Texas on Third Straight Podium Finish: Longhorns Gonna ‘Celebrate the Hell Out of This’

Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

Two years ago, the Texas women’s swim team got third place and the Longhorns finally got their hands on a trophy.

They partied like they won the meet.

It was new territory for the Texas women, who were starting a remarkable upswing that led them to NCAA runner-up last year, and once again this weekend at the NCAA Division I Women’s Championships in Knoxville, Tennessee.

“It has been such a fun ride. Coming in my freshmen year, we got third and celebrated the hell out of that third-place trophy. All the TikTok haters were like, ‘Really? Celebrating for third place?’ But it meant the world to us,” Texas junior Emma Sticklen said. “Last year, same thing, we celebrated the second-place trophy so much, and we are going to do it again because we take joy in every step of the way.”

Sticklen led the way with an NCAA title in the 200 butterfly on Saturday as teammates Kelly Pash (1:51.89) and Dakota Luther (1:52.27) went 4-5.

“It is always an honor being able to swim with these girls,” Pash said.

For Pash, this senior season has been the culmination of nurturing the Longhorns into a national power.

“It goes way earlier than these past four years. It has been a build up of all the women that have gone through the Texas program. They have built up a legacy that we have been fortunate enough to build upon. So everyone that comes through, it is just like we are standing on the shoulders of giants,” Pash said.

For Luther, she was an All-American at Georgia and chose to transfer to Texas for her fifth year of eligibility and get her masters degree. She wanted to be a part of this culture that she, an Austin native, was very aware of.

“It is a full circle moment being from Austin. This year has been really special because of this great team. I get to swim next to Kelly and Emma every day. It has been a privilege to represent the burnt orange this year,” Luther said.

Sticklen is one of those leaders, but she credits teammate Lydia Jacoby for the pep talk after she won the 100 breaststroke (57.03) on Friday.

“We have had a lot of ups and downs this meet. It is never going to go perfectly and you just have to roll with the highs and roll with the lows,” she said. “Last night, I was looking for some inspiration from Lydia and I got it. She really gave me some good advice. I asked her if she knew she could do it. She said that you have to know that you can do it, but you also have to know that everyone else is capable of it. That really helped me a lot and I didn’t feel as much pressure.”

Sticklen also finished sixth in the 200 IM (1:54.09). Pash was 10th (1:54.32). Sticklen was fifth in the 100 butterfly (50.15). Pash was 11th in the 200 free (1:43.61).

Texas started the meet with Olivia Bray, Anna Elendt, Sticklen and Grace Cooper taking third in the 200 medley relay (1:33.22) then Pash, Bray, Kyla Leibel and Erica Sullivan took third in the 800 free relay (6:55.55).

Bray, Jacoby, Sticklen and Pash took third in the 400 medley relay (3:25.18).

Bray finished third in the 500 free (4:37.02) and Sullivan was fourth (4:37.28). Elendt was second in the 200 breaststroke (2:03.26) and third in the 100 breaststroke (57.29). Bray was fifth in the 100 backstroke (50.61) and seventh in the 200 back (1:51.95). Sullivan took fifth in the 1650 free (15:50.27). Jacoby took 11th in the 200 breast (2:06.66).

Hailey Hernandez took fourth on 1-meter (321.05) ninth in the 3-meter diving (349.25).

That is a ton of burnt orange on the podium, capping a magnificent three-year span for the Longhorns.

“I am just so grateful to be a part of this team and all the leaders who came before us,” Pash said. “I think it is great that it continues to grow each year.”

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