By Ben Colin
Swimming in the Big 12 has, traditionally, been uneven to say the least.
On the men’s side, Texas has never lost the meet since its inception in 1997. The Texas women had a history of battling in-state rival Texas A&M until the Aggies left the league for the SEC. Triple-digit margins have defined the meet in recent history.
And, this weekend, the Longhorns will host the 2018 championships at their home pool in Austin.
Texas is seeded to win every event, and unless something unforeseeable happens, that will stand true when the championships are complete on Saturday. The approach is always the same for this storied program, with the focus on the national championships in March.
That leaves the conference meet as a last chance for those who haven’t yet locked in a spot.
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Six UT men's swimmers already punched their tickets to NCAAs earlier this year. All five men’s relays are locked into the national championships as well. Only two Texas women have achieved the automatic standard so far, but many others are ranked within the top 20, giving the Longhorns a high percentage chance to qualify.
It’s the fringe swimmers for the Longhorns who will light it up at conference. Swimming through a conference meet isn’t all that uncommon for the perennial powers. At least for the men, that contributes greatly to their recent string of national championships. The Big 12 meet is one last tuneup.
For the other four schools competing, this is the pinnacle of the season. Iowa State, Kansas, Texas Christian, and West Virginia look to this meet with the goal of swimming their season bests. In most cases, those four aren’t shooting for NCAA qualifying times.
A few swimmers from West Virginia enter the conference meet with times that open up the conversation about NCAAs. Junior Morgan Carr swam a 1:57.23 at the Ohio State Invitational in November, putting her 0.63 seconds from the invited time last year. Any sort of drop from her lifetime best could do the trick. She also sits in medal position.
Staying within the family, fellow Mountaineer and brother Nathaniel Carr is the closest to an NCAA berth among non-Texas swimmers in the Big 12. His 200 IM at midseason is just under 1 1/2 seconds from the qualifying time in 2017. Despite the time, the 200 IM isn’t West Virginia’s best medal opportunity. Numerous swims are ranked fourth entering the meet and mile swimmer Trayton Saladin ranks third behind Christopher Yeager and John Thomas Larson from Texas.
On the women's side, there are three non-Texas swimmers seeded in the top five of their events. TCU backstroker Maddie Ibrahim ranks fourth in the 100 back and Iowa State freshman Martha Haas is fifth in the 100 breaststroke. Kansas distance swimmer Jenny Nusbaum ranks third in 1,650 freestyle.
Last year’s 100 breaststroke champion, West Virginia’s Jake Armstrong, ranks seventh at this point. He won by over half a second last year. That time from a year ago would easily be ranked first in the current rankings and give him a shot at the NCAA championships.
Top 5 to Watch
Joseph Schooling, Texas - Butterfly
Townley Haas, Texas - Freestyle
Austin Katz, Texas - Backstroke
Brett Ringgoldd, Texas - Freestyle
Jordan Windle, Texas - Diving
Claire Adams, Texas - Backstroke, Freestyle
Joanna Evans, Texas - Distance Freestyle
Quinn Carrozza, Texas - Freestyle, Backstroke
Remedy Rule, Texas - Butterfly
Meghan O’Brien, Texas - Diving
2018 Big 12 Swimming & Diving Championships
Lee and Joe Jamail Texas Swimming Center, Austin, Texas
Short Course Yards (SCY)