Though Emma Carlton’s swim season at Texas A&M University was cut short because of COVID-19, the Mount Vernon grad still made a splash.
The college sophomore earned All-American honors for the Southeastern Conference swimming powerhouse.
“Being on the team, I mean, it’s awesome to be competing for this university,” Carlton said. “It’s just amazing. I still really can’t believe it. It’s a dream for me.”
Carlton qualified to compete in the NCAA Division I Championships in the 100 backstroke, 100 butterfly, 50 freestyle and on four relays.
That meet was never held because of COVID-19.
At her conference championships, Carlton finished ninth in the 100 backstroke in 52.72 seconds, and swam a personal-best 52.88 while placing 12th in the 100 butterfly.
She even qualified this season to compete in three individual events (50 freestyle), 100 backstroke and 100 butterfly) at the U.S. Olympic Trials, which have been pushed back to the summer of 2021.
Carlton described the day she and her Aggie teammates got the news they were not going to compete at the NCAA meet.
The team was preparing to get in the pool for practice when the coach got a phone call.
“I remember looking over (at the coach),” Carlton said. “Everyone was watching him. I think everyone knew what was about to happen. He hangs up. ... After seeing his face, everyone knew. There was just this silence. Then he said it out loud.
“I felt really bad for the seniors. I have more time, they do not. I have other chances. I broke down when I saw our seniors starting to cry. Then everyone broke down. It was tough.”
Carlton’s season also included two wins in a dual meet against Ohio State, where she took the 100 backstroke (53.83) and the 100 butterfly (53.82).
“That was first event swimming the backstroke,” she said. “I was really nervous. But I swam a great time. But that gave me the confidence that I could win the event. It was fun to be able to be there for the team and get those points.”
Carlton also had dual meet wins this season against Rice, SMU, Georgia, LSU and Arkansas, and won the 100 backstroke at the Art Adamson Invitational.
Despite the wins, the NCAA and Olympic Trials qualifying times, and the personal-best marks, Carlton’s favorite swim of the season was one that didn’t count.
She and three teammates decided to race a day after learning their season was canceled. As they stepped up onto the pool deck, they were greeted by their coach, teammates and members of the men’s team.
“That was really special,” Carlton said. “I just couldn’t believe it. Everyone was there to cheer us on. There was just this incredible feeling. We just looked at each other and said, ‘All right, let’s do this.’ We all ended swimming really, really good times. Totally unexpected. But we finished on a good note.”
There is a lot for Carlton to look forward to next season. In the meantime, she’ll continue to train on dry land and get into the water when she can.
“I’m excited about my upcoming junior year,” she said. “I’ll have another whole year to train. Obviously, that extra year is going to give me a good chance to swim even faster as long as I can continue on this path.”