Swimming trials: Dressel blows away the field in 100 freestyle

U.S. swimming sensation Caeleb Dressel won easily in the 100-meter freestyle Thursday night at the U.S. Olympic Trials. Dressel held a slim lead at 50 meters and then turned it on for an easy victory in his first win this week at Omaha, Nebraska.

Leading by only two tenths of a second at the turn, the 24-year-old Floridian cut a swath through the water in the final 50 meters and pulled away from seven others in the race, hitting the wall in a U.S. Open record of 47.39 seconds.

Zach Apple (47.72) finished in second, with Blake Pieroni (48.16) and 20-year-old Brooks Curry (48.19) in third and fourth, respectively The outcome means that Dressel and Apple will qualify for the Tokyo Olympic Games and will swim as individuals in the 100. Pieroni and Curry also made the Olympic team on the 4×100 relay.

Coming in fifth and sixth were Bowe Becker (48.22) and Ryan Held (48.46), with both having a shot at being named to the team to fill out the relay pool.

Dressel, from Green Cove Springs, Fla., hopes to dominate the Trials in coming days in a quest to swim in six or seven events — including relays — at Tokyo. He is expected to compete in the 50 freestyle and the 100 butterfly in coming days. In the 100 butterfly, he holds the world record.

San Antonio fans may remember Dressel as an athlete who competed in 2015 at the Phillips 66 nationals at the Northside Swim Center. Dressel went on to star at Florida. He was the national swimmer of the year in 2018 for the Gators.

Andrew’s big week

Swimming in the 200 IM semifinals, Michael Andrew posted the fastest time in the world this year at 1 minute and 55.26 seconds. Earlier in the week, he set the American record twice in the 100 breaststroke and went on to win that event to qualify for his first Olympic team. Now he’s in position to win his second event. He’s even getting close to Ryan Lochte’s world record time of 1:54. Andrew will be in the 200 IM finals with Lochte on Friday night. Others in the field will be Chase Kalisz, Kieran Smith and 19-year-old University of Texas star Carson Foster.

Licon’s heartbreak

On the fifth night of the Trials, former University of Texas standout Will Licon narrowly missed out on a trip to the Olympics. Licon, 26, originally from El Paso’s Vista Ridge High School, finished in third place in the 200-meter breaststroke. Nic Fink (two minutes and 7.55 seconds) was the winner and Andrew Wilson (2:08.32) was second. Charging hard at the end, Licon touched in 2:08.50. In doing so, he missed making the team by 18 hundredths of a second. In 2016, he finished third in the 200 breast by 14 hundredths.

Casas advances

Meanwhile, Texas A&M’s top prospect at the Trials — Shaine Casas — advanced through the preliminaries and the semifinals of the 200 backstroke and barely made it into the finals, which will be contested Friday night. Casas, 21, possibly the most accomplished swimmer to come out of the Rio Grande Valley, started his day in the wake of a heart-breaking, third-place finish earlier in the week in the 100 backstroke.

In making his Trials debut on Monday and Tuesday, the former McAllen High School star made it through two rounds of the 100 backstroke. But in the finals, he came within 28 hundredths of a second from second place and a probable trip to Tokyo. Coming into Thursday, Casas had the third best qualifying time in the 200 back at 1:55.79 in the 200, behind only Ryan Murphy and Austin Katz. In the morning preliminaries, he was ninth overall in 1:59.52.

In the night semifinals, Casas moved out to a good start, touching in second place at the 50-meter turn. But in the final 150, he fell back to fourth or fifth for most of the remainder of the race, finally finishing fifth in 1:58.48. When the times were shuffled, Casas had secured the eighth and final spot in the finals.

Flickinger’s record

Hali Flickinger qualified for the Tokyo Olympics by winning the 200 butterfly. In doing so, the 26-year-old from Spring Grove, Pa., set a U.S. Open record with a time of 2:05.85. A U.S. Open record is one that is established in a U.S. swimming venue. She remains quite a ways away from the American record of 2:04.14 set by Mary Mohler in 2009. Flickinger, who swam collegiately at Georgia, likely made the team earlier this week with a second place in the 400 individual medley. Her showing in the butterfly clinched it.

(Here is a recap of the 1-2 finishers in each event final through five nights of the Trials. For the 200- and 100-freestyle, we’ll include the top six finishers.)

Men’s 800 freestyle — Bobby Finke, 7:48.22; Michael Brinegar, 7:49.94.
Men’s 200 breaststroke — Nic Fink, 2:07.55; Andrew Wilson, 2:08.32.
Women’s 200 butterfly — Hali Flickinger, 2:05.85; Regan Smith, 2:06.99.
Men’s 100 freestyle — Caeleb Dressel, 47.39; Zach Apple, 47.72; Blake Pieroni, 48.16, Brooks Curry, 48.19; Bowe Becker, 48.22; Ryan Held, 48.46.

Women’s 200 freestyle — Katie Ledecky, 1:55.11; Allison Schmitt, 1:56.79; Paige Madden, 1:56.80; Katie McLaughlin, 1:57.16; Bella Sims, 1:57.53; Brooke Forde, 1:57.61
Men’s 200 butterfly — Zach Harting, 1:55.06; Gunnar Bentz, 1:55.34.
Women’s 200 IM — Alex Walsh, 2:09.30; Kate Douglass, 2:09.32
Women’s 1,500 freestyle — Katie Ledecky, 15:40.50; Erica Sullivan, 15:51.18

Men’s 200 freestyle — Kieran Smith, 1:45.29; Townley Haas, 1:45.66; Jay Kibler, 1:45.92; Andrew Seliskar, 1:46.34; Zach Apple, 1:46.45; Patrick Callan, 1:46.49
Women’s 100 backstroke — Regan Smith, 58.35; Rhyan White, 58.60
Men’s 100 backstroke — Ryan Murphy, 52.33; Hunter Armstrong, 52.48
Women’s 100 breaststroke — Lilly King, 1:04.79; Lydia Jacoby, 1:05.28

Women’s 100 butterfly — Torrie Huske, 55.66; Claire Curzan, 56.43
Men’s 100 breaststroke — Michael Andrew, 58.73; Andrew Wilson, 58.74
Women’s 400 freestyle — Katie Ledecky, 4:01.27; Paige Madden, 4:04.86

Men’s 400 IM — Chase Kalisz, 4:09.09; Jay Litherland, 4:10.33.
Men’s 400 freestyle — Kieran Smith, 3:44.86; Jake Mitchell, 3:48.17
Women’s 400 IM — Emma Weyant, 4:33.81; Hali Flickinger, 4:33.96

Olympic Trials swimming: Two from UT headed to Tokyo, while two from A&M fall short

Two swimmers with University of Texas ties qualified for the Tokyo Olympic Games on Tuesday night. Two others from Texas A&M came up agonizingly short.

It all unfolded on Day 3 of the U.S. Olympic Trials, as former UT athlete Townley Haas and current standout Drew Kibler made the U.S. team in the hotly-contested 200-meter freestyle.

Meanwhile, three-time NCAA champion and rising A&M senior Shaine Casas finished third in the 100 backstroke, while former A&M swimmer Bethany Galat was fourth in the 100 breaststroke.

Both needed a second-place finish to have a shot at making the team in their respective events.

With four finals playing out at the Trials on the meet’s third day in Omaha, Nebraska, University of Florida star Kieran Smith stole the show and won the title in the 200 free, covering the distance in one minute and 45.29 seconds.

Haas, the 2016 U.S. Trials champion and a relay gold medalist from the Rio Olympics, swam a 1:45.66 for second place to edge out Kibler, who placed third in a personal best 1:45.92. Fourth went to Andrew Seliskar in 1:46.34.

The outcome means that Smith and Haas are in line to swim in the 200 as individuals in Japan.

Kibler and Seliskar will be ticketed for the 4×200 relay. In addition, fifth-place Zach Apple (1:46.45) and No. 6 Patrick Callan (1:46.49) also could earn a spot on the team, likely for the relay preliminaries.

Smith, from Ridgefield, Conn., is a rising senior at the University of Florida. He’s also the first double winner at the Trials, having won the 400 free on Sunday night.

Finals notes

In other finals, the Nos. 1-2 finishers included Regan Smith and Rhyan White in the women’s 100 backstroke; Ryan Murphy and Hunter Armstrong in the men’s 100 back and Lilly King and Lydia Jacoby in the women’s 100 breaststroke.

Two from Texas

Haas, 25, originally from Richmond, Va., swam for the Longhorns from 2016-19. He won gold in 2016 in Rio de Janeiro in a 4×200 relay unit with Conor Dwyer, Ryan Lochte and Michael Phelps. Individually, Haas finished fifth in the 200 at Rio in 1:45.58. Kibler is a rising UT senior from Carmel, Ind. In March, he earned All-America honors for the Longhorns’ NCAA championship team in the 100, 200 and 500 freestyles, and also in the 4×100 and 4×200 free relays.

A close call

Coming into the meet, Casas had the second-fastest qualifying time in the 100 back and momentum from three individual titles that he won at the NCAA meet earlier this year. But in the first Trials event-final of his career, things didn’t work out for him.

He was first to the wall at the 50-meter mark and then couldn’t hang on. Illinois native Murphy, 25, the reigning Olympic champion and world record holder, finished first in 52.33 seconds. Armstrong, 20, from Dover, Ohio, was second at 52.48. Casas, 21, from McAllen in the Rio Grande Valley, placed third at 52.76.

Murphy, who won three golds in the 2016 Summer Games, holds the world record in the 100 back at 51.85. Which means that Casas, whose personal record is 52.72, ranks as one of the best in the world in the event — just not quite fast enough to swim it in Tokyo.

Casas is expected to have another shot at making the team. According to the plan coming into Omaha, he is expected to swim at least one more event this week, the 200 backstroke, which will be contested on Thursday and Friday.

Can’t beat the King

Lilly King was fully expected to win the 100 breaststroke — and she did.

The 2016 Olympic champion raced to a 1:04.79 finish in the finals Tuesday night. Teenager Lydia Jacoby was second at 1:05.28, putting herself in position for a berth on the team.

On the outside looking in, Annie Lazor was third 1:05.60 and former A&M star Bethany Galat fourth in 1:05.75. With the time, Galat lowered her own Aggie Swim Club record.

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.

Texas A&M’s Casas chases his Olympic swimming dream

Aggies backstroke specialist Shaine Casas, a rising senior from McAllen, has emerged as a contender to make the U.S. Olympic team. – Photo By Ikeah Roque/Texas A&M Athletics

By Jerry Briggs
Special report, for The JB Replay

This time last year, Texas A&M swimmer Shaine Casas had a good feeling about his chances of making the U.S. Olympic team.

Even with all the uncertainty brought on by the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, the former grade-school-age prodigy with the McAllen Swim Club and prep star at McAllen High School knew what he had to do to get himself ready.

Shaine Casas is expected to swim both the 100- and the 200-meter backstrokes at the U.S. Olympic Trials in Omaha. — Photo, courtesy Texas A&M

Then, when officials made the decision to push the Tokyo Games back by a year, Casas just shrugged and tried to re-set mentally.

“Initially, whenever it first happened, it’s frustration and kind of like disappointment, because I felt confident in the way I was swimming,” Casas said in a zoom conference on Monday afternoon. “I thought I had a great shot, regardless. But, in hindsight, looking at it, I realized that it gave me more time.

“It just gave me more time to take out the guess-work … And now I can be confident and sure in myself that I can make the team, and that I’ve taken basically every opportunity to do it.

“So, I guess I’m satisfied that I get this other chance, a year later, even though, obviously, I would have loved to (have been) an Olympian a year ago. But if I can make it next week, you know, that will still be worth the wait.”

Casas, one of the fastest-rising stars in American swimming, will get his chance when the second and final phase of the Olympic Trials opens Sunday and runs through June 20 in Omaha, Nebraska.

How good is he?

In a testament to his versatility and athleticism, the rising senior at A&M has qualified for eight events, including the 50-, 100- and 200-meter freestyle, the 100 and 200 butterfly, the 100 and 200 backstroke, and the 200 individual medley.

“He could swim any of those, which is pretty incredible by itself,” Aggies coach Jay Holmes said. “But the way the order of events is (laid out), we really have to choose. And so, the 100- and the 200-back are the ones we know he’s going to be in, at least right now, as of today.

“We do have some options, but in the order of events, the 200 IM and the 200 back are almost impossible to do together. Ryan Lochte’s done it in the trials before, but he’s incredibly seasoned. We know Shaine is capable of doing that double.

“But also, we feel like we really need to choose the best places for him to make the team.

Casas recently won three individual gold medals — in the 100- and 200-backstroke and the 200 individual medley — at the NCAA championships. — Photo, courtesy Texas A&M

“Also, you have prelims, semifinals and finals, so the 100 and 200 back are the only ones we know of. I doubt he is going to try to double the 200 IM and the 200 back. You just have to be so elite. To do that back to back, with very little rest (in between), is crazy almost.”

With the 100 and 200 backstrokes dominated by 2016 Olympic gold medalist Ryan Murphy and several others who are among the fastest in the world, Casas will face the ultimate test of his readiness. Only two athletes will make the Olympic team in what are considered his strongest events.

Even so, Olympic swimming analyst Rowdy Gaines said he thinks Casas can make the team.

“If I was a betting man, I definitely would not bet against Shaine Casas,” Gaines said after Casas won three events at the NCAA Championships earlier this year. “There’s just no way I would bet against that. I think he’s going to make it in one or two events.”

Born in San Diego, Calif., Casas moved with his family to South Texas, where he took up the sport as a grade-schooler in the McAllen Swim Club.

Former MSC coach Roxanne Balducci said in a telephone interview that, from her recollection, Casas started with her team at about age eight and continued through 14.

Shaine Casas of the McAllen Swim Club, from a photo taken in either 2010 and 2011, when he was in grade school. — Photo, courtesy MSC

“He came so many times a week because he was also into basketball at the time,” said Balducci, who lives in Florida. “So, he would swim some days, go to basketball some days. Either come to swimming late or leave swimming early to go to basketball, because that was his other love, and he just kept getting better and better.

“He went to (state competition in) TAGS, at 12-14 (and) then he made the Southern Zone team. He was just very strong for his age. You know, it took a while to build up his strokes. But once he did that, he just took off.”

His rise was rapid. In 2017, Casas took second place in a couple of events at the Class 6A state meet for McAllen High School. A little more than a year later, he was swimming on scholarship at Texas A&M.

By the summer of 2019, Casas really turned heads, winning a title in the 100-meter backstroke at the Phillips 66 Summer Nationals. He also placed second in the 200 back and the 200 IM.

The pandemic set him back, but only briefly, because he more than made up for lost time in March when he won three individual titles for the Aggies at the NCAA meet.

Given his body of work, Casas has seriously challenged the notion that swimmers from the Valley can’t compete at the highest level. Balducci acknowledged that it is rare for the RGV to produce a swimmer like Casas.

“Unfortunately, yes,” she said. “You know, it would be nice if we had the same type of facilities that other places in the state had, or other places in the country. But, you know, if you are determined enough, if you have got that little extra spark, nothing will stop you.

“You have stories like (former three-time Olympian) Ian Crocker. He came from somewhere in New England, from a four-lane pool. If you’ve got what it takes, and you’re willing to put in the effort, it can be done. I agree. It is rare. It would be nice if it happened a little more often.”

Shaine Casas (front row, third from right) holds a ‘hot ‘n spicy’ spirit sign and poses with teammates on the McAllen Swim Club. — Photo, courtesy MSC.

Hector Becerra, who lives in the Valley and manages the McAllen Swim Club today, said Casas’ rise in stature can only help an area hard hit by the virus over the past year.

“We’re rooting for him,” Becerra said. “The fact that somebody from our area is at that level, is really exciting for us. If he were to make the Olympic team, it would just … it would generate a lot of buzz, a lot of interest for us down here.

“Not to mention it would really stir a lot of enthusiasm in a lot of our (club) kids. Coming out of a pandemic … I can’t think of any way better to lift the spirits of our South Texas region, than to have him make the team.”

Likewise, the A&M program could use a boost in its battle with Texas for the top swimmers in the state. Guided by outgoing coach Eddie Reese, UT has long held the upper hand, in terms of dominance in college men’s swimming.

If Casas can make some noise next week, perhaps young athletes will start to look at the Aggies differently.

“Shaine is just one of those rare talents,” Holmes said. “I’ve certainly never coached anyone like him, as versatile as he is. For us, it’s fun to coach him, because you can put him in almost any situation and he’s going to be trying to figure out ways to win it.

“He’s very confident. He always has been very confident, even coming out of McAllen. McAllen has had some swimmers go D-I before. But, coming out of McAllen with the times he had, and being able to do the things he was doing, already, we thought he could be pretty special.

“He’s a fun guy to coach. You could put him in almost any situation, and he really believes he can beat just about anybody, anytime, in almost anything.”

Casas said he feels more confident in himself now than this time last year.

“I have more high competition experience,” he said. “Going into it last year, my biggest meet was (2019) nationals, and that was more of a light year. You know there was not too many superstars there. So it was just me, doing my thing, and I was able to win.

“ … Now having the NCAA championship, and winning at the biggest stage collegiately, I think that gave me confidence at practice, racing at a high level, that I needed for this meet.”

Going into the NCAA meet in North Carolina a few months ago, Casas was expected to win, and he delivered with victories in the 100 back, the 200 back and the 200 IM. He said if he hadn’t been able to pull that off, he might have felt more unease going into the Trials.

Asked pointedly what gives him the confidence that he will shine the brightest “with the lights as bright as they’re going to be,” Casas didn’t hesitate in delivering his answer.

“That’s just what I do,” he said. “That’s what I train to do. It’s what I plan to do. I visualize doing that, so … “ Casas didn’t finish the thought, but he did continue to address what the meet means to him in the big picture.

“It’s exciting,” he said. “I’ve been talking about this for years. Like, whenever I won nationals and I entered kind of the room for discussion about possible Olympians or medalists … you know, I had been preparing for that and planning for that, and that motivated me every single day at practice.

“I want to make it. I want to do well. I want to represent the U.S. So, I’m excited to hopefully enter the new stage of my life where people know who I am, and my name becomes an international name, and I’m not just a kid, swimming at Texas A&M.

“Maybe,” he added, “I’m the guy that swam for Team USA and did well.”

Olympic Trials schedule
June 13-20, at Omaha, Nebraska
Eye on Shaine Casas
Men’s 100 backstroke — Preliminaries in the morning and semifinals at night, on Monday, June 14. Finals on Tuesday night, June 15.
Men’s 200 backstroke — Preliminaries in the morning and semifinals at night on Thursday, June 17. Finals on Friday, June 18.

McAllen Swim Club director Hector Becerra on Shaine Casas: ‘Coming out of a pandemic … I can’t think of any way better to lift the spirits of our South Texas region, than to have him make the (U.S. Olympic) team.’

Shaine Casas, a Texas A&M junior from McAllen, wins national swimmer of the year

One of the most under-reported sports stories in the state unfolded last week when McAllen-native Shaine Casas won gold medals in three individual events for the Texas A&M Aggies at the NCAA Swimming and Diving Championships.

Former Olympic champion and current television analyst Rowdy Gaines, who witnessed the performance, marveled at the way Casas has emerged from prospect status to U.S. Olympic-team contender in two years.

“He’s obviously really good,” Gaines said in a telephone interview. “That he’s been able to explode on the scene in the last couple of years, it’s incredible. And, yeah, he’s just going to get better.

“He’s still young. He’s just going to continue to improve. That’s what’s so scary about it. He’s just a junior. He’s still got his senior year. He’s still got the summer.”

Gaines made his comments Tuesday morning. Later in the afternoon, Casas was named as the College Swimming and Diving Coaches Association of America (CSCAA) Division-I Men’s Swimmer of the Year.

The award came on the heels of his performance last week at the NCAA meet in Greensboro, N.C., where he won the 100- and 200-yard backstroke and 200 individual medley.

As a freshman, in 2019, Casas scored points at the NCAA meet in the 200 IM and the 200 butterfly but didn’t reach the finals in either one.

Later that year, he opened eyes when he won the 100-meter backstroke and finished second in the 200 back and 200 IM at U.S. nationals. He seemed poised to have a big season in 2020 until the pandemic forced cancellation of the NCAA meet and the Olympic Trials.

Now, with his recent gold-medal binge, many eyes in the sport will be on him, with the Trials scheduled for June at Omaha and the Olympic Games, postponed for a year, set for July and August in Tokyo.

Swimmers make a name for themselves in Olympic years, so this is a big one for Casas.

“He has the long-course capability just as much, or even more so, than the short-course capabilities,” Gaines said. “So, he’s going to have a fantastic summer and certainly has a bright future. Probably won’t start peaking until 2024.”

With the 200- and 100-backstroke dominated by 2016 Olympian Ryan Murphy and several others who are among the fastest in the world, Casas faces a challenge at the Trials. Only two athletes will make the U.S. Olympic team in what are considered his strongest events.

But Gaines seems to think he has a good chance.

“If I was a betting man, I definitely would not bet against Shaine Casas,” Gaines said. “There’s just no way I’d bet against that. I think he’s going to make it in one or two events.”

In Greensboro, Casas highlighted his week by winning the 200 backstroke on the final night in 1 minute, 35.75 seconds — two one hundredths off the NCAA, meet and American records held by Murphy, swimming for Cal, in 2014.