The SEC has always been a dominant conference. It was represented in four different national championships last year, with three of the events having two SEC teams playing each other for the title, proving the slogan “It just means more.”
SEC swimming, just as it has the last couple of years, is keeping with that trend. This year the SEC has nine teams ranked in the top-25 on both the men’s and women’s side, as of Jan. 17.
“It’s been the best swimming conference in the country for a number of years,” head coach Dennis Pursley said. “It’s stronger this year than it’s ever been.”
Florida’s men’s team is the highest ranked at No. 4, while the Alabama men’s team is ranked at 17. Alabama is the No. 23 team on the women’s side.
Pursley said that both teams are projected to finish at No. 7. The women finished 10th last year while the men were fourth.
Alabama has finished in the top five the last three years, but with the talent it lost from last year’s team, many people have doubted this group.
“We try to take everything that people say about us as motivation, whether it’s positive or negative,” senior freestyler Matthew Adams said. “There’s been a lot of people that have doubted us this year, especially on the men’s team because we lost so many people, but everyone’s really been excited to fill those shoes. Over and over again we’ve proved people wrong.”
Last year, the men’s team was best at the backstroke. Connor Oslin and now senior Christopher Reid dominated the event, finishing first and second in the 200 backstroke.
Oslin also won the 100 backstroke, with a time of 44.73 seconds, breaking Olympian Ryan Lochte’s 12-year-old record by almost half a second. Now senior Luke Kaliszak finished second in the race.
“We are still in good shape in that 200 backstroke,” Pursley said. “We’ve got some guys that haven’t stepped up to level yet in championship competition, but have shown the potential to do so. It’s still going to be a strong event for us.”
The men’s team has really relied on its older competitors so far this season. Juniors and seniors hold all but four of the best times in the 14 individual races.
The women’s team lost 10 athletes off its 2016-2017 roster, but its freshman class has been huge.
“We have a strong group of freshmen that have really stepped up, and more than filled the void by the graduating class last year,” Pursley said. “It is a strong team focus. I think we are going to see a much better championship performance from our women than in recent years.”
One freshmen to watch out for is freshman Flora Molnar. The native of Hungary has made a big impact in her first year in the Capstone. She has the best time on the team in the 50 and 100 freestyle and the 100 butterfly, and she was on the 200 and 400 freestyle relay teams and 200 and 400 medley relay teams that finished with the best time of the season.
Unlike the men’s team, freshmen hold six of the 14 individual races’ best times of the season for the women’s team.
“Our freshmen are definitely considered to be one of the foundations of our team,” senior Hannah Musser said. “We had such a great class coming in, and it’s really honoring to see such a strong freshman class come in and look up to the seniors… I’m just confident they’re going to be the people keeping this team going forward in the years to come.”
The women’s team elected Mia Nonnenberg as captain last year. Now as a senior, in her second year as captain, she has a better grasp on how to lead the team.
“It’s just totally a different culture,” Nonnenberg said. “As a senior you obviously have more seniority, and just knowing how things operate in leadership positions helped a lot.”
Pursley said that the team dynamic is more solid than it ever has been in the six years he has been the head coach.
The women’s team defeated Auburn on Oct. 27 for its biggest win of the season. The win was also the first time since 1996 that the women’s team had won against its biggest rival.
“I think it was a big confidence boost,” Pursley said. “We’ve been talking for a long time about stepping up in those situations… To actually finish on top is kind of the feeling of finally. Maybe we have arrived and we can be competitive in this league. I think it was a big step for our women’s team.”
Both teams are set to start competition on Feb. 14 in College Station, Texas.
Source:: The Crimson White Sports