Texas Invitational: Phoebe Bacon, Emma Sticklen, Krzysztof Chmielewski Hit No. 1 Times as Meet Concludes

Phoebe Bacon -- Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

Texas Invitational: Phoebe Bacon, Emma Sticklen, Krzysztof Chmielewski Hit No. 1 Times as Meet Concludes

A pair of swimmers who have previously won individual NCAA titles faced strong competition in their signature events Saturday evening at the Texas Invitational, but neither one had any trouble coming through for big wins, both of which resulted in the fastest time in the country. Also reaching the top spot in the rankings was a new arrival to the college swimming ranks who has already captured a senior-level international silver medal.

The field that Wisconsin’s Phoebe Bacon faced in the women’s 200 backstroke included fellow 2023 NCAA A-finalist Olivia Bray of Texas as well as her freshman teammate Berit Berglund, fresh off an impressive win in the 100 back Friday, but no one could get within two seconds of Bacon. She led wire-to-wire and finished in 1:50.36, a time more than two seconds faster than any other swimmer had recorded this season. In fact, Bacon’s prelims time of 1:51.94 was also the country’s quickest.

Bacon, the 2021 NCAA champion in the 200 back and the runnerup the last two years, ranks tied for 10th all-time in the event at 1:50.36. Three swimmers, including Bacon, broke 1:50 at last year’s NCAA Championships, but every swimmer who has ever beaten the Wisconsin senior at the national meet will be absent this year, with Regan Smith having turned professional and Claire Curzan redshirting.

Stanford’s Natalie Mannion placed second behind Bacon in 1:52.42, with Bray finishing well to take third (1:52.68) and Berglund coming in fourth (1:52.92).

A bit later on, Emma Sticklen took care of business in the 200 butterfly, leading by nearly seven tenths after 50 yards before pulling away on the final two lengths to beat teammate Kelly Pash by almost two seconds. Sticklen touched in 1:50.31, which made her the country’s first swimmer under 1:51 and under 1:52 this year. She was just 36-hundredths off her own best time of 1:49.95, which ranks her fifth all-time.

Pash ended up placing second in 1:50.31 while Stanford occupied the third through fifth spots with Lillie Nordmann (1:53.12), Charlotte Hook (1:53.96) and Lucy Bell (1:54.26).

Chmielewski Pulls Intense 1650 Free-200 Fly Double

On the men’s side, USC’s Krzysztof Chmielewski will be a force in his first season in the college ranks. The World Championships silver medalist in the 200-meter fly was utterly dominant in the 1650 freestyle Saturday evening. He entered the weekend with the country’s top time at 14:41.62, and after NC State’s Owen Lloyd briefly took over the top spot with his 14:41.31 in Greensboro, Chmielewski fired back with a 14:37.74 swim to win in Austin by almost 22 seconds. That time by Chmielewski would have been good enough for fifth place at last year’s NCAA meet.

Stanford’s Liam Custer also got under 15:00 as he placed second in 14:59.62, with USC’s Yigit Aslan placing third in 15:02.20.

Chmielewski, however, was not content with just rocking the 1650 free on the final night. He was back in the pool later on for the 200 fly, and he took the win in that event as well. Chmielewski took an early lead but appeared to fade on the third 50 as Wisconsin’s Dominik Mark Torek almost caught up, but the Polish swimmer restored order coming home. He touched in 1:41.61 for the win, 15-hundredths clear of Torek’s 1:41.76, while Chmielewski’s twin brother Michal, also representing the Trojans placed third in 1:42.17.

In other action, USC’s Kaitlyn Dobler posted a solid effort in the women’s 200 breaststroke after swimming a nation-leading time in Friday’s 100 while Texas freshman Will Modglin continued his breakout meet.

Women’s 1650 Freestyle

Stanford’s Aurora Roghair put together a breakthrough swim in her 66 lengths Saturday evening, but she had to work to knock off four extremely strong competitors, including two of the biggest names in college distance freestyle. Over the first half of the 1650 freestyle top heat, Wisconsin’s Maddie Waggoner had control of the race, but teammate Paige McKenna passed her around the halfway point. McKenna, the 2022 NCAA champion in the event, held the lead until Roghair took over for good at the 1300-yard mark.

Roghair, who trailed Waggoner by a whopping 4.25 seconds at one point, moved ahead of Texas’ Erica Sullivan around the halfway point before catching Waggoner at 1100 yards and McKenna shortly thereafter. Roghair eventually finished the race in 15:52.83, her best time by more than nine seconds. After finishing 17th in the event at last season’s NCAA Championships, this performance would have placed Roghair inside the top-eight.

McKenna ended up finishing second in 15:54.95, with Sullivan more than seven seconds back in third at 16:02.42. Sullivan was actually in third place for most of the second half of the race before catching Waggoner within the final 150 yards. Waggoner ended up fourth in 16:03.52.

Men’s 200 Backstroke

Texas freshman Will Modglin will be a force for the always-impressive Longhorns in his first season of college racing, and after going 44.49 to win the 100 back Friday, he backed it up with a dominant effort in the 200 back. Teammate Chris O’Connor gave him a race early on, turning ahead after 50 yards and tied at the halfway point, but Modglin asserted himself as he pulled into the wall at 1:38.99. So far this season, only Arizona State’s Hubert Kos (1:36.54) has been quicker, and the time would have placed Modglin fifth at last year’s NCAA Championships.

Stanford’s Rex Maurer also got under 1:40, finishing strongly in 25.28 to move up from fourth place to second on the last 50. He touched in 1:39.75, ahead of O’Connor and Stanford’s Aaron Sequeira (1:40.99).

Women’s 100 Freestyle

A strong meet from USC’s Vasilissa Buinaia continued as she overtook Texas’ Grace Cooper down the stretch to secure the win in the 100 free. Buinaia trailed Cooper by almost three tenths at the halfway point but surged back to finish in 47.40, with Cooper right behind in 47.79. Erin Gemmell ended up third for Texas in 48.17.

Men’s 100 Freestyle

Stanford’s men earned a 1-2 finish in a tight 100 free final as Rafael Gu added to his previous win in the 100 fly Friday. The early leaders were Artem Selin of USC and George Ratiu of UNLV, but both fell back down the stretch as the Cardinal swimmers surged forward. Gu touched in 42.40 while teammate Andres Dupont Cabrera, who swam a time of 42.37 in prelims, took second in 42.66.

Ratiu ended up fourth, two hundredths back of Dupont Cabrera in 42.68, while Stanford also placed two other high finishers, with Jonathan Tan fourth in 42.87 and Luke Maurer surging home to tie with Selin for fifth at 42.94.

Women’s 200 Breaststroke

Absent from the 200 breast was Texas’ Anna Elendt, the runnerup at last year’s national championships, but USC’s Kaitlyn Dobler still had a fight on her hands down the stretch. That’s because Stanford’s Caroline Bricker would not go away, out-splitting the Trojans’ senior coming home before reaching 2:06-territory for the first time.Dobler finished in 2:06.28, but Bricker was just over a half-second back in 2:06.85. Wisconsin’s Hazel Ozkan pulled away from Texas’ Channing Hanley to take fourth, 2:09.37 to 2:09.64.

Both of those top times would have been A-final-worthy at last year’s NCAA meet (where Dobler finished 15th). Bricker, meanwhile, is making an instant impact on the collegiate scene for Stanford, having already posted a 400 IM time of 4:03.49 that ranks among the top-five swimmers in the country.

Men’s 200 Breaststroke

A pair of USC Trojans earned a 1-2 finish here as Chris O’Grady pulled away on the last 50 after a three-way battle with teammate Ben Dillard and UNLV’s Danny Beji. O’Grady came home in 29.49 to secure the win in 1:52.86, one second ahead of Dillard’s 1:53.87. Fast-finishing Texas freshman Brayden Taivassalo came in third at 1:53.89 while Beji faded to fourth (1:54.16).

Women’s 400 Freestyle Relay

In a head-to-head showdown between two women’s teams that posted impressive wins all weekend, USC scored an upset win over the Texas Longhorns in the last women’s race of the meet. The race was going well early for the Longhorns when Kelly Pash edged out 100 free winner Vasilissa Buinaia on the leadoff leg, 47.44 to 47.49, and Erin Gemmell and Ava Longi extended the lead to three tenths heading into the anchor leg.

But Minna Abraham was dynamite on the anchor split, coming from behind to edge out Texas anchor Grace Cooper by 11-hundredths at the finish. Abraham split 47.23 on the way to a final time of 3:10.37, while Texas clocked 3:10.46. Anicka Delgado and Hannah Kuechler handled the middle legs for the victorious Trojans.

The Texas B team, consisting of Angie CoeEmma SticklenOlivia Bray and Emma Davidson, placed third in 3:12.97, with 47-second splits from Bray and Davidson enough to overtake the top squad from Stanford.

Men’s 400 Freestyle Relay

Stanford’s men completed their strong weekend with a 400 free relay win. Rafael Gu split 41.86 on the second leg while Luke Maurer came home in 41.84. Combining with Andres Dupont Cabrera and Jonathan Tan, the Cardinal finished in 2:48.54, almost one-and-a-half seconds clear of second-place Texas.

The Longhorns saw Will Modglin conclude his meet with a swift 42.49 leadoff leg, and Luke HobsonCoby Carrozza and Nate Germonprez finished off the relay on the way to a time of 2:49.98. The UNLV team of Georga RatiuBryson HueyCameron Castro and Steven Butler came in third at 2:51.76.

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