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.