Texas Pointing Toward NCAA Championships After One Last Dose of Big 12 Domination

Texas fifth-year swimmer Kelly Pash -- Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

Texas Pointing Toward NCAA Championships After One Last Dose of Big 12 Domination

As American universities have moved between conferences in the last couple decades, the main consideration has been football and the nine-figure television deals that accompany the country’s most popular sport. Even basketball is a secondary consideration, and Olympic sports such as swimming are a non-factor in the decision-making for athletic directors and university presidents.

So it’s just a coincidence that this upcoming cycle, in which 12 power-conference schools are changing leagues, will bring Texas into a competitive swimming conference for the first time in decades. Beginning in February 2025, swimming fans will surely enjoy watching the Longhorn women and men clash with Florida, Georgia, Tennessee, Auburn and other strong SEC swimming programs at a championship meet, something Texas has missed for a long time in the Big 12.

The conference was up to 14 teams this season, but there were still just eight women’s swimming and diving teams and five on the men’s side. Other than Texas, not a single one of the programs scored a point at last year’s NCAA Championships for either women or men. Thus, the Texas women rolled to a 12th consecutive conference title and 22nd in 28 years in the conference. For the men, the conference-title streak is now an unbelievable 45, dating back 17 years before the Big 12 even existed.


Defending 200 fly national champion Emma Sticklen — Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

The Texas women scored 2092 points for a massive 825.5-point win over Houston while the men finished with 1979 points, which was 449 more than second-place TCU. With such talented swimmers, the primary goal for Texas last week was simply getting all their swimmers qualified for the NCAA Championships. On many occasions, the times were not great, with Texas swimmers largely swimming equivalent to or slower than their midseason times.

Most top teams do not fully taper for their conference meets, but they still rest some in order to excel. Remember Gretchen Walsh and the Virginia women one week earlier? In the Big 12, Texas has never needed to zero-in on the conference meet, and indeed, the Longhorn men actually left two of their best swimmers at home, giving Luke Hobson and Jake Foster a chance to build back up following their trip to Doha and the World Championships. As expected, the impact of those absences on the team race was nil.

Considering the Longhorns’ relatively sluggish times at the conference meet, the entry lists for the NCAA Championships will surely underrate both teams. Legendary men’s head coach Eddie Reese, who will retire after this summer’s Olympic Trials, is a master at excelling in these situations as he has guided Texas to 15 national titles in his career, and his teams have finished in the top-three at the national level every year since 2008 (and in the top-two on all but two of those occasions). Women’s head coach Carol Capitani has begun to master that turnaround as well, leading Texas to second-place finishes each of the last two years.

And given the current state of women’s college swimming, expect the Longhorns to finish in that runnerup spot again this year. Catching Virginia looks like a pipe dream, with both Walsh sisters favored to win three national titles each and the Cavaliers entering as overwhelming favorites in all five relays. But look at the credentials of the group Texas is bringing, losing almost only two contributors from last year.

Emma Sticklen returns to defend her national title in the 200 butterfly, as does Lydia Jacoby in the 100 breaststroke. Indeed, Jacoby and Anna Elendt bring the best 1-2 punch of any team in the country in the breaststroke events while Sticklen and Kelly Pash could go 1-2 in the 200 fly. Pash is a likely three-time A-finalist this season, as is Olivia Bray, while Erica Sullivan remains among the country’s best distance swimmers in her third and final year of college swimming.

Divers Hailey Hernandez, Bridget O’Neil, Jordan Skilken and Sarah Carruthers all scored NCAA points last season. Texas also adds Erin Gemmell, a member of the U.S. women’s 800-meter free relay team that won silver at last year’s World Championships, while fellow freshmen Campbell StollBerit BerglundEmma Kern and Angie Coe have been impressive.

When judging what to expect from the Texas women later this month in Athens, Ga., don’t go off the psych sheet. The members of this team have track records that eclipse every other squad in the country outside of Virginia.


Luke Hobson should be the top performer for the Texas men at the NCAA Championships — Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

For the men, on the other hand, it’s hard to imagine Reese’s final year with the program producing one more crowning performance at the NCAA Championships. Simply, this group does not have the star-power of previous years, with Drew Kibler and Carson Foster departing the college ranks in successive offseasons. Breaststroker Caspar Corbeau is also gone while David Johnston is redshirting.

Hobson, the defending national champion in the 200 and 500 free, and Jake Foster, a three-event scorer in all three previous NCAA meets, will return to the fray, and the Longhorns have freestyler Coby Carrozza, a World Championships relay swimmer in 2022, poised to contribute. Texas will also get plenty of diving points, with Noah Duperre scoring in three events last year and Nick Harris and Brendan McCourt in two each, but unlike the school’s women’s team, the returning championship-caliber talent simply is not there.

But now for the optimistic side of the coin for the Longhorn men: this freshman class is dynamite. Will Modglin gets most of the attention, having quickly made the jump from National High School Swimmer of the Year to a true contender for three individual A-finals at the national meetNate Germonprez is one of the country’s most versatile swimmers ready to take a huge role on relays while possibly also making an individual A-final or two on the national level.

Breaststrokers Will Scholtz and Brayden Taivassalo were both individual Big 12 champions last week while Camden Taylor adds some punch in the sprint events. Freshmen occupied 12 of the 20 spots on the Texas relays at the conference meet (which went undefeated), including the entire 200 medley relay squad that now ranks seventh in the country, highest of any Texas relay.

The results might not pay off with a typically-high finish on the national level this year, not with Texas relying on so many young swimmers, but Reese is setting up his team to continue building and remain successful in the immediate stretch after his retirement.

Next up will be the national championships, with the Longhorn women set for success despite unremarkable swimming at the Big 12 meet and the Texas men hoping their younger swimmers use a successful conference meet to launch into NCAAs. For both teams, the days of utter conference dominance are likely done, although we don’t expect the shift to the SEC to mute Texas’ success on the national level in years to come.

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