Photo: Noelle Davis
PASADENA (Feb. 20, 2019) - Head Coach Andrew Brabson and the Caltech men's and women's swim & dive teams will head to Commerce for this weekend's SCIAC Championships, taking place Thursday-Sunday, aiming to better last year's sixth and eighth-place finishes.
Location: Brenda Villa Aquatic Center, 500 Harbor St, Commerce, CA 90040
Last year's men's squad matched its sixth-place finish of a season earlier, which had been the team's best result in more than a decade, but scored almost 25 percent more points (420) while finishing just 57.5 out of fifth and 154 shy of third. Both performances were heavily fueled by the Beavers' resurgent relay strength, with the 2018 team sitting in fourth place after the first night consisting only of the 200 Medley and 800 Free Relays.
On the women's side, Caltech finally had the roster size to climb into its first eighth-place finish since the SCIAC expanded to nine teams in 2013. A total of 285 points put the Beavers 72 clear of ninth while trailing fifth place by just 128 and still only 219 back of third - all with just five individual scorers.
The 2019 swim & dive teams have been as defined by their depth as top performers, a crucial element in the championship scoring format which may be just what the Beavers need to vault into the upper echelon of the conference standings.
The Beavers are primed to score big nearly across the board this year, both individually and in the relays thanks to the significant boost of talent and depth the rookie class has provided. Junior Thomas Gallup (Houston, Texas / Phillips Exeter Acad.) remains the headliner coming off back-to-back 200 Breast titles, along with a runner-up finish in the 100 Breast behind only the eventual national champion. Gallup once again enters the championship meet with modest seeds of ninth and 12th (excluding exhibition swimmers) in his signature events, but is still expected to challenge for both titles thanks to his usual strong form coming off taper. He is flanked in both events by rookies Happy Chang (Shenzhen, China / Wilbraham and Monson) and Jeffrey Ma (San Jose, Calif. / Bellarmine Coll. Prep), who are seeded 12th/16th and 14th/19th respectively in each event.
Senior Henry Steiner (Petaluma, Calif. / Casa Grande) is positioned to cap his career in a significant way after struggling through illness at the conclusion of last season. The team's elder statesman alongside classmate Adam Dai (Santa Barbara, Calif. / Dos Pueblos), who is seeded 18th in the 100 Breast and 22nd in the 400 IM, Steiner is seeded eighth in the 100 Fly and 15th run the 200 - both in which he placed eighth as a sophomore back in 2017. He also comes in at 16th in the 200 IM, in which he scored seventh that year.
Two of the Beavers' strongest events are shaping up to be the 100 and 200 Free, in which rookie Timothy Yao (Thousand Oaks, Calif. / Dougherty Valley) enters seeded highest (eighth and 12th) among Caltech competitors after an incredible regular season and with sophomore Alex Janosi (Ann Arbor, Mich. / Dexter), last year's runner-up with an NCAA 'B' cut in the 200 Free, lurking in 20th and 22nd. Janosi also holds top billing among Beavers in the 50 Free as the eighth seed, while freshman Colin Chun (Los Angeles, Calif. / Venice) sits at 14th in the 50 and 17th in the 100. Chun is also seeded 21st in the 100 Back, in which sophomore Andy Rothstein (Potomac, Md. / Winston Churchill) is seeded eighth in addition to the 21st seed in both the 500 Free and 200 Back, where he placed 15th last year.
Freshman Nick Jasinski (Crystal Lake, Ill. / Crystal Lake Central) could improve his positioning as much as any Beaver, as he enters seeded 10th in the 200 Fly, 11th in the 200 Back and 24th in the 500 Free but with personal-best times from high school that would place him seventh, fourth and 11th and tracking ahead of his previous in-season performances.
Sophomore Adam Kogan (Clifton Park, N.Y. / Shenendehowa East) will carry the bulk of the distance load for Caltech this year as the team's only entrant in the 1650 Free, in which he broke out at last year's meet to place ninth and enters this weekend seeded 13th. He is also slotted at 17th in the 500 and 19th in the 200 Free, where he placed ninth and seventh last year. Yao also will contend for the Beavers' top finish in the 500 as well, as he is seeded one place ahead of Kogan and has recorded a PR just two seconds behind the sophomore's 2018 performance, while classmate Thomas Barrett (Chatham, N.J. / Chatham) is also within striking distance in the 200 at the 23rd seed.
With myriad relay permutations at Brabson's disposal, the Beavers should score as favorably as any in the conference, particularly in the consolation heats after impressive 2018 performances that netted a 12th, 13th and two 14th-place point hauls. Last year's third-place 200 and 400 Medley Relays are again likely to be Caltech's calling cards as the Beavers aim for their first NCAA 'B' cuts, while the 400 and 800 Free Relays could also take significant steps forward from finishes of sixth and fifth, respectively. Even the 200 Free Relay, in which Caltech finished merely seventh and 16th, could surprise after the Beavers posted the fourth-fastest time in the conference during the regular season.
With all five scorers from last season joined by just as many new likely scorers - including some particularly significant seeds - the women's team is poised to finally challenge the glut of teams in the middle of the conference competing for third-through-seventh place in the standings. Caltech once again boasts some of the most formidable individual talent across the conference, and this year appears to have the depth to fill out most events while making significant impacts on the relays.
Seniors Brittany Percin (Lake Tahoe, Calif. / Stanford Online) and Gemma Takahashi (San Jose, Calif. / Leland) will look to close their incredible careers with yet another series of memorable performances to lead an otherwise young squad. Both have won individual SCIAC titles, scored the vast majority of the team's championship points in each of their three season and entered the season holding nine individual program records between them, with both also owning a share of all five relay marks. They are again primed to make as significant an impact as any individual swimmer at the meet, with each expected to contend in their trademark event (Percin in the 200 Free, Takahashi as defending champ in the 100 Fly) and threaten to reach the podium in their other swims. Percin's top seed entering the meet is fourth in the 200 Fly, where she finished runner-up last year and placed third each of her first two years. She is also seeded sixth in the 200 Free, the event in which she qualified for the NCAA National Championships last year and won as a freshman, as well as 25th in the 50 Free, an event she has not swam officially at this meet in her career and is a bit of an unknown factor, with her time-trial PR ranking 18th among last year's results. Takahashi, meanwhile, is seeded just 16th in the 100 Fly but with a time just shy of the one she entered with last year before shocking the conference with a three-second drop at prelims and defending her top seed at finals. She will also contest the 200 Fly, where she is seeded eighth, alongside Percin and the 200 IM, which is her wild card race with a seed of 31st but the potential to crack the scoring cut, if not reach the finals heat.
With diving having been completed this past weekend, sophomore Krystin Brown (Lake Forest, Calif. / Trabuco Hills) and Nerys Huffman (Broomfield, Colo. / Peak to Peak Charter School) have already racked up 40 points with ninth- and 10th-place finishes on the 1-meter board to go with ninth and 12th on the 3m. While scores will not become official until the events appear in the official meet order throughout the weekend, the duo essentially has staked the Beavers to fifth place ahead of the swimming competition. Brown had already qualified for the NCAA Midwest Regional during the regular season and will go on to compete for a chance to qualify for Nationals on Mar. 1-2 in Grinnell, Iowa.
The most significant addition to the team on paper, rookie Isabel Swafford (Boise, Idaho / Boise) recorded the fastest 200 Back time in the conference during the regular season and is expected to reach the finals heat in both the 100 Back (sixth) and 50 Free (ninth) as well. She is joined in both backstroke events by graduate student Danica Adams (Novato, Calif. / UC Berkeley), who holds the fifth and ninth seeds respectively, but could make her biggest impact in the 1650 Free, where she is seeded sixth but with the only non-rested performance among the top contenders. Rookie Olivia Grobowsky (Houston, Texas / Westside) is also expected to score in the mile (seeded 13th) and is within striking distance in the 500 Free (22nd) and 400 IM (25th), while freshman Isabella Dula (Tuscaloosa, Ala. / Maggie L. Walker) and sophomore Stella Wang (Greensboro, N.C. / N.C. School of Science & Math) will look to make it back for the evening session in both backstroke events as well, with Dula seeded 21st in the 100 and 23rd in the 200 while Wang's top seed is 25th in the 200.
The only other returning scorer on the roster, sophomore Jessica Sun (York, Pa. / Red Lion Area Sr.) will attempt to deliver on her potential this year after an injury ended her first championship meet prematurely. Her seeds of 14th and 15th in the 200 Breast and 400 IM portend at least a handful of points, while still without having seen her perform on a full taper in college, she could climb enough in the 200 IM (24th) to join several of her teammates also looking to score in all three individual events. Freshman Serena Yan (Guangzhou, China / North Allegheny) rounds out the likely potential scorers with some work cut out to move up from the 24th seed in the 100 Breast.
The Beavers' biggest area of improvement undoubtedly will come from the relays, with Brabson able to not only fill out a team for every consolation heat, but also consider different combinations, a level of flexibility never-before-seen in the history of the program. The sixth-place 800 Free Relay team was the highlight of last year's meet for Caltech and should be strong again, particularly with the additions of Swafford and Adams, and whichever three other relays the duo team with Percin, Takahashi and/or Sun could improve significantly, with three already ranking better in this regular season than last year's performances. While that difference may not be as significant in the consolation heats, even filling out all five teams will be an improvement after failing to field a squad in the 200 Free Relay and needing a diver to swim a leg on the 400 in 2018.
Brabson's first season at the helm has gone splendidly thus far, with both squads recording three dual meet wins (in just seven matchups) to rank fifth in the women's and sixth in the men's regular season standings. The composition of this year's rosters has proven to be successful to that point already; the bigger test begins this Thursday, but these Beavers look likely to rise to the challenge.