The Texas men’s swim team, the three-time defending national champions, went through an ugly stretch of the schedule, which generated unexpected results.
The mighty Longhorns, who had been so invincible at the previous national championships, suddenly looked pedestrian. And beatable.
UT lost four dual meets in a row.
There was one late October weekend in which Texas lost a double dual meet to Florida and Indiana. There was the loss to Texas A&M, marking the first time UT had fallen to the Aggies in the pool since 1962. The fourth defeat came at the hands of North Carolina State.
All the losses were to ranked teams. Still, it was stunning that Texas struggled.
But what happened early doesn’t necessarily foreshadow what results will be at the end of the season.
Texas, now ranked eighth nationally, soon will know where it stands among the nation’s elite. The four-day Big 12 championship meet starts Wednesday at the Jamail Texas Swim Center. The Longhorns should easily extend its conference title win streak to 39 straight. Most important, Texas will see how many of its swimmers qualify for the NCAA meet, which is set for March 21-24 in Minneapolis.
The Longhorn women, ranked fourth nationally, also will be hoping to use the Big 12 meet as a springboard for more swimmers for the NCAAs. Unlike the men, the Longhorn women went through their dual meet season with a perfect 9-0 record. Their best victory was against Texas A&M, which is now the No. 2 team in the country.
In swimming’s big picture, the only meets that count are at the end of the season, not the opening months.
Texas men’s coach Eddie Reese said his team’s early season woes were mostly due to dead legs. He changed the way the swimmers worked out, having them concentrate on dry-land exercises in the weight room. Specifically, he had them working on their jumps.
“Personally, I try to get better at everything I do,” Reese said Tuesday. “Every year, I try to get better. If you look at what we did in the first semester, at one point we were 0-4 in dual meets. That usually means you’re doing too much and they’re working it too hard. And we’ve probably had the worst dual meet record we’ve ever had.
“But we’ve never worked this hard. I’ve never had as hard of a program. They’ve never worked this hard.
“Usually that means that this side, starting with conference, is as sensational in the good direction as it was in the bad direction.”
On paper, the Longhorns aren’t the same team as they were when winning the three national titles. Olympians Jack Conger and Clark Smith have graduated. So has Will Licon, who a year ago became the first Longhorn to win three individual NCAA titles.
But Texas still is laden with stars. Joseph Schooling, who beat Michael Phelps for a gold medal at the 2016 Olympics, is a senior. Townley Haas, who also was an Olympian two years ago, is a junior.
The UT divers will compete during this weekend’s meet, but they qualify for the NCAAs at a zone meet, March 5-7.
The Longhorn women finished fifth at last year’s NCAAs, Texas’ best placement in eight years. UT was a half-point away from fourth place.
Carol Capitani, the UT women’s coach, wants to build off that placement.
“What they’ve done really well through the dual meet season is they’ve been tough and they’ve been gritty, trying to pick off a few more schools,” Capitani said.
“They’ve got their sights up really high. I’m not going to hold anyone back. We’re talking about big dreams and big things to do. We’ve got some really tough records on the board. I’d like to break some of those this weekend.”