The new and improved, 5-day, plus Texas A&M and Missouri, 2013 SEC Championships are underway in College Station, Texas with a night reserved for diving and relays. Nobody can really break open much ground in relays, but diving could be crucial – the Auburn men, especially, should make some space over the Florida men on this night: something the Gators will try and counteract with a good performance in the 800 free relay.
Keep in mind that at this year’s meet, 24 places score, so depth is huge.
Scoring for a 24-place meet: 32-28-27-26-25-24-23-22/20-17-16-15-14-13-12-11/9-7-6-5-4-3-2-1, and then doubled for relays.
Men’s 1-Meter Diving
The finals action began on Tuesday night with Men’s 1-meter diving. Missouri’s David Bonuchi, one of the best in the country, used a big early lead and his dominant degree of difficulty to pull out the first-ever SEC title for the Tigers with a score of 401.50. LSU’s Daniel Helm repeated his runner-up finish from 2012, and Tennessee’s Brent Stirling took 3rd.
In terms of team scoring, Auburn took a lead with four scorers, but perhaps missed out on an opportunity to put distance between themselves and the Florida Gators. Florida didn’t put anybody into the A-Final, but Auburn’s Fraser Mckean and John Santieu finished 5th-and-7th. That’s a fantastic performance for the sophomore Mckean, but Santieu was 5th at last year’s championship.
Overall, we’ll call that a “draw” in terms of expected team scoring.
Men’s 200 Medley Relay
The Auburn Tigers 200 medley relay that was so fast last season returned largely intact this year; though they graduated their outstanding anchor Karl Krug from last season, James Disney-May slid right in and took them to an even faster time this year with a 1:24.11: the fastest time in the country this season. They had Kyle Owens swimming backstroke, Stuart Ferguson on breast, Marcelo Chierighini on fly (eschewing their mid-season added butterflier), and Disney-May on the anchor; that was a wise decision, as Chierighini split 20.0 on the butterfly leg. At NCAA’s, he could join Tom Shields in the under-20 club in the butterfly: one of the toughest barriers in yards swimming.
Tennessee has really been good in this relay the past two months, and it was no surprise that they pushed Auburn the whole way: not giving in even on the anchor, where Ed Walsh was an 18.8. They took 2nd in 1:24.53, with Florida 3rd in 1:25.64, including an 18.8 anchor of their own from Bradley DeBorde, their ace sprinter who made his national introduction at this meet last season. Georgia was 4th in 1:25.75 in a relay that had two freshman, a sophomore, and a junior, including a 19.22 from Matt Ellis to snap out of the funk that he’s been in for the last few weeks.
Kentucky was DQ’ed in this relay for the second-straight season after winning the first heat.
Women’s 200 Medley relay
This race was always going to be an exciting to be a great matchup between Tennessee, Texas A&M, and Auburn, three of the five best relays from last year’s NCAA Championships. The new face, though, was the insertion of Florida into this battle with the addition of two freshmen, plus the return of Ellese Zalewski, who missed NCAA’s last season. Florida’s recruiting class was bound to make an immediate impact on their relays, but even this was a shock.
Tennessee and A&M entered the back half of this race with a lead on the field. Tennessee’s Kelsey Floyd put the Volunteers into the lead for good, as they went on to win relatively easily in 1:35.08. That broke their own SEC Record of 1:35.33 set last season. Molly Hannis from Tennessee (26.30) actually outpslit Breeja Larson on the breaststroke leg (26.38).
What was really buzzing was the battle going on behind them. Florida trailed going into the final leg, but a monster 21.3 from freshman Natalie Hinds ran down A&M’s Erica Dittmer as the two finished in a dead-heat for 2nd in 1:35.96. That will put both teams easily into the NCAA Championships. The Aggies chose to save their best freestyler Lili Ibanez, it would seem, for the other four relays, so they should make a closer battle with Tennessee in the 400 medley (then again, so should Florida). Dittmer, in her stead, was still very good in 22.2 on the back end.
Auburn was 4th in 1:36.26, followed by Arkansas (1:37.79). Georgia got off to a rough start in their title defense by finishing just 7th in 1:37.90. This is probably their weakest relay of the meet, though, so expect them to play catchup in a hurry in the 800 free relay later in the session.
Women’s 3-Meter Diving
Georgia’s new weapon this year, Laura Ryan, came through big for the Bulldogs in her first championship meet performance since transferring from Indiana. She put up a score of 361.80 to hold off a big last dive from Tennessee’s Jodie Mcgroarty (355.10) in the women’s 3-meter final.
Though diving will be big as Georgia tries to hold off the Volunteers for the team title, Tennessee still went 2-3 with Tori Lamp taking 3rd.
Missouri’s Loren Figueroa, though this is not her best event, struggled in prelims on her 3rd and 5th dives to finish 19th. The Tigers were probably counting on points from her, though teammate Lauren Reedy did well to pick her up with a 6th-place finish.
Men’s 800 Free Relay
The Florida men entered this meet with the top 800 free relay in the country, and they will leave the meet just the same – and then some – with a 6:14.76 runaway victory in this 800 free relay. That’s eight-tenths of a second faster than the time with which Texas won the NCAA Championship last year, and was a relay with four underclassmen. This could be a scary relay next season; or something more than that, as it’ already a scary relay. The swims included a 1:33.23 leadoff from Pawel Werner, which is the second-best time in the country this year by itself. He was joined by Sebastien Rousseau, returned from a redshirt, Eduardo Solaeche-Gomez, and Marcin Cieslak on the anchor.
Keep in mind, of course, that this is a very different race on night 1 of a 5-day SEC Championship than on night 2 at NCAA’s.
The Tennessee men continued their roll with a 6:20.13 for 2nd-place. The Tennessee men have been hit a lot in the last year, but they are showing impressive resilience to get a second-straight second-place finish on the first night of action.
Auburn was 3rd in 6:22.22, led off by a 1:34.14 from Zane Grothe, which is the second-best 200 freestyle in school history. James Disney-May, swimming his second relay of the night, just out-touched A&M’s star John Dalton at the wall; Dalton and the Aggies were 4th in 6:22.27, by .05 seconds.
Women’s 800 Free Relay
The Georgia women, just like the Florida men, tore away from the field in this 800 free relay with a new SEC, NCAA, U.S. Open, and American Record of 6:52.64. (Read more about that record-breaking swim here). That knocked off a 2009 swim by a Cal relay that included Dana Vollmer in 6:52.69 for the fastest relay of all time. What’s more, Shannon Vreeland’s leadoff time of 1:43.38 is the second-fastest in the country this season, behind only a swim from Schmitt earlier this season.
Though their swim was impressive, they drug the Florida Gators along with them. Florida took 2nd in 6:56.83, which would’ve been good for second at last year’s NCAA Championship meet and crushed the Florida Record of 6:59.10 set in 2011. That included a 1:43.39 anchor from superstar Elizabeth Beisel. Ellese Zalewski led off in 1:44.19, meaning that they’ve used one of their best sprinters on two relays already.
Tennessee took 3rd in 6:58.91; junior Lindsay Gendron put up a great anchor for them with a 1:42.89. This swim broke their Tennessee School Record by 5 seconds as well. The A&M women were 4th in 7:01.14.
Vanderbilt was 11th in 7:23.51, but they won’t be disappointed by finishing second-to-last: the swim cut 13 seconds off of their school record as well to continue the trend. Also of note, Alabama was 8th in 7:18.80, including a 1:46.46 from British mid-season addition Emma Saunders. Though she can certainly get faster when she settles in, her leadoff probably moved the Crimson Tide up about 3 spots in the rankings.
The team standings offer no big surprises on day one. The strongest diving teams took the early leads, including the Tennessee women who lead after day one for the second-straight season. Georgia recovered nicely from a tough medley relay, thanks in large part to their new diver Laura Ryan. The fact that they were able to weather that storm on day 1 bodes well for them going forward.
LSU’s strong diving squad has them second in both rankings, while a relay win for the Florida men have them in 3rd.
1. Tennessee 185
T-2. LSU 151
T-2. Georgia 151
4. Missouri 141
5. Auburn 132
6. A&M 130
7. Florida 126
8. Arkansas 118
9. Alabama 110
10. Kentucky 91
11. South Carolina 65
12. Vanderbilt 62
1. Auburn 196
2. LSU 156
3. Florida 149
4. Tennessee 147
5. Missouri 146
6. Texas A&M 123
7. South Carolina 107
8. Georgia 103
9. Kentucky 95
10. Alabama 82