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The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

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Swim team visiting Auburn for NCAAs

When the No. 22 Texas A&M women’s swimming and diving teams first took to the pool in Lincoln, Neb., in October, they and Head Coach Steve Bultman and had some goals in mind: first, to focus on chipping away at the University of Texas’ hold on the Big 12 Conference, and second, to make a stride into the nation’s top 20 teams, a group that has not included the Aggie women since 1995.
Five months later, the women have worked themselves into a position to challenge the nation’s elite swim teams starting today at the NCAA Championships in Auburn, Ala. The A&M women posted times good enough to send nine individual swimmers to the championships. Only 10 other teams in the nation were able to send an entourage as large as the Aggies’ group. To put the accomplishment in perspective, the Aggie men, who have developed into a perennial top-25 team and have finished in the top 20 four of the last five years, are sending only seven swimmers to their respective meet next weekend.
“Our goal has always been to see how many girls we can take to the meet,” Bultman said. “And (the focus) has always been to get relays because that is so important.”
In the relay races, the A&M women placed teams in all five relay events. The events garner the most importance at the meet as they are worth double points to the finishers.
In individual competition, the Aggies are led by sophomore Katie Francher, who surprised the Big 12 earlier this year by winning the conference championship in the 500-yard freestyle, and in the process snagging NCAA consideration times in every event she swam at the meet. The performance put Francher in a position to contribute heavily this weekend as she will be swimming in three relays, as well as the 100, 200, and 500 freestyles.
“I was hoping that I would make it (to the NCAAs) by my sophomore year,” Francher said. “But it was still a surprise. Our whole distance group has improved a lot this year — we are doing times in practice that I would have never thought of doing.”
Francher will be accompanied by another Big 12 champion, fellow sophomore Ashley Roark. Roark set school records in the 400-yard individual medley two weeks ago in Austin, and the week before, she won the conference championship in the same event. The meet this weekend will be the first time for both swimmers to take the trip to the NCAA meet in their careers. In fact, the only Aggie swimmer of the nine to have previous experience at the NCAA’s is sophomore Courtney Patterson. Last season, Patterson finished 20th in the 100-yard backstroke.
“This is a big step up in the program, and a nice thing is that they are all underclassmen,” Bultman said. “It’s a big step because some of them will have experience before the meet comes here next year, but we don’t want to go over and be spectators — they earned their way into the meet. It’s tough to get there.”
Preliminaries are scheduled to start at 11 a.m. today. The finals will take place every day at 7p.m. The meet will run Thursday through Sunday.

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