By Dan D’Addona.
The Texas A&M women are aiming for history.
Two years ago, the aim was their first conference title since moving to the SEC.
Last year, it was repeat and finish in the top three at the NCAA championships, something they had never done before.
This year, the Aggies are aiming for an SEC three-peat and a top two finish at the NCAA championships.
The SEC title seems likely, but a top-two finish at nationals would be monumental — but not impossible.
“We have always had large goals and are never afraid to say them,” junior Sydney Pickrem said. “We would love to get a three-peat and get top two at NCAAs. The fact that we are so unafraid to tell our goals helps, everyone writes them down and has them hanging in their lockers. Our individual goals become our team goals because we all see them and we can push each other to them. That mentality has really made a unique mark.”
Pickrem and seniors Lisa Bratton and Bethany Galat have led the Aggies to new heights and have done so without getting in each other’s way.
All three scored in the 200 IM and the 400 IM at the NCAA championships. Pickrem and Galat also scored in the 200 breaststroke.
The trio has thrived by racing each other and putting the team first.
“It produces the best team possible,” Pickrem said. “There is always someone to race and always someone to push you. We push ourselves to limits we didn’t know were possible.”
Pickrem, a 2016 Olympian for Canada, finished second in the 400 IM (3:59.36), fourth in the 200 breaststroke (2:05.23) and fourth in the 200 IM (1:53.30).
“It is so incredible how supportive everyone is. I want to go best times, but it means so mcuh when the person I race next to goes a best time, too,” she said. “That support system is just as important as your own. I have evolved into more of a team person.”
Galat finished fourth in the 400 IM (4:01.06), fifth in the 200 IM (1:54.16) and ninth in the 200 breaststroke (2:06.68).
“We are on the same team and we are fine if we are out-touched by someone on our own team. We have grown such strong relationship and it special team to be a part of in that sense,” Galat said. “The atmosphere has been very confident and humble. We have approached practice so motivated. We know our potential and that makes for a very competitive environment. I have seen a little more of that this year. We have never had an issue of negative competition. It really shows in our program. It is so incredible, The IM group has grown every year since I got here. And the breaststroke group.”
Bratton finished 14th in the 200 IM (1:55.92), 16th in the 200 backstroke (1:51.92) and 22nd in the 400 IM (4:09.71).
“I want to go out with a bang. I had a little bit of a slump last year. I am looking to come back and break 1:50 in the 200 back, and I want to make a statement. It is really cool because the mindset was never competitive as you have to beat them, it was, ‘I am going to race you.’ We will push each other,” Bratton said. “You look to your left, look to your right, and there is someone constantly put each other.”
Now they are looking over their shoulders at the rest of the competition.
“I think the mentality is the same. For the first one, we knew it would be close and we had to go out and fight for it. We didn’t count ourselves out,” Bratton said. “Last year, we were defending. We had a little bit of confidence behind us and we knew what it is going to take. We know we have a huge target on our back, I mean, I wouldn’t want someone to win three in a row.”
The Aggies are poised for that feat, then could turn some more heads at NCAAs, despite being a top-three team last year.
It is something Galat has experienced after turning some heads at the world championships, earning the silver medal in the 200 breaststroke.
“Being at such a high-level environment was incredibly inspiring and motivating. Having that support and being on a different continent for the first time, created a lot of energy,” she said. “It is hard to summarize. Just bringing back confidence to college season.”
The Aggies are hoping for that kind of surge as a team, especially since the Pickrem-Bratton-Galat trio will be competing for the last time as teammates at NCAAs.
“It is crazy thinking about how much time we have spent together and how much we have grown in our friendships,” Galat said. “They mean a lot to me in how they have helped me grow. This team is very special in their talent but more so in their character. It makes me prouder to represent A&M.”