2014 SEC Women’s Championship Fan Guide: Georgia Looks to Fend Off A&M, UF, Vols

SEC Women

SEC’s are always a fun way to kick off the major Division I conference championship season.  While I’m a self-diagnosed Pac-12 snob, there’s no doubting the growing depth and power of the SEC women’s meet.  The conference includes the defending NCAA champion (Georgia) and four of the top seven from our power rankings (Georgia, Texas A&M, Florida, and Tennessee).  Throw in the likes of Auburn, Arkansas, and Missouri, and you have the ingredients for maybe the fastest, deepest meet in the country.

Despite falling short to Tennessee in a dual meet, Georgia was undoubtedly the favorite heading into the meet last February.  The Bulldogs didn’t disappoint, striking a balance between swimming fast enough to win handily, but not over-resting en route to their NCAA title the next month.  Likely without the services of head coach Jack Bauerle, the Bulldogs will be going after their fifth straight women’s title at home this weekend, behind a new set of stars after graduating two of the biggest names in NCAA swimming (Allison Schmitt and Megan Romano).

This one won’t come easily, though, with Florida, A&M, and Tennessee lurking.  The Gators are essentially returning their entire NCAA team from last season, and have added significant depth since last March in the distance and IM events.  Texas A&M is still loaded with star power (Cammile Adams, Sarah Henry, Breeja Larson, Liliana Ibañez Lopez, Paige Miller), and Tennessee had arguably the best championship season of any team in the country last year.

Athletes to Watch

Alabama: Leah Bird (freshman butterflyer), Kaylin Burchell (junior breaststroker), Bonnie Macdonald (freshman distance freestyler), Emma Saunders (sophomore freestyler), Paige McCleary (senior diver), Kristel Vourna (senior butterflier)…  Much like last year, this is a young Alabama team, with 21 of the 30 athletes competing as freshmen or sophomores.  There isn’t a ton of top-end talent on this team, but Vourna and Bird are slated to score well, and McCleary recorded the highest six-dive total on the 3m springboard in the SEC this season.

Arkansas: Julia Banach (junior breaststroker), Nikki Daniels (junior breaststroker), Nina Drolc (sophomore freestyler), Anna Mayfield (sophomore freestyler/backstroker), Susanna White (junior freestyler)… Second year head coach Sean Schimmel has developed a good squad down in Fayetteville.  The Razorbacks return at least three of the four legs of all five record-setting relays from last season.

Auburn: Emily Bos (senior sprint freestyler/backstroker), Haley Krakoski (senior freestyler), Alex Merritt (sophomore butterflyer), Aubrey Peacock (senior backstroker), Allyx Purcell (freshman sprinter), Sarah Reynolds (sophomore backstroker), Jillian Vitarius (sophomore backstroker)…  The already-thin Tigers suffered a setback earlier this season when Olivia Scott took some time away from the program, and she’s not expected to be back.  There’s good news though: Aubrey Peacock looks like she’s back to her old self, and Bos and Vitarius have stepped up.

Florida: Elizabeth Beisel (senior backstroker/IMer), Natalie Hinds (sprint freestyler/butterflyer), Hilda Luthersdottir (senior breaststroker), Alicia Mathieu (senior freestyler), Sinead Russell (sophomore backstroker/freestyler), Jessica Thielmann (sophomore distance swimmer), Ellese Zalewski (senior sprinter)… This is Florida’s best squad since their 2010 title run.  The Gators could very easily put a swimmer in the A-Final of every event at NCAA’s.

Georgia: Lauren Harrington (junior butterflyer), Laura Ryan (diving), Brittany MacLean (sophomore distance freestyler), Amber McDermott (junior distance freestyler), Melanie Margalis (senior breaststroker/IMer), Jordan Mattern (junior freestyler), Olivia Smoliga (freshman sprinter), Chantal Van Landeghem (sophomore sprint freestyler), Shannon Vreeland (senior freestyler), Annie Zhu (sophomore breaststroker/IMer)… For all the publicity surrounding the Cal Bears coming into this season (including from yours truly), the Bulldogs look like the more complete team at this point.  While Florida and A&M will challenge, Georgia is the favorite this coming weekend.  

Kentucky: Tina Bechtel (junior butterflyer), Kendal Casey (freshman distance freestyler), Abby Myers (junior butterflyer), Christa Cabot (junior diver)… Bechtel is having a career year; she currently sits third in the 100 fly in the country.  Her 51.36 is two seconds faster than her swim at SEC’s last season.

LSU: Alex Bettridge (sophomore diver), Torrey Bussey (junior breaststroker), Amber Carter (junior sprinter/butterflier), Kara Kopcso (freshman butterflyer), Colleen O’Neil (freshman IMer), Danielle Stirrat (sophomore backstroker)… There are some good pieces on this team, but LSU will likely be stuck in no man’s land in the team standings.

Missouri: Dani Barbiea (junior sprint freestyler/butterflyer), Emily Doucette (junior backstroker), Loren Figueroa (senior diver), Anna Patterson (sophomore sprint freestyler), Katharine Ross (freshman breaststroker)… The Tigers lost some big names in graduation, but the breakout seasons from Barbiea and Ross have helped.

South Carolina: Amanda Rutqvist (senior breaststroker), Rachael Schaffer (senior butterflier/IM’er); Patricia Kranz (sophomore diver)… Rutqvist and Kranz are returning SEC A-Finalists from last season.

Tennessee: Lauren Driscoll (sophomore distance), Lindsey Gendron (senior freestyler), Molly Hannis (junior breaststroker), Faith Johnson (sophomore sprint freestyler), Kate McNeilis (senior freestyler), Lauren Solernou (senior backstroker)… The Volunteers were the top-performing team in the pool at NCAA’s last season.  Will their stars keep some in the tank for the big show next month?

Texas A&M: Cammile Adams (senior distance IMer/butterflyer/freestyler), Sammie Bosma (junior sprint freestyler), Erica Dittmer (senior sprint freestyler), Sarah Henry (junior distance freestyler/IMer), Liliana Ibañez Lopez (junior freestyler), Breeja Larson (senior breaststroker), Paige Miller (senior backstroker/butterflyer)…The Aggies have an amazing and accomplished senior class that have given the team a great springboard into the SEC. They’ll look to go out with anothe rstatement performance this year.

Vanderbilt: Elly Faulkner (junior breaststroker), Kayla Moran (freshman sprint freestyler); Chrissy Oberg (junior backstroker)… The Commmodores had their best season in recent memory in 2013, setting 13 new team records.  They’re on track to challenge that in the next couple of months behind Faulkner, who has already lowered two marks this season.


50 free – While the 50 free typically doesn’t have a particularly big margin between finishers at elite championship meets (it’s only a 50, after all), this field is particularly tight, with the top five swimmers (Van Landeghem, Smoliga, Ibañez Lopez, Hinds, and Zalewski) separated by just a tenth of a second.  The next four swimmers (Bos, Purcell, Barbiea, and Patterson) are also separated by a tenth.  Neither of those groupings include defending co-champion Faith Johnson of Tennessee, who currently sits 14th in the conference.

100 fly – Parity alert!  This is the only swimming event where the top seed isn’t a Gator, Bulldog, or Aggie.  With her 51.13 from November, Dani Barbiea earned the number one seed in the 100 fly this weekend (technically shared with Ellese Zalewski of Florida), and has a chance to become the first SEC champion swimmer for the Missouri Tigers.  Don’t forget about Tina Bechtel of Kentucky, who is right behind at 51.36.

400 free relay – The final race of the meet could very well be the best one of the weekend.  Behind a 46.67 anchor leg from Megan Romano, Georgia pulled away to win this relay a year ago by nearly two seconds.  This time around, the Bulldogs will be looking to Margalis and Smoliga to fill the void left by Romano and Schmitt in an effort to fend off Florida, Tennessee, and Texas A&M.  It won’t be easy; Tennessee only graduated Caroline Simmons (the slowest leg on their relay), while the Gators and Aggies are returning all four legs from last season.  Georgia, A&M, and Florida are seeded within three tenths of each other, and while Tennessee is a ways back at this point, they have proved they’re always ready to go come championships season.

200 and 400 IM – We’re cheating by lumping these together and assuming Elizabeth Beisel actually swims the 200 IM.  Beisel has been the biggest name in this field throughout her entire college career (rightfully so), but with Melanie Margalis putting together a career year, she’ll have her hands full this week.  Let’s be clear: Beisel is still the premier collegiate 400 IM’er in the country (although that pecking order could change in March), but Margalis actually beat Beisel in the 200 IM last February, and is over a half second faster so far this season.  The Georgia junior already easily eclipsed her lifetime bests in both IM events this winter, and holds the #2 and #3 times in the country this season.

Meet Schedule

The SEC has elected to stick with the 5-day schedule they rolled out for the first time last year, leading to potentially different event and relay choices in order to maximize points and space out swims.  For a full timeline, click here for the SEC Championship manual.

Women’s 1-meter
200 Medley Relay
Men’s 3-meter
800 Free Relay

500 Free
200 IM
50 Free
Men’s 1-meter
200 Free Relay

400 IM
100 Fly
Women’s 3-meter
200 Free

200 Fly
100 Back
100 Breast
Men’s Platform
400 Medley Relay

1650 Free
100 Free
200 Back
200 Breast
Women’s Platform
400 Free Relay


Texas A&M probably has the best top-end talent in the conference, and this might be Florida’s most complete team since Gregg Troy took over the program (yes, even more than when they won in 2010)… but we still like Georgia in a close one in their home pool.  The Bulldogs have replaced all of their graduation losses with relative ease, and Olivia Smoliga gives them the extra sprinter and backstroker they’ve been looking for.  After a disappointing NCAA’s last season, we’re expecting A&M to put less stock in this meet.  Tennessee doesn’t quite have the depth the grab a top three spot.  Auburn is likely alone in the fifth spot, with Missouri and Arkansas in a tight battle for sixth.

  1. Georgia
  2. Florida
  3. Texas A&M
  4. Tennessee
  5. Auburn
  6. Arkansas
  7. Missouri
  8. LSU
  9. Alabama
  10. Kentucky
  11. South Carolina
  12. Vanderbilt


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SEC fan
9 years ago

Just looking through past results, I think the 100 back is going to be one of the best races of the meet. We have last years sec champ Miller, 3rd place at NCAA Russell, and world SCM champ Smoliga. All 3 have been smokin fast this year. It’ll be a dog fight for the win.

I think A&M has the most questionable dark horses this year. Sarah Henry and Caroline Mcelhany. Both scored major points last year and we’re injured a majority for the first semester so it’ll be interesting to see what they do this time around.

I also see Melanie Margalis as kind of a SEC version of Maya Dirado. She always does good at conference,… Read more »

John Sampson
9 years ago

I wonder if Georgia will use Margalis in both relays tonight…I sure hope so, with the way she has been swimming this season I can easily she her whipping out a 26.5 and then a 1:42.5 . She’s an animal! Can’t wait for tonight!!!!! 😀

About Morgan Priestley

Morgan Priestley

A Stanford University and Birmingham, Michigan native, Morgan Priestley started writing for SwimSwam in February 2013 on a whim, and is loving that his tendency to follow and over-analyze swim results can finally be put to good use. Morgan swam competitively for 15+ years, primarily excelling in the mid-distance freestyles. While …

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