The Florida Gators and the Tennessee Volunteers have roared out to a metaphorical lead (accounting for expectations) at the SEC Championships as we head into night 2. Pay special attention to the men’s 50 free final, where we’ll see 7 different teams removed from the event being All-Auburn, all-the-time at this meet. The country this year once again has gotten excited about the SEC Championships – in part because of what’s happening at the top end, and in part because of what’s happening in terms of depth and parity in the conference.
Men’s 500 Free Final
Matias Koski is a special talent. Keep an eye on him. Already with an NCAA Automatic Qualifying time in the 500 free coming into the meet, Matias Koski put up a 4:14.28 for a win in his first individual SEC swim and the fastest time in the country this year. We’ve been talking about how special Koski is all year, but he’s shown that he can span 50-1650 as well as anybody in history, at least very early in his career. He led the race virtually wire-to-wire: gutsy as a freshman.
South Carolina’s Michael Flach is already having a big impact for the Gamecocks as well, coming off of a redshirt, to take 2nd in 4:15.32, which is a lifetime best for him as well. Auburn’s Zane Grothe was 3rd in 4:15.44. He was the B-Final Champion last season and has done well to vault up the rankings. Florida’s Jason Taylor came next in 4:15.69, followed by Georgia’s Will Freeman (4:16.34) and LSU’s Craig Hamilton (4:19.57).
The Bulldogs were a bit off in the Wednesday morning prelims, but went 9-10-11 in the B-Final, led by a 4:19.27 from defending NCAA Champion Martin Grodzki. That’s exactly what they needed in this race.
Women’s 500 Free Final
As thrilling, adrenaline-pumping, and exciting as this SEC Championship has become – let it be known after this 500 free that most of the coaches are making the smart play, and saving most of their cards for NCAA’s. Allison Schmitt is probably still the favorite for that meet, but here she was just 3rd in 4:36.54. That’s a season-best for her; but Schmitt in yards, just like in meters, relies on a hard finish. Sarah Henry from A&M and her teammate Amber McDermott stayed too close on that first 200 yards, and they were both able to pull away at the end of the race.
The win went to Henry in 4:35.25. She was a few seconds faster mid-season, but still emerges as the nation-leader in the event just a year out of ACL surgery. This is a bit reminiscent of what we saw from A&M’s Julia Wilkinson in 2010: a year after shoulder surgery, Wilkinson came back for an NCAA title in the 100 free. Henry could be headed that way.
Amber McDermott, who is also coming back from an injury earlier this season to her wrist, was 2nd in 4:35.82. That show little ill-effect, as the time is almost as fast as she was at NCAA’s last year. She’s maybe not quite as fast going out, but her closing kick is every bit as good.
The top four were Aggies and Bulldogs as A&M’s Cammile Adams was 4th in 4:37.04. She’s also been faster this season. It’s clear those Aggies who qualified for NCAA’s mid-season are pushing through training at this meet.
Tennessee’s Lindsay Gendron, off to such a hot start at this meet, was a 4:37.36 for 5th – slower than she was for the top seed in prelims. Florida did fairly well to hold pace with the scoring of the aforementioned top-tw0, A&M and Georgia, with a 7th-8th finish from Jessica Thielmann and Alicia Mathieu.
Men’s 200 IM Final
Even the disqualifications are bigger and faster in the SEC. Florida’s Marcin Cieslak touched the wall first in this 200 IM in 1:42.79, but was disqualified for doing two dolphin kicks on his initial breaststroke pullout. The result: a second-straight win for a Georgia freshman, as Chase Kalisz slid into the top spot in 1:43.04. Kalisz pushed much harder on the front-half of that race than he normally does, which perhaps put some pressure on the Gator leader. Either way, the Bulldogs continued a roll that would run the rest of the night with this swim.
Kalisz’s teammate Nic Fink took 2nd in 1:43.42, a second lifetime best on the day for him, followed by Auburn’s Kyle Owens in 1:43.45. Auburn were the biggest beneficiaries of that DQ; coming into this finals session, it looked like their chance at a 17th-straight title might be slipping away early, but they were at least able to hang close with Florida after this race. The Gators ended up 4-5-6, led by Sebastien Rousseau in 1:43.74.
The Gators did well to get a B-Final win from rising sophomore Matthew Curby in 1:44.62, holding of Ty Stewart from Georgia and Alexander Hancock from Auburn.
Women’s 200 IM Final
Another race, and another win for the Georgia Bulldogs, making it three in the first four individual events. The women especially needed this momentum headed into diving, where their best Laura Ryan failed to make the top-8 A-flight.
With that in mind, the Bulldogs got a big upset in this 200 IM, when a fading Melanie Margalis was able to hold off Elizabeth Besiel’s strong finish 1:54.55-1:54.59. Beisel usually warms-up as these meets meets go on – her first-day event at NCAA’s has been a bit cursed throughout her collegiate career; as a freshman, she tried the 500 and added four seconds from prelims to final. As a sophomore last season, she swam this 200 IM, but was DQ’ed for a head-bob on the blocks. This year, she’ll look to get those kinks worked out and get Florida off to a strong day 1 start.
A&M’s Caroline McElhany was 3rd in 1:55.97; she was easily the fastest on the freestyle leg in 26.11, but was pretty slow on her breaststroke leg. She may be able to get more of that speed out earlier at NCAA’s to improve her time.
Georgia’s Annie Zhu took 4th in 1:56.08, and another Aggie Erica Dittmer was 5th in 1:57.24. This was another dominant performance by the top three teams, as the entire A-Final was Gators, Aggies, and Bulldogs. The Aggies probably could’ve had a third A-finalist, but Croatian Olympian Kim Pavlin is sitting out this year.
Auburn’s women showed some life as Olivia Scott was able to win the B-Final in 1;58.31; more big points for the Aggies though, as they went 10-11-12.
Men’s 50 Freestyle Final
Auburn’s Marcelo Chierighini, again reminding us that this 50-free is by no means a done-deal for USC star Vlad Morozov, lowered his nation-leading 50 freestyle time again from an 18.92 in prelims to an 18.88 here in finals. (He’d nip it one more time leading off the relay in 18.85). He and Florida’s Bradley deBorde turned in a dead-heat, but Chierighini came off that turn with a vengance and made the victory look relatively easy.
deBorde took 2nd in a still-stellar, lifetime best of 19.12. Texas A&M’s John Dalton was 3rd in 19.56; with their assistant and sprint coach Doug Boyd stepping down after this year, the Aggie sprint group performed very well in this 50. Henrdik Lindau tied for 5th with LSU’s Andrei Tuomola.
Tennessee’s Ed Walsh was 4th in 19.70. Standout Georgia freshman Matt Ellis, who many view as the future of American sprinting, took 7th in 19.77, with Alabama’s BJ Hornikel 8th in 19.82. Out of those 8 swimmers in the A-final, only 3 represent the United States (though Hornikel was raised here, he officially represents Germany in international competition).
Auburn’s James Disney-May won the B-Final in 19.60: a time he would’ve liked to have had in the morning to make his way into the A-Final. Missouri’s Logan Mosley was 10th in 19.85. Alabama continues to get good swims from their freshmen: Brett Walsh was the second-highest-placed freshman in this race in 20.22.
Women’s 50 Freestyle Final
Another race, another Georgia win, and would you believe it – another freshman victory? Georgia’s Canadian freshman Chantal van Landeghem tied with Tennessee freshman Faith Johnson in 21.90. Johnson wasn’t all that highly rated coming out of high school, mostly because she was so specialized in sprinting, but she’s already paying huge dividends for Matt Kredich’s squad in year one.
Tennessee took two of the top three spots, with Caroline Simmons placing 3rd in 21.97. Simmons was the only senior in this A-Final. Georgia’s Maddie Locus was 4th in 22.13, followed by Ellese Zalewski in 22.15, Lili Ibanez making up a few spots in 22.21, and Natalie Hinds in 22.26.
Tennessee’s Kelsey Floyd dropped half-a-second from prelims to win the B-Final running away in 22.10.
Women’s 1-Meter Diving
Tennessee, A&M, and Florida all had big scorers in the A-Final of this 1-meter, but the team-battle took a back-seat, for one event at least, to a great board battle. The lead changed hands in nearly every round of this women’s 1-meter final, but it was Missouri’s Loren Figueroa who had two huge finishing dives to win with a score of 315.45, just bettering A&M’s Rebecca St. Germain in 3:12.40.
Neither diver took on particularly challenging sets, but on Figueroa’s last dive, a reverse 1 1/2 somersault 1 1/2 twist free, she hit exactly the 7.5’s she needed to overtake the victory. That’s a dive that she’s always had a very high potential on, but is one that she’s lacked some consistency in as well. She hit it when it counted most, though, to recover from a 19th-place finish on Tuesday’s 3-meter.
South Carolina’s Patti Kranz took 3rd with a score of 307.25, and LSU’s Alex Bettridge, after leading most of the early part of this event, was 4th.
Tori Lamp missed a bit on her third dive, scoring 5.5’s and 6.0’s on a relatively easy reverse 1 1/2 somersault pike, and couldn’t ever get back into the mix for the title (though a nice last round dive showed that she did recover mentally). She ended up 5th overall.
Men’s 200 free relay
The Auburn quartet of Marcelo Chierighini, James Disney-May, TJ Leon, and Kyle Owens ripped off a 1:16.23 in this 200 free relay (including an 18.85 leadoff from Chierighini and an 18.83 anchor from Owens) to win their second sprint relay of the meet. This one was in easy fashion, taking more than a second ahead of the Florida Gators (1:17.26). If the Gators are placing that well in these shorter relays, though, that bodes well for them the rest of the meet, because the sprints are typically the team’s biggest weakness.
A&M took 3rd in 1:17.95. John Dalton split 19.16 on the 2nd leg and Kyle Troskot was a 19.29 on the anchor for their highest relay finish of the meet so far. Tennessee got another great Ed Walsh swim (leading off in 19.46), but could only muster 4th as a team in 1:18.32.
Women’s 200 Free Relay
And then, Megan Romano dropped a bomb. After Arianna Vanderpool-Wallace broke under the 21-second barrier at this same meet last year (she was a 20.80), the flood gates opened, and since two more swimmers have gone 20-points. That list now includes AVW, Arizona’s Margo Geer (20.98 at NCAA’s), and Megan Romano, who anchored Georgia in 20.99 to set off a flurry of excitement on deck, in the stands, and around the world as these Georgia swimmers inch their freestyle times closer-and-closer to what used to sound like men’s college times.
The Georgia women kept their sweep of the free relays going with a 1:26.89 win in this race: upsetting the Volunteers (1:27.13) who had been so good in the individual (despite a 21.47 second leg from Faith Johnson). Those two, along with Florida (1:27.98) were all under the old SEC Record. Georgia is still more than half-a-second from the NCAA Record in the event. Natalie Hinds had a second phenomenal relay swim of the meet, anchoring in a 21.18.
A&M will have to be happy with their 4th-place finish in 2:29.04 in what is probably their weakest relay. Auburn was back in 7th in 1:29.27.
Standings after Day 2:
Another incredible day of racing is done in College Station, and shockingly it’s the Auburn men in the lead. Georgia and Florida have stolen most of the headlines, but the Tigers are still winning. That’s why they’ve taken 17-straight titles: you don’t always notice what they’re doing, but they’re working deep into the B-and-C finals to pick up as many points as possible.
On the women’s side, the Bulldogs have a strong lead over A&M and Florida, with last year’s runners-up Tennessee sitting 4th. With the 400 IM and 200 free coming on Thursday, don’t expect them to give that lead back anytime soon, though there is some room to claw-back in the 100 fly.
1. Auburn University 417
2. University of Florida 412.5
3. Georgia, University of 372
4. Tennessee, University of, Knox 300.5
5. Texas A&M University 288.5
6. Louisiana State University 272.5
7. University of Missouri 252
8. University of South Carolina 201
9. University of Alabama 187
10. University of Kentucky 153
1. Georgia, University of 500
2. Texas A&M University 464
3. University of Florida 443
4. Tennessee, University of, Knox 429
5. Louisiana State University 277
6. University of Missouri 274
7. Auburn University 263
8. Arkansas, University of, Fayet 234
9. University of Kentucky 194
10. University of Alabama 161
11. University of South Carolina 129
12. Vanderbilt University 92
Live results available here.