrokes with a 1:02.91 and 2:15.77, respectively. In the past, she’s put up some ridiculous times in October and November, but seems to be approaching the 2011-2012 season a little bit differently. There still should be a huge showdown between her and Larson on Friday night that will be worth the price of admission alone.
The Michigan women got a strong performance from Caitlin Dauw. That included a 54.86 to win the 100 fly (11th in the country) and some strong relay splits. Some of the young Texas butterfliers did well in that race as well with sophomore Ellen Lobb taking 2nd in 55.52 and freshman Gretchen Jaques going 4th in 56.66.
Jaques, who was one of Texas’ big signings this year, also took runner-up to Sogar in the 100 breaststroke in 1:03.70 and 3rd in the 50 free in 23.35 to show off great versatility.
Another Michigan swimmer who did very well was Alexa Mehesan, who is a bit under-the-radar. She swam a 23.01 in the 50 free for a victory. She’s a pure-sprinter, and even moving into the 100 loses a lot of steam, but in that 50 she could be very good this season for the Wolverines, who will need it.
Also strong for Texas was freshman Kaitlin Pawlowicz. She threw down the gauntlet on an early-season miel with a time of 16:17.45, which sits 3rd in the country this year behind only Elizabeth Beisel and Stephanie Peacock. For such a young college swimmer in such a mentally-challenging event, where experience often rules, that’s an enormous early-season time. For what it’s worth, according to the USA Swimming database, she’s never swum that event before (though surely she has).
For Indiana, this meet saw the debut of backstroker Justine Ress, also known as the younger sister of men’s star Eric Ress. She won the 100 in 55.57 (Indiana went 1-2-3 there) and also took 2nd in the 200 back in 2:00.74. It’s very early returns for her, but she seems to have every-bit of the level of talent as her older brother does.