Swimming & diving teams look toward Big 12 Championships

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    With the regular season coming to a close and the Big 12 Championships fast approaching, the TCU swimming and diving teams are looking to continue their success from the past two months.

    However, it won’t be easy for the Frogs.

    The University of Texas Longhorns have won the Big 12 Championships 16 years in a row in the men’s field, and either Texas or Texas A&M have won the women’s category for the last 14 years.

    While TCU head coach Richard Sybesma wants to see his team win, he said he is realistic about the chances.

    “I can’t say that we’re not trying to win a championship, but UT is very strong,” Sybesma said. “We would like a chance to win a conference championship, individually or team, but we are racing against the best teams in the country.”

    Sybesma said he isn’t downplaying his team, though. He believes the team can win two or three events this year. Last year they won one event.

    That winner was Cooper Robinson, the men’s team’s Most Valuable Player from last season. The junior won the 200 backstroke at the Big 12 Championship and qualified for the U.S. Olympic trials in 2012.

    Sybesma said he hopes for continued success from the nationally-ranked Robinson, along with junior Thor Stenfjord and sophomore Adam Szilagyi to break Texas’ reign.

    Szilagyi, from Hungary, was named the Big 12 Swimmer of the Week in January and was voted TCU’s Most Outstanding Swimmer for the 2012-13 season.Stenfjord, a native of Ketchikan, Alaska, was voted second-team All-Big 12 honors in 2013.

    “We were able to beat West Virginia for second place last year, but UT has always been really good, so we don’t have a lot of expectations against them,” Stenfjord said. “I think we’ll pull it out against WV again, though.”

    The TCU women’s swimming team, which closed out its regular season with a victory over the University of North Texas on Feb. 5, has also set its hopes high as it heads into tournament play, said Lyndsie Gibson, a sophomore backstroke and distance swimmer.

    “Our team is set up really well,” Gibson said. “We will have a very good chance to shock the field at the tournament.”

    When asked who he thought the top three women performers were this year, Sybesma named GibsonAli Bleasdell and Sara Brzozowski.

    Brzozowski, a sophomore who earned 2012-13 TCU Freshman of the Year, said she has been happy with her success this season.

    “I’ve had a strong showing this season, and I’d like to continue that success at [the Big 12 Tournament],” Byrzozowski said.

    Bleasdell, who made 2013 first-team All-Big 12, said she has high expectations for her team.

    “I couldn’t be more proud of the team,” Bleasdell said “We’ve gotten through a lot of tough competitions and raced against a lot of fast teams, which has helped us. I think we will fare well.”

    Gibson, who won the 100 and 200 backstroke against UNT, set school records in both events this season.

    “I’m excited to head to conference and see how many points I can bring,” Gibson said.

    Sybesma praised his freshman class as “pleasant surprises” and said he is looking forward to seeing what they will do at the tournament.

    The team is currently 3-0 in Big 12 play with victories over Iowa State, Kansas State and West Virginia.

    As TCU men’s and women’s diving, which are also undefeated in Big 12 play, enter the final stretch of the season, they, too, look to be competitive.

    “Our really has work has made us contenders against the other teams in the Big 12. We’re undefeated in the conference, and we’ve really proven ourselves,”Courtney Cheek, a junior diver, said.

    The women look for continued success on and off the dive board from juniors and Lauren Mikulecky. Both were named to the first-team Academic All-Big 12 in 2013.

    Sophomore diver Kristen Connolly, a two-time All-American in high school, was pegged by TCU diving coach Wayne Chester as being his top female diver.

    “I think that I’ve done really well, and hopefully I can continue that at the [Big 12 tournament],” Connolly said.

    The men, on the other hand, rely primarily on juniors Curtis Muller and Ricky Bradley.

    Muller, a native of Helotes, Texas, also made first-team All-Big 12 for platform diving last season.

    “Winning will be hard with UT looming, but I think we can definitely grab second,” Muller said.

    Bradley was the diving team’s Most Valuable Player last year and gained first-team All-Big 12 honors for platform diving.

    Even though the Longhorns present a threat, TCU’s swimming and diving team and coaches said they have a legitimate opportunity to finish the season strong.

    Jordan Ray contributed to this story.