The 2013 SEC Championships were wild. Really, just wild. The Florida men ended a streak more than a decade-and-a-half in the making, and did so with more speed than we’ve seen from any Gator team since at least the 2009 team that included the likes of the brothers Shaune and Brett Fraser. That puts the Florida men in the hunt for at least a top-5 finish at NCAA’s if they can repeat this performance, or even improve on it a little, in a month’s time.
On the women’s side, Georgia showed…the freestyle speed that we all knew they had. That included a heart-thumping American Record in the 800 free relay, and five finalists in the 200 free in maybe the deepest conference in the country. That was all with a team that was clearly short of its taper.
There was a new twist this year, as Missouri and Texas A&M each made their SEC debuts. A&M was even moreso under the microscope, as they lucked out in the rotation to be the hosts in their first year in the conference, and from our two days there they did a splendid job in creating an atmosphere that allowed the athletes to be at their best.
Competitively, the two schools’ administrations should be proud of the performances in an absolutely unbelievable meet. They combined for 10 SEC titles in year one,, including a springboard sweep by Mizzou diver David Bonuchi and 5 SEC Championship Records from the A&M women.
There were no big complaints for the official awards given out by the SEC Conference, but that doesn’t mean that we don’t have some awards of our own to give out.
Men’s Swimmer of the Meet – Marcelo Chierighini, Sr., Auburn
It was tough not giving this award to a swimmer from Florida after they won the meet, but at the same time it’s hard to argue with Chierighini’s selection. There’s not much more he could have done to contribute to Auburn’s effort. He swam three flat-start 50 freestyles at 18.92, then 18.88, then 18.85, in that order, getting faster every time. He won both the 50 and the 100 freestyles. He was a part of all four of Auburn’s winning relays (the four shorter relays), and even split a 20.07 on the butterfly leg of the 200 medley relay, which will put him among the two-or-three fastest if he repeats it at NCAA’s. What’s more is that Chierighini showed leadership. Even when the team felt it’s 16-straight championship streak disappearing on the final day, he commanded his teammates to win the meet-closing 400 free relay.
Honorable Mentions: Sam Rairden, Jr., Tennessee; Chase Kalisz, Fr., Georgia; Kyle Owens, Sr., Auburn; Bradley deBorde, Jr., Florida
Men’s Freshman of the Meet – Chase Kalisz, Fr., Georgia
Two individual wins for Kalisz makes this an easy pick (though, we must acknowledge that one of the wins was because of a DQ, in the 200 IM – a runner-up finish to Cieslak in that race would still be pretty impressive as well. Kalisz did all of this in his very first semester at Georgia – remember that after the snafu with his high school transcripts, he didn’t begin classes until the spring. Most freshmen have that first semester to adapt to the rigors of a college education, but Kalisz came right in and started making huge contributions to this team immediately. Along with guys like Matias Koski, Matt Ellis, and Ty Stewart, combined for over half of Georgia’s individual scoring.
Honorable Mentions: Matias Koski, Georgia; Pawel Werner, Florida; Arthur Mendes, Auburn; Sean Lehane, Tennessee
Men’s Coach of the Year – Gregg Troy, Florida
Gregg Troy did an unbelievable job with his team this year. They picked off the team title by a relatively easy margin, 212 points (though, keep in mind that the scoring margins were all inflated by about a third thanks to C-Final scoring). The Gators showed no obvious weaknesses. Brad deBorde was great in the sprints, Matt Elliott was great on the breaststrokes, Cieslak and Rousseau are stars, the freshman Werner was every bit as good as advertised. Even little-known swimmers like freshman Corey Main shored up their backstroke group in a hurry. The way that Troy was able to build this team tp win without any one swimmer going off and winning a bunch of SEC titles shows how good they are, and I think a lot of those top swimmers like Rousseau and Cieslak still have more to give at NCAA’s.
Honorable Mentions: Matt Kredich, Tennessee; Jack Bauerle, Georgia; Greg Rhodenbaugh, Missouri
Women’s Swimmer of the Meet – Elizabeth Beisel, Jr., Florida
There were a lot of swimmers who won multiple events at this meet. Texas A&M’s Sarah Henry took both of the distance races, including an SEC Championship Record in the mile. Her teammate Breeja Larson swept the breaststrokes, including an American and NCAA Record in the 100. The Georgia women broke an American Record in the 800 free relay as well, so many from that team could be honored as well. But Beisel topped them all in the 400 IM to go under four minutes with a 3:59.53. That wasn’t a record, but still was one of the most impressive swims of the meet. What’s more, she beat both Henry and fellow Olympian Cammile Adams in that race. She also took the 200 back title over fellow Olympic finalist Sinead Russell, and Missouri’s Dominique Bouchard. Those were stacked fields, and she wasn’t on a full taper for this meet, but still put up amazing times.
Honorable Mentions: Breeja Larson, Jr., Texas A&M; Cammile Adams, Jr., Texas A&M; Megan Romano, Sr., Georgia
Women’s Freshman of the Meet – Natalie Hinds, Fr. Florida
There was a lot of great freshman sprint talent in the SEC this year. Chantal van Landeghem from Georgia and Faith Johnson from Tennessee tied for the win in the 50 free: a race in which Hinds was only 7th. She did get a win of her own, however, in a 51.70: the second-fastest time in the country. But why Hinds really won this award is because of her relay performances. Florida, coming into this year, really needed to find help for their sprint relays, and that’s where Hinds has been invaluable. She had the fastest 50 free in the league anchoring the 200 medley relay with a 21.39. She was even better with a 21.18 in the 200 free relay. That split was overlooked because it was up against Megan Romano’s 20.99, but with Hinds being only a freshman, she must be destined for a sub-21 split in her future as well. She also split 47.4 on the 400 free relay to give the Gators a lead over the record-breaking Bulldogs, and a 51.8 on the 400 medley relay.
Tie for 2nd: Faith Johnson, Tennessee/Chantal van Landeghem, Georgia, co-champions of the 50 free
Women’s Coach of the Meet – Jeremy Organ, Vanderbilt
Yes, Vanderbilt was dead-last of the 12 women’s teams at this meet, but everyone has a different definition for what makes the most successful coach. If the true measure of a coach, though, is the ability to take athletes and teams to a new level of performance, it’s hard to argue with what Organ’s team did at the meet. In 18 swimming events, Jeremy Organ’s team broke 14 school records, in a single weekend. That’s the epitome of taking a team to the next level. Honorable mentions are, of course, due to Jack Bauerle for coaching the Bulldogs to an American Record breaking relay without even being fully tapered, and Steve Bultman, who led his team to a second-place finish at the toughest conference meet in the country in their first season.
Honorable Mention: Jack Bauerle, Georgia; Steve Bultman, Texas A&M; Greg Rhodenbaugh, Missouri