Early season, inter-conference matchups are in full swing. After facing Alabama to open the season, Ohio State hosts another major season kick-off meet. Texas A&M and Louisville travel to Columbus for a meet that will simulate the competitive atmosphere of a championship meet.
Short of having the Pac-12, college swimmings three most dominant conferences are represented by one of their best. All three programs finished last year in the top-three of their respective conferences in both genders. The Aggie women are the only defending conference champion of the bunch.
The Aggies and Cardinals also finished in the top-15 at the Men’s NCAA Championships in Minneapolis in March. On the women’s side, all three schools finished in the top-15 with Texas A&M taking third.
The season’s first coaches poll was released this week and the results only amplify the meets magnitude. The men’s rankings have Texas A&M listed tenth with Louisville eleventh. Ohio State sits at number 16. For the women, the Aggies are fifth, Cardinals eighth, and Buckeyes ranked at number 17.
Despite the high ranking, Louisville women won’t be at full strength in Columbus. The top eight swimmers and best diver are competing in Dallas at the SMU Classic this weekend. Despite quite a bit of depth, the Cardinals won’t be able to match Texas A&M or Ohio State without stars like Mallory Comerford.
Texas A&M has yet to swim a meet, making this marquee matchup a more intense season opener. This is Aggies earliest start since 2012. The others have raced already with Ohio State beating Alabama two weeks ago and Louisville dominating Xavier this past weekend.
Despite not racing thus far, Texas A&M returns a significant amount of strength. Returning scorers from the NCAA Championships are limited to breaststroker Benjamin Walker, a favorite to win the 200 breaststroke in Columbus. Junior Adam Koster will battle tough in the sprints and Jose Martinez has a chance to pick up team points in the butterfly events.
The Aggies also bring two, top-15 recruits into the action for their first collegiate meet. The A&M women also have a top-15 recruit on their roster.
After graduating stars Beryl Gastaldello, Bethany Galat, and Lisa Bratton, the Texas A&M women’s team is lead by All-American Sydney Pickrem. Finishing third in both IMs and the 200 breaststroke, she is the swimmer to watch this weekend. Jing Wen Quah, in the butterflies, and Claire Rasmus, in the middle distance freestyles, will also be looking to make a major contribution.
While the Louisville women’s team is without many of their major contributors, the men’s team still features some of swimmings best. Most notably, swimmings Dark Knight, Zach Hartig will take to the pool in the butterfly events, he remains a favorite in those.
Nicolas Alberio, the coach’s son, along with distance swimmer Marcelo Acosta will also be in contention to win their events. Alberio leads the 100 backstroke and will battle with Ohio State’s Noah Lense in the 100 butterfly. Breaststrokers Carlos Claverie and Evgenii Somov also enter as strong contenders.
The host Buckeyes, the men are led by freestyler Paul Delakis, who received honorable mention All-American honors in the 200 freestyle last year. Freshman Jason Mathews, despite being early, is ranked fourth nationally in the 100 breaststroke.
In addition to Lense, others that will make an impact for the Buckeyes are Michael Salazar and Henrique Painhas in the butterflies and freshman Ruslan Gaziev in the sprints.
For the women, freestyler Freya Rayner established herself as a favorite in the sprint freestyles in the Buckeyes win over Alabama. Kathrin Demler and Molly Kowal will content for wins as the distances increase.
The backstroke duo of Rebekah Bradley and Marianne Kahmann also performed well against the Crimson Tide, earning them high rankings in early top times reports. Breaststroker Hanna Gresser also ranks among the nations best after the Buckeyes first meet.
Texas A&M is the favorite to win both genders but Ohio State is a tough out in their home pool. Don’t expect any of the three to run away in scoring. Friday’s competition begins at 5pm EST and Saturday at 9am EST. Full meet coverage can be seen on FloSwimming.