2020 SEC Championships: Day 2 Prelims Live Recap


The first individual races of the 2020 SEC Champions are set to take place this morning in Auburn, Alabama. Swimmers will compete in prelims of the 500 free, 200 IM, and 50 free. Florida’s Kieran Smith is one of the swimmers to watch today. After winning the 200 IM as a freshman in 2019, he’s choosing a different day 2 event this season. Smith scratched the 200 IM and will instead swim the 500 free. He started the meet off by turning heads with the 4th fastest 200 free ever on the leadoff of Florida’s 800 free relay last night.

Texas A&M’s Mark Theall is seeking his first individual title as the top seed in the 500 free. Teammate Shaine Casas, the 10th fastest man ever in the 200 IM, is chasing the title after just missing the podium last season. Now that 2019 champ Robert Howard has graduated, Zane Waddell will look to keep Bama on top in the men’s 50 free.

The women’s 200 IM features reigning SEC Champion Meghan Small of Tennessee, while teammate Erika Brown headlines the 50 free as she seeks a 3rd-straight title. Georgia’s Courtney Harnish is back to defend her title in the women’s 500 free.


  • SEC Meet Record: Brittany MacLean (Georgia), 2016, 4:33.10
  • NCAA Record: Katie Ledecky (Stanford), 2017, 4:24.06
  • 2019 NCAA Invited: 4:40.96
  • NCAA ‘A’ Cut: 4:35.76
  • 2019 Champion: Courtney Harnish (Georgia), 4:35.52

Top 8 Qualifiers:

  1. Emily Hetzer (Auburn), 4:38.56
  2. Amanda Nunan (Tennessee)- 4:38.90
  3. Alexis Preski (Alabama)- 4:39.94
  4. Peyton Palsha (Arkansas)- 4:40.01
  5. Courtney Harnish (Georgia)- 4:40.08
  6. Kensey McMahon (Alabama)- 4:40.20
  7. Ali Galyer (Kentucky)- 4:41.14
  8. Karling Hemstreet (Texas A&M)- 4:41.16

Auburn’s Emily Hetzer clipped her lifetime bet to take the top spot in 4:38.56. Tennessee’s Amanda Nunan had a huge swim, knocking over 2 seconds off her best as she broke 4:40 for the first time in 4:38.90. The only other woman under 4:40 was Bama’s Alexis Preski, who also broke 4:40 for the first time in 4:39.94. The Crimson Tide have 2 in the final as teammate Kensey McMahon qualified 6th in 4:40.20. Arkansas’s Peyton Palsha nearly hit the sub-4:40 mark as she qualified 4th to return to the final in 4:40.01.

Defending champion Courtney Harnish of Georgia cruised to a 4:40.08, qualifying 5th. Florida’s Leah Braswell (4:42.09), the 2019 runner-up, and teammate Taylor Ault (4:42.98), who placed 6th last season, just missed the final in 9th and 10th respectively. The Gators will get big points in the B final, though, as they’ve also got Savanna Faulconer (4:44.67) and Tori Bindi (4:45.02) in the top 16.

Auburn freshman Averee Preble (4:43.54) made a 4-second drop to qualify for the B final. Teammate Sonnele Oeztuerk (4:44.94) will return to the B final after winning the B heat last season. Texas A&M’s Katie Portz is also among the swimmer returning to the B final as she qualified 12th in 4:44.29.


  • SEC Meet Record: Fynn Minuth (South Carolina), 2018, 4:10.51
  • NCAA Record: Townley Haas (Texas), 2019, 4:08.19
  • 2019 NCAA Invited: 4:16.04
  • NCAA ‘A’ Cut: 4:11.82
  • 2019 Champion: Fynn Minuth (South Carolina), 4:11.98

Top 8 Qualifiers:

  1. Walker Higgins (Georgia)- 4:13.66
  2. Bobby Finke (Florida)- 4:13.74
  3. Mark Theall (Texas A&M)- 4:13.98
  4. Kieran Smith (Florida)- 4:14.55
  5. Andrew Abruzzo (Georgia)- 4:15.03
  6. Khader Baqlah (Florida)- 4:15.56
  7. Greg Reed (Georgia)- 4:16.79
  8. Nico Hernandez-Tome (Alabama)- 4:17.64

Florida’s Kieran Smith dropped over 2 seconds from his lifetime best with his prelims swim in 4:14.55. His former best was a 4:16.96 from Winter Juniors back in 2017. Smith, who won the 200 IM on night 2 last season, is in the title hunt after he turned heads with his 1:30.11 leadoff on the Gators’ 800 free relay. Teammate Bobby Finke, who won the B final last season, also dropped over a second off his best with a 4:13.74. As usual, this will be a big scoring event for the Gators. 2019 bronze medalist Khader Baqlah qualified 6th in 4:15.56.

The Bulldogs are just as deep in the A final and even more so in terms of total scoring in this event. UGA is currently 10th of 10 teams on the men’s side, but this event alone will probably propel them several places upward. Walker Higgins took the top spot in 4:13.66. Andrew Abruzzo took over a second off his best time in 4:15.03 for the 5th spot. Greg Reed dropped a second and a half to give Georgia 3 in the championship heat, posting a lifetime best 4:16.79 to qualify 7th. Teammates Kevin Miller (4:17.88), Grant Norgan (4:17.89), and Aaron Apel (4:19.14) are all in the B final tonight.

Texas A&M’s Mark Theall, the current SEC season leader, put up a smooth 4:13.98 for 3rd. Alabama also got one into the championship heat as Nico Hernandez-Tome was 8th. Tome’s 4:17.64 was a massive drop of 6 seconds, as his former best 4:23.98 was from this meet last season. Auburn’s Christian Sztolcman also dropped nearly 6 seconds to qualify 12th in 4:18.83, just a hundredth ahead of teammate Aryan Makhija (4:18.84), who dropped 4 seconds. Qualifying for the C final, another Auburn Tiger, Davis Edwards (4:20.87, dropped over 9 seconds.


  • SEC Meet Record: Meghan Small (Tennessee), 2019, 1:51.62
  • NCAA Record: Ella Eastin (Stanford), 2018, 1:50.67
  • 2019 NCAA Invited: 1:56.76
  • NCAA ‘A’ Cut: 1:53.66
  • 2019 Champion: Meghan Small (Tennessee), 1:51.62

Top 8 Qualifiers:

  1. Zoie Hartman (Georgia)- 1:54.22
  2. (T-2) Asia Seidt (Kentucky)- 1:54.43
  3. (T-2) Meghan Small (Tennessee)- 1:54.43
  4. Tess Cieplucha (Tennessee)- 1:55.32
  5. Jing Quah (Texas A&M)- 1:56.17
  6. Danielle DellaTorre (Georgia)- 1:56.24
  7. Caroline Theil (Texas A&M)- 1:56.67
  8. Bailey Bonnett (Kentucky)- 1:56.68

Georgia freshman Zoie Hartman leads the way in 1:54.22. Hartman, the fastest woman in the SEC this season, has been performing well at this meet so far. She had the 2nd fastest splits of the field last night in both the 200 medley relay, where she swam the breast leg, and 800 free relay, where she was the anchor. However, she’ll be up against reigning champion and SEC Meet Record holder Meghan Small (1:54.43) of Tennessee. Small tied for 2nd in prelims with Kentucky’s Asia Seidt. Though she missed the final last season, she was the silver medalist in this race in 2018.

Fellow Tennessee IMer Tess Cieplucha took nearly half a second off her best as she touched in 1:55.32 for 4th. Georgia, Kentucky, and Texas A&M will all have 2 in the final as well. Danielle DellaTorre dropped a few tenths for the Bulldogs in 1:56.24. A&M’s Jing Quah (1:56.17) and Caroline Theil (1:56.67) dropped almost a second with their first sub-1:57s.

Kentucky’s Bailey Bonnett (1:56.68) also broke 1:57 for the first time to qualify 8th. Teammate Izzy Gati made a huge drop to qualify for the B final in 1:57.54, her first swim under 2:00. The Wildcats’ Sophie Sorenson added some depth with a 1:57.80 for 12th, a lifetime best by over a second.

Florida’s Vanessa Pearl, who took 4th in this event last season, just missed the final with a 1:56.76 for 9th. Teammate Kelly Fertel (1:58.32) makes a return to the B final.

MEN’S 200 IM

  • SEC Meet Record: Caeleb Dressel (Florida), 2018, 1:38.13
  • NCAA Record: Caeleb Dressel (Florida), 2018, 1:38.13
  • 2019 NCAA Invited: 1:43.82
  • NCAA ‘A’ Cut: 1:41.34
  • 2019 Champion: Kieran Smith (Florida), 1:43.13

Top 8 Qualifiers:

  1. Shaine Casas (Texas A&M)- 1:40.51
  2. Nick Alexander (Missouri)- 1:42.81
  3. Grant Sanders (Florida)- 1:43.38
  4. Danny Kovac (Missouri)- 1:43.58
  5. Glen Brown (Kentucky)- 1:43.98
  6. Dillon Hillis (Florida)- 1:44.29
  7. Nicholas Perera (Alabama)- 1:44.88
  8. Derek Maas (Alabama)- 1:44.95

Texas A&M’s Shaine Casas, the 10th fastest 200 IMer in history, was within half a second of his best to dominate in 1:40.51. Tonight, Casas looks to join the ranks of swimmers who have broken 1:40 in this event. So far, only 6 have accomplished the feat. Casas placed 4th in this event last season, and while 2019 champion Kieran Smith of Florida isn’t swimming it, Missouri’s reigning silver medalist Nick Alexander is the 2nd seed for the final. Alexander’s 1:42.81 in prelims marked his first time breaking 1:43. Teammate Danny Kovac qualified 4th in 1:43.58.

Even without Smith, the Gators have 2 men in the championship heat. Grant Sanders dropped nearly a second this morning as he qualified 3rd in 1:43.38. Teammate Dillon Hillis was just a tenth shy of his best with a 1:44.29 for 6th. Alabama also got 2 into the final as Nicholas Perera (1:44.88) dropped nearly 2 seconds and Derek Maas (1:44.95) dropped almost a second.


  • SEC Meet Record: Erika Brown (Tennessee), 2019, 21.15
  • NCAA Record: Abbey Weitzeil (Cal), 2019, 20.90
  • 2019 NCAA Invited: 22.23
  • NCAA ‘A’ Cut: 21.66
  • 2019 Champion: Erika Brown (Tennessee), 21.15

Top 8 Qualifiers:

  1. Erika Brown (Tennessee)- 21.19
  2. Anna Hopkin (Arkansas)- 21.54
  3. Julie Meynen (Auburn)- 21.68
  4. Claire Fisch (Auburn)- 21.71
  5. Sarah Thompson (Missouri)- 21.77
  6. AJ Kutsch (Auburn)- 22.09
  7. Gabi Fa’amausili (Georgia)- 22.11
  8. Bailey Grinter (Tennessee)- 22.15

Tennessee’s Erika Brown tied her season best 21.19, just 4 hundredths shy of her SEC Meet Record from last season. Brown and Arkansas’ Anna Hopkin are currently tied as the fastest women in the SEC this season. Hopking was 2nd this morning in 21.54. Brown will be joined in the final by teammate Bailey Grinter, who took 8th in 22.15.

Auburn’s depth was on display here as they got 3 women into the final. Reigning bronze medalist Claire Fisch was just off her best in 21.71, while teammate Julie Meynen dropped a tenth off her best to take the 3rd seed in 21.68. Freshman AJ Kutsch took 6th this morning in 22.09, blowing away her best by over half a second. Robyn Clevenger just missed giving the Tigers a 4th swimmer in the A final by 5 hundredths as she took 10th in 22.20.

Missouri’s Sarah Thompson put up a 21.77 to qualify 5th for the final. Teammate Megan Keil was just a hundredth shy of qualifying for the final in a lifetime best 22.16. Haley Hynes, who took 7th in this event last season for Mizzou, will swim in the C final after putting up a 22.40 for 18th.


  • SEC Meet Record: Caeleb Dressel (Florida), 2016, 18.23
  • NCAA Record: Caeleb Dressel (Florida), 2018, 17.63
  • 2019 NCAA Invited: 19.35
  • NCAA ‘A’ Cut: 18.96
  • 2019 Champion: Robert Howard (Alabama), 18.74

Top 8 Qualifiers:

  1. Zane Waddell (Alabama)- 19.16
  2. Santiago Grassi (Auburn)- 19.27
  3. Tyler Sesvold (Alabama)- 19.31
  4. Dillon Downing (Georgia)- 19.32
  5. Adam Koster (Texas A&M)- 19.38
  6. Brooks Curry (LSU)- 19.41
  7. Peter Wetzlar (Kentucky)- 19.43
  8. Lewis Burras (South Carolina)- 19.45

Alabama’s Zane Waddell was just a hundredth away from his best as he led the heats in 19.16. Teammate Tyler Sesvold clipped 3 tenths off his best as he put up a 19.31 for 3rd behind Auburn’s Santiago Grassi (19.27). Georgia’s Dillon Downing took 3 tenths off his best, just a hundredth behind Sesvold in 19.32. Texas A&M’s Adam Koster also swam a best, qualifying 5th in 19.38.

LSU freshman Brooks Curry dropped half a second, touching in 19.41 for 6th seed. Kentucky’s Peter Wetzlar knocked a couple hundredths off his best in 19.43. Rounding out the top 8 was South Carolina’s Lewis Burras, who swam a best by 2 tenths in 19.45. The Gamecocks’ AJ Ross was just 3 hundredths away from the final in 19.48. That was a huge swim for him, as it was his first time under 20 seconds and his first best time in the event since 2018.

Texas A&M’s Mike Thibert, who anchored the Aggies to 200 medley relay victory, qualified 11th in 19.57. Behind him in 12th is Florida’s Will Davis, the Gators’ 200 medley relay anchor, in 19.59. Davis will be joined in the B final by twin brother Isaac Davis (19.63) and freshman teammate Eric Friese (19.50).

Jonathan Berneburg, who anchored for Bama on the medley relay last night, was significantly faster than his anchor split. Berneburg, who missed his wall on the turn and anchored in 20.28, was significantly faster than that this morning from a flat start. He swam a 19.67 to qualify 16th, matching his lifetime best to the hundredth. Berneburg will now have a swim-off for 16th with Tennessee’s Alec Connolly and Texas A&M’s Clayton Bobo (19.67).


  1. Texas A&M- 178
  2. Tennessee- 160
  3. Kentucky- 149
  4. Auburn- 147
  5. Florida- 138
  6. Missouri- 131
  7. LSU- 119
  8. South Carolina- 109
  9. Alabama- 106
  10. Georgia- 101


  1. Florida- 166
  2. Texas A&M- 163
  3. Tennessee- 159
  4. Kentucky- 150
  5. Auburn- 144
  6. LSU- 117
  7. Georgia- 111
  8. (T-8) South Carolina- 104
  9. (T-8) Alabama- 104
  10. Missouri- 95
  11. Arkansas- 89
  12. Vanderbilt- 60

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4 years ago

Casas , in a league of his own in that 200 IM !!! his talent is wow

4 years ago

I am confused why wearing fast suits for duel meets is so debated.

Do you look at pro swimmers at Pro Swim Series or a World Cup meet and think, “Oh man, they are wearing a fast suit now. There is no way they are going to do well at nationals now or make an Olympic team.” I don’t understand how wearing a fast suit to compete matters when they are still performing well and placing well.

What is the difference between dropping 2 seconds in a 50 free between duel meets and SECs while still making the A-final compared to dropping a half a second in the 50 free between duel meets and SEC’s while still making… Read more »

4 years ago

Missouri, under previous administrations, came from the Frank Busch school of “forget about conference meets, qualify mid-season and train through to NCAAs.” It’s too early to know if Andy Grevers will continue that pattern, but it isn’t really the team’s history to swim super well at conference championship meets.

I think a lot of people get caught up in the taper stuff and forget that you don’t get points for swimming faster than you swam in-season. You get points for swimming faster than the other teams.

Swim nerd
Reply to  Braden Keith
4 years ago

Don’t tell me how to enjoying watching swimming… 😉

I get your first point about “forget…”, but wouldn’t that be a choice made for individual swimmers and not for the team as a whole? As such, I would expect to see flat times or modest drops from the NCAA qualified swimmers and bigger drops for those trying to qualify.

These are the things that interest me.

Swim nerd
4 years ago

I am fascinated with this too. I know that tech suits have a physical effect. I think that they have a mental effect as well; however, I am interested if that mental effect is diminished when you are always swimming in the tech suit. Yes, I am a swim nerd…

4 years ago

“Berneburg will now have a swim-off for 16th with Tennessee’s Alec Connolly (19.67)” It’s a 3-way tie for 16th with Bobo from A&M in it.

Sean Justice
4 years ago

that might be hard to judge. It is not really the suiting up that matters in this case. It might be a combination of how they approach duel meets (maybe rest a bit more) or if those in season times where at a mid season meet where they were fully tapered.

If you really want to have some fun with the suiting in duel meets, wait until PAC-12s where talk about how the evil ASU swimmers suited for the duel meets and look at them now.

Personally, it is nice to swim in a suit for in season meets, it does not mean you will swim slow at championship meets.

4 years ago

Alabama 1st, Texas A&M 2nd, Tennessee 3rd

Captain Ahab
4 years ago

Wow, you had to go 19.45 just to make it back in the final for the men’s 50 yard freestyle. I don’t care what anybody says the SEC conference is the premier collegiate swimming conference.

Working Swim Mom
Reply to  Captain Ahab
4 years ago

Big Tens last year was 19.5. Most power 5 conferences are that fast now.

About Lauren Neidigh

Lauren Neidigh

Lauren Neidigh is a former NCAA swimmer at the University of Arizona (2013-2015) and the University of Florida (2011-2013). While her college swimming career left a bit to be desired, her Snapchat chin selfies and hot takes on Twitter do not disappoint. She's also a high school graduate of The …

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