This time a year ago, Joanna Evans couldn’t figure out why she couldn’t shake a swimming funk.
At last year’s Big 12 championships, Evans said, she had “no zap.” She struggled in her distance freestyle events. Then between the conference championships and the NCAA meet, Evans figured out why she labored without the results. Doctors told her she had mono, that she’d been sick for a while.
Now, flash forward to Thursday night. A refreshed Evans won the 500-yard freestyle with ease, setting a Big 12 meet record with a time of 4 minutes, 36.87 seconds. The NCAAs are three weeks away.
“This bodes well,” Evans said.
It all was boding well for both the Longhorn men and women’s swimming and diving teams. Each squad took a dominating lead at the conference meet, which had its first full session of finals Thursday night at the Jamail Texas Swim Center.
Winning the conference championship is more of a given. The Longhorn men, the four-time defending NCAA champions, are aiming for their 40th straight league title, a streak that dates back to the old Southwest Conference. UT led West Virginia 371 to 301. TCU was third with 201 points.
On the women’s side, Texas led Kansas 384.5 points to 241.5. West Virginia was third at 187.
The goal for both Texas teams is to qualify swimmers for the NCAA championships. The Longhorns will host both the men’s and women’s national meets.
Townley Haas, the senior leader of the men’s team, held off fellow Longhorn Alex Zettle to win his first-ever conference title in the 500 free. The Olympic gold medalist is the defending NCAA champion in the event, but he’d never been this successful at the Big 12 at this distance.
Haas swam a time of 4:13.35. Zettle, a freshman, was .07 behind his more established teammate.
Haas has a unique skill set. His best event is the 200 free. He’s the American record holder. But he also will swim the 100 free after giving up the 1,650.
On Thursday, he pleased his coach, Eddie Reese, with his time, which currently ranks 11th best in the country. Haas isn’t rested and he’ll taper his workouts so that he’ll swim refreshed at the NCAAs.
“I’m actually quite pleased with it,” Haas said of the 500. “It’s either my best or close to my best time (at conference).
The Longhorns won everything Thursday night:
Senior John Shebat, one of the country’s top backstrokers, won his first-ever Big 12 title in the 200 individual medley. Teammate Daniel Krueger, a freshman, proved to be the fastest male sprinter in the league, winning the 50 free.
For the women, Nora McCullough and Brooke Hansen won the top two spots in the 200 I.M. And Grace Ariola and Julia Cook finished 1-2 in the 50 free.
Alison Gibson and Meahan O’Brien were 1-2 in the one-meter springboard.
The meet ends Saturday night.
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