Texas A&M’s Casas advances to finals in the 100 backstroke

Shaine Casas traveled to Nebraska to prove that he’s more than just “a kid,” swimming for Texas A&M. He wants to be an Olympian, and to be known as one of the best at what he does in the world.

So far, so good, for the 21-year-old from the Rio Grande Valley.

The former McAllen High School standout on Monday advanced through two rounds of the 100-meter backstroke at the U.S. Olympic Trials, qualifying with the third fastest time going into the finals, which will be contested on Tuesday night.

Two years ago, Casas won the 100 back at the U.S. nationals. In the spring, he turned heads again by winning three individual events for the Aggies at the NCAA championships.

At that point, his focus turned to long-course training with an eye on his first trip to the Trials and, hopefully, his first trip to the Olympic Games.

To reach Tokyo, the former age-group prodigy for the McAllen Swim Club will need to step it up a notch.

Entering the Trials, he had a qualifying time in the 100 back at 52.72 seconds, which ranked second in the field. Casas showed up for his first race Monday morning and raced to a 53.08, which was tied for third.

In the semifinals Monday night, he had a strong start in leading his heat from the outset and into the turn at 100 meters.

But down the stretch, Hunter Armstrong started to gain on him. In the final 20 meters, Casas veered toward one of the lane dividers and, in his last strokes, had to correct his direction.

Armstrong surged and hit the wall ahead of him. When the final times for the two semifinals were tallied, 2016 Olympic gold medalist Ryan Murphy was first at 52.22. Armstrong was second at 52.67 and Casas was third at 52.77.

On Tuesday night, it will be tough to top Murphy, the world-record holder at 51.85. At the same time, second place and a spot on the Olympic team is well within reach for the 21-year-old Casas, who now has two Trials swims under his belt.

Casas is also expected to swim the 200 backstroke, which will be contested on Thursday and Friday.

Trials notes

The UT swimming program on Tuesday night will have a good shot at landing one of its own on the Olympic team. Townley Haas is the third qualifier in the men’s 200 freestyle.

Haas is a former Longhorn swimmer who won the 200 at the Trials in 2016 and placed fifth at the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. Current UT swimmer Drew Kibler is the fourth qualifier. In order to fill out the relay rosters, as many as six athletes in the men’s and women’s 100 and 200 freestyle events could get the Olympics tickets.

For all other events, a top two finish is necessary. Also, this year, second place is not necessarily a guarantee because of the addition of the 800 freestyle for men and the 1,500 free for women. UT’s Carson Foster, 19, narrowly missed making the team Sunday night with a third-place finish in the 400 individual medley.

Other former Texas A&M swimmers qualifying into Tuesday night finals were Bethany Galat in the 100 breaststroke and Lisa Bratton in the 100 back.

In event finals held Monday night, the Nos. 1-2 finishers included teenagers Torri Huske and Claire Curzan in the women’s 100 butterfly, Michael Andrew and Andrew Wilson in the men’s 100 breaststroke and veteran Katie Ledecky and Paige Madden in the women’s 400 freestyle.

Former San Antonio area high school athletes competing in Wave II of the trials are Zach Yeadon, Mikey Calvillo and Sarah Gibson. Yeadon and Gibson attended Reagan High School. Calvillo is from O’Connor.