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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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Leaving a legacy

Photo by Courtesy of Texas A&M Athletics

Junior Shaine Casas currently holds 12 program records for the Texas A&M men’s swim team.

When Shaine Casas gets in the water, his coaches and teammates know something good is going to happen.
In less than three years in Aggieland, the junior from McAllen has broken 12 total records for the Texas A&M men’s swim program — seven individual and five relay.
But that doesn’t mean success has come easy for him.
Last spring, Casas and the rest of A&M’s men’s team were about a week away from competing at the NCAA Championships, ready for the chance to build on their second place finish from the conference meet less than a month prior.
However, that opportunity never came as the NCAA canceled its remaining championships due to COVID-19.
At that time, the Olympics were still scheduled for the summer and Casas was looking to qualify at the Trials in June. But a week after the cancellation of the NCAA Championships, the Olympic Committee postponed the Games to 2021.
“I felt robbed of an opportunity,” Casas said. “I felt like my life was being changed and I couldn’t control it. [There was] a lot of frustration and just asking, ‘Why is this going on?’ But talking with my coaches, they helped me realize that, ‘Shaine, you’re 20 years old. This is only a blessing. You have even more time.’ When you put it that way, yeah, I may as well just be patient and it can be even better and the feeling can be even greater when I finally do it a year later, hopefully.”
Though A&M men’s head coach Jay Holmes didn’t know whether his team would be able to compete in the fall and spring, he said the postponement of the Olympics was only going to help Casas in the long run, and he wanted Casas to realize that too.
“We think at this point in his career, he’s going to get better and better and better every year, so in a lot of ways, do we think he’s going to be a better swimmer this summer than last summer? That would be a correct statement,” Holmes said. “It’s just a matter of timing. Whenever it does happen, whenever he has his opportunity, it’s going to be really good.”
Last season, Casas was on a hot streak heading into the national meet, becoming the fastest teenager ever in the 200 IM with a time of 1:40.16. At the Art Adamson Invitational in November 2019, he set the school and pool record in the 100 back, finishing in 44.48, also the fastest finish in the NCAA at the time. At the SEC Championships, he broke Olympic gold medalist Ryan Lochte’s conference meet record of 1:38.29 in the 200 back, earning the Commissioner’s Trophy at the conclusion of the event.
Despite not being able to practice for several months, having COVID-19 in early June and injuring his ankle during the season, Casas continued his success at the start of his junior year, lowering his own program records in the 100 back, 200 back, 200 fly and 200 IM.
However, Casas said personal achievements don’t mean anything if he isn’t also helping his team succeed.
“I need to win,” Casas said. “Times don’t mean anything in any sport. It’s all about winning. I just need to win more and help build this legacy.”
Casas hasn’t been a stranger to winning though, starting as early as his freshman year in 2018. He quickly became a major point-scorer for the Aggies, breaking six program records in his first season in Aggieland in the 200 back, 200 IM, 200 and 800 free relays and 200 and 400 medley relays. In 2019 he also became the first A&M freshman to score individual points in two events at the NCAA Championships.
As effortless as it seemed to those watching the records come down, Casas said the move to collegiate swimming was an adjustment for him. But the coaches went through a period of acclimation, too.
“I’m an inside-the-box guy, I like staying in my box,” Holmes said. “[Casas is] way outside the box, so that’s been an adjustment for me. [A&M associate head coach] Jason Calanog is much more outside of the box than I am — Shaine’s way outside the box. The adaptation phase for us [was learning how] to let Shaine be Shaine.
“If Shaine thinks he can beat somebody in something he hasn’t trained for, we basically just cut him loose and say, ‘Go get them.’”
Growing up in McAllen, Casas said he was often the best swimmer in his area and rarely had to deal with true competition, but he always put immense pressure on himself when it came to the UIL State Championships.
“[In McAllen], athletics isn’t that crazy,” Casas said. “There’s not that many studs in that area, and I was one of them, so everyone always looked at what I was doing. I always felt like, ‘Oh, I need to be winning or people will be disappointed.’ State was always the worst meet for me because I always felt like if I don’t win, then I’m just a loser.”
Casas said while he still feels the same sort of pressure today, it doesn’t affect him as much as it used to.
“I have the same mindset, I’m just more mature about it,” Casas said. “I always expect the best and I know people expect a lot out of me, so that gets me going and gives me a lot of motivation because I know at the end of the day, I want them to be able to trust and depend on me to win and do what I was brought here to do.”
When it came time to choose where he wanted to further his swimming career, Casas said the decision was easy. As he was growing up, his mom, Monica Epling, expressed her love for A&M to him and his brothers often. She didn’t attend the university, Casas said, but she always felt drawn to its traditions.
As soon as the Aggies offered him a spot on their roster, he was ready to come immediately to Aggieland. Despite her love for the school, his mom made him play it safe and take visits to Notre Dame and Texas to be sure.
“I was like, ‘Man, I’m just wasting their time.’ Every single trip, I knew exactly where I was going,” Casas said.
Once Holmes and Calanog heard A&M was Casas’s first choice, they were ecstatic.
“If Jason and I had the ability to do back handsprings, we probably would have done them,” Holmes said.
Growing up, Casas said he always thought he would choose to take his talents to the University of Texas because of its elite swimming and diving program. 
“[I thought,] ‘I want to be the best, I’m super competitive, I want to be an Olympian, I need to go to Texas,’” Casas said. “But then I realized, no, I don’t just want to go there and be another fast swimmer that they have. I want to go and make my own legacy and be the guy that started it all and just change a program. I feel like I’ve done a very decent job up to this point, so I’m super happy with my decision.”
Casas said his mother’s love for the school wasn’t the reason he chose A&M, but he knows her voice was always in the back of his head.
In fact, she’s the reason Casas was swimming in the first place.
Though swimming has given Casas experiences to last a lifetime, his entry into the sport was born out of tragedy.
Almost a year into his career as a Border Patrol agent, his dad, James Epling, drowned in the Colorado River while on duty, just nine days before Casas’s fourth birthday. 
With her husband’s death on her mind, as well as a recent increase in the number of youth drownings across the U.S., Monica enrolled her sons in water safety classes. 
“Your mother would not want the same thing to happen to her kids that happened to her husband,” Casas said. “I don’t think the sole reason I was swimming was because of his death. That just probably opened her eyes like, ‘Hey, this is something that can be avoided.’ Plenty of children across the country and the world drown all the time, so it’s something that people can learn so they can save themselves.”
But Monica said she knew Casas was made for the water before he was even born.
“He doesn’t believe me when I tell him he was geared toward swimming,” Monica said in a 2017 interview with “I was severely sick my entire pregnancy, and I couldn’t get comfortable unless I was submerged in the bathtub or water or in the pool. He’s been around water since before he was born.”
Once Casas was born, Monica said he was “a very fussy baby,” but a bath was a guaranteed way to soothe him.
“I would get in the water and he’d be calm,” Monica said in a January 2021 interview with “It was almost instantaneous.”
Once she enrolled him in swimming lessons, Casas’s talent was almost immediately apparent. Though his passion for the sport didn’t come until later, the seeds of what was to come were already sprouting.
Whenever he would have a successful race, Casas’s grandfather would give him some sort of reward, which he said sparked his love for competition.
“At first it was always like, I’d get a dollar or they’d take me out to eat or I could get video games if I did well,” Casas said. “Once I started winning competitively I guess the sensation of winning was enough for me and I just enjoyed that part. The competitive nature of the sport got me hooked onto it.”
While Casas’s three brothers were also involved in a variety of sports growing up, he said he was the only one that was serious about athletics. Casas also played several sports, but said swimming was his clear favorite.
“I hated running, but I would do cross country and track, so I was like, ‘Okay, I’m not going to do this anymore.’ So I did soccer and there’s still running, so I don’t really like that,” Casas said. “And then basketball, basketball’s a little more fun, but there’s still running and stuff so I was like, ‘Oh, swimming’s really fun.’ I enjoyed all of them, it’s just, swimming is a lot more enjoyable for me. The other ones I just felt drained all the time from.”
Casas’s family has a history of military service as his dad and grandfather both served, and his younger brother is now in bootcamp following in their footsteps. Casas said if it weren’t for swimming, he probably would have pursued the same route, and he even still considers it.
“I kind of want to go into the military too, I just want to go to bootcamp,” Casas said. “It seems so sick and so much pride. I’m just like, ‘Fuck yeah, I want to do that.’ But I have swimming, I have this degree, I have all these opportunities — I should probably make the best of that. I’m not saying going into the military is a bad route, I’m just saying I’ve been given these cards, I should use them better than that. I feel like I’d be throwing it away if I join the military right after.” 
Just as he hoped to do, Casas is carving out his legacy one race at a time while also launching the A&M men’s swim program into national prominence.
Casas currently sits at the top of the Aggies’ record books in 12 events: the 200 free, 100 and 200 back, 100 and 200 fly, 200 and 400 IM, 200 and 400 medley relays, and the 200, 400 and 800 free relays. 
Regardless of how many school records he has set, Holmes said it will be how Casas has led the team that will be his legacy at A&M.
“You look up at our record board and he’s already got his name all over it. That’s a pretty visual legacy, to see somebody that’s all over a record board like that,” Holmes said. “He’s scoring tons of points, he’s going to score a lot of points, and that’s great and all. 
“But how is he helping his team score points, how is he helping his team get better? We’re hoping that his legacy when he’s done is that he dragged some people along with him. We want the Shaine Casas that does more than just score points. We want him to help create a culture here of racing where racers come, and he’s for sure started that.” 
Casas said the reason for his success is simple: Taking the talent he was gifted and making the most out of it.
“Being born, I guess I was just given a God-given talent and fortunately for me, I realize that and I work with that and I’m extremely determined to make something out of that because I want to make my family proud, myself proud and the school. That’s why they brought me here,” Casas said. “I want to be the best athlete I can. I don’t want to let anyone down, so that always motivates me.”

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