2022 SEC Championships Fan Guide: Florida Men Chasing 10th-Straight Title

Braden Keith
by Braden Keith 18

February 14th, 2022 College, News, SEC

2022  SEC Championships

The Florida Gators are on the precipice of a threshold. Entering the meet with nine consecutive SEC titles in men’s swimming & diving, a 10th straight would put the team into rarefied dynasty status, with only the Florida teams of the 1950s and 60s (13 straight from 1956 to 1968) and the late 1990s/early 2000s Auburn Tigers (16 straight from 1997 to 2012) having claimed 10 titles in a row.

Last year, the Georgia Bulldogs came within 76.5 points of the Gators, but after graduating 416.5 of their 1,058.5 individual points from last season, the gap between Florida and the rest of the conference looks chasmic headed into this year’s meet. Florida graduated just 90 of their 1097 individual points from last season. Only Missouri graduated at a smaller rate (16/526).

The Gators are looking at a several-hundred-points margin of victory.

The SEC overall is getting deeper this year, with new head coaches at Auburn, South Carolina, and LSU sparking some new energy within those programs, plus new Alabama head coach Margo Geer keeping her team on course. That makes this meet a little harder to predict, but should dramatically increase the battles, especially for spots in the B and C finals.

Meet Schedule

Tuesday:

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

Wednesday:

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

Thursday:

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

Friday:

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

Saturday:

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

Stars

Alabama – Derek Maas (breaststroke/IM) is thriving under new head coach Margo Geer, and is seeded in the top two in three different events this week. Matthew Menke (back/IM), the team’s top returning scorer from last season, is the top seed in the 100 back by more than three-tenths of a second. They have a very good diver, Kevin Li, too, who has thrived through multiple coaching changes. A few transfers (Matt King and Colton Stogner) have hurt their sprint depth, and while there aren’t many household names on the roster, Geer is maximizing talent in year one.

Auburn – Reid Mikuta (breaststroke) is the top seed in the 100 breaststroke after dropping 1.3 seconds already this season. He was their top-scoring swimmer at SECs last year with 41 points; this year, the Tigers should have a handful of swimmers who are better than that. That includes the Stoffle brothers Nathaniel (sprint free/back) and Aidan (sprint free/fly/back), who are leading the Tigers back to the NCAA Championships enforce. Auburn went for big qualifying times at their invite a few weeks ago, so there’s a chance they’re more focused on March and re-establishing themselves at nationals rather than climbing the SEC ladder.

Florida – The Florida men are loaded, led by their two Olympic medalists Kieran Smith (mid-distance free/IM) and Bobby Finke (distance free/IM)*Update: Bobby Finke will miss the competition. This Florida roster is crazy-deep, with Adam Chaney (sprint free/back) and Eric Friese (sprint free/fly) arguably the best 1-2 sprint combo in the conference, and more distance points from Trey Freeman (distance free). Sophomore diver Leonardo Garcia (diver) has been impressive this year too, giving Florida a boost on the boards. No Gerry Quinn on the psych sheets after a great mid-season invite hurts their sprint depth a little, but this team is good enough to recover. Dillon Hillis (breaststroke) is the defending conference champion in the 100, though he faces a lot of new contenders this season.

Georgia – The Swimulator doesn’t do this Georgia team justice. While they definitely were whacked by graduation, there are a lot of caveats here. Their two best-known swimmers, Luca Urlando (fly/IM/free) and Jake Magahey (distance free) were absent from the team’s mid-season invite with non-COVID-related illness. They also added one of the world’s top junior swimmers, Matthew Sates (free/IM) mid-season. Those three alone should add at least 200 points to the Bulldogs’ projected scores. At the same time, this is a very tight puzzle for the Bulldogs – with graduations of Camden Murphy and Javi Acevedo, they’ll have to fit their pieces together very carefully if they want 2nd place here.

Kentucky – The Kentucky men are last in the Swimulator standings, but that doesn’t give them enough credit for having one of the best, if not the best, diving group in the conference. While Chase Lane is gone, Zhang Mingli (diving), Sam Duncan (springboard diving), and Rodrigo Romero (diving) could give them 150 points on the boards. While Zhang struggled mid-season on 1-meter, his other two events were sharp, and Romero has shown big improvements on platform this season. In swimming, the team is lead by Mason Wilby (mid-D fly/IM/free), who was 4th in the 200 fly at last year’s SEC Championship meet. He’s right on the cut line of NCAA qualifying in the 200 fly still, so expect him to show up in Knoxville fully prepared for speed.

LSU – The Olympic gold medalist Brooks Curry (sprint free) seems to be adjusting well to new head coach Rick Bishop, in part receiving a boost of energy from big improvements by his teammates. He’s not the team’s only Olympian though – Juan Celaya Hernandez represented Mexico in Tokyo, and actually outscored Curry at last year’s SEC Championship meet. The Tigers really need Mitch Mason (breaststroke) to step up this week – he was 4th in the 100 breast at SECs last year, but is seeded only 17th going into this year’s meet. LSU still doesn’t have the depth of talent to make a huge lurch forward, but this is probably going to be a meet where they try to make a statement to potential recruits. Expect lost of relay school records from the Tigers.

Missouri – This is a ‘golden season’ for the Missouri men. They were 6th at last year’s championship meet, on the outside of the Tennessee-A&M-Alabama battle for third, but graduated just 16 individual points – second-fewest in the conference aside from South Carolina (who only had 60 total individual points). After 58 points at last year’s meet, senior Jack Dahlgren (sprint free/back) is on a tear this year, and is the top seed in the 200 backstroke. With Danny Kovac (butterfly/IM) as the top seed in the 100 fly, 200 fly, and 200 IM, plus Ben Patton (breast/IM) as the #3 seed in the 100 breast, the Tigers need one more guy to step up big, and they could win the medley relays. Grant Bochenski (back/free) is the guy they’ve looked to so far for that. Carlo Lopez (diving) leads a young diving group that will give the Tigers big points.

South Carolina – South Carolina was last in the SEC in 2021, almost 200 points behind LSU. But new head coach Jeff Poppell has the team believing after an upset dual meet win over Missouri to close their regular season. Patrick Groters (back/IM) leads the way, giving the team an instant boost after transferring in from Denver. His IM events, especially, have shown good improvement at South Carolina. Another junior transfer, Manny Vazquez Bas (diving). At the recent Tennessee Diving Invitational, he was not far behind Tennessee’s Bryden Hattie, the defending SEC Champion on platform. The Gamecocks should double, at least, their individual points from last year. That still might not be enough to climb many spots on the ladder, but it’s something they can ride into next season.

Tennessee – Michael Houlie (breaststroke) was 2nd in the 100 breast and 3rd in the 200 breast at last year’s SEC Championship meet. His mid-season times this year are slower than in past collegiate seasons, though a 52.90 in the team’s last dual meet in the 100 is a good sign of life for him. Freshman Jordan Crooks (sprint free/fly) has brought a spark to a deep Tennessee sprint group that includes Nolan BriggsScott Scanlon, and Micah Chambers. We can’t discuss Tennesse without discussing their high-flying divers, led by sophomore Bryden Hattie (diving). The sophomore is the defending SEC Champion on platform. The team returns most of their 191 diving points from last year.

Texas A&M – Shaine Casas is gone, turning pro early. The team, in fact, lost three of their four top scorers from last year’s SEC Championship meet. That means it is time for senior Koko Bratanov (free/IM) to step into the spotlight. An unheralded contributor last season, he was top 7 in all three of his events at the SEC Championships. Not many swimmers from any team can claim that. Other swimmers have stepped up in Casas’ absence: Anze Erzen is seeded 3rd in the 400 IM in his first season with A&M after transferring from Iowa. He leads an Aggie IM group that has four of the top eight seeds in that event (don’t forget, they bring in the top IMer in next year’s class, Baylor Nelson, in the fall). The Aggies are also bringing a massive contingent rumored at seven divers, so they’ll be hoping for big points on the boards.

Showdowns

100 Breaststroke

This race projects to be a fun one because of the new faces in play. Florida’s Dillon Hillis, the defending champion in the event, is seeded just 6th headed into next year’s meet.

Of the five men ahead of him, two didn’t even make the A final at last year’s SEC Championships: Alabama junior Derek Maas, the #2 seed, won the B-Final last year; while sophomore Reid Mikuta of Auburn, the #1 seed, was 10th overall.

This race could go any number of different ways, and that unpredictability, with so many legitimate contenders, makes it a fun one.

500 Free

The Gators are seeded to assert their dominance early in this meet. In the very first race, the 500 free, they had the top four seeds, though that number is now three with Bobby Finke out: Kieran SmithAlfonso Mestreand Trey Freeman. The next-best seed is Auburn’s Mikkel Gadgaard, who is more than a second behind Finke’s 4:15.21 this season.

While it’s going to be a pretty Gator-heavy race, the names are what make this a big one. Smith, the Olympic bronze medalist in the equivalent 400 free, swam the fastest 500 free ever at the 2020 SEC Championships, and then tied it at the 2021 championships. That means a record watch is on. Then there’s Finke, the Olympic champion at 800 and 1500 meters, who was in a walking boot at this meet last year, but seems healthy this year.

That list doesn’t include the most likely swimmer to upset the whole thing, last year’s SEC runner-up and NCAA Champion, Georgia sophomore Jake Magahey. The second-fastest swimmer in history, he too swam a 4:06 at last year’s SEC Championship.

If Magahey pulls the upset, that makes it a huge race too. Either way, we get a big storyline.

50 Free

There is no Dressel-like monolith in the SEC sprint group this season, but there is an Olympic gold medalist, Brooks Curry, Florida sophomore Adam Chaney, one of the fastest freshmen ever last season for a 3rd place finish at NCAAs, and Dillon Downing from Georgia, who was 4th at NCAAs last year.

In fact, there are four guys in this field who have been sub-19 seconds, and that doesn’t include the standout Tennessee first-year Jordan Crooks, who looked very sharp against Carson-Newman last week in his best dual meet time of the season. He really has settled into yards racing, especially in this spring semester, and that gives him upset potential.

Curry enters as the top seed, and while the 100 is his better race, it seems like he’s been putting a lot of focus on this 50 this season under new head coach Rick Bishop. That gives him a puncher’s chance against a very good field.

Predictions: Swimulator

As alluded to above, last year’s runners-up Georgia are better than Swimulator projects them to be, because of mid-season absences.

Most of the SEC teams have good divers, but Kentucky, Tennessee, and Texas A&M should be the highest diving scorers.

Note that these scores include Bobby Finke competing for Florida, who has dropped out of the meet.

  1. Florida – 1,231
  2. Alabama – 941
  3. Auburn – 878
  4. Missouri – 823.5
  5. Tennessee – 816.5
  6. Georgia – 739
  7. Texas A&M – 684.5
  8. LSU – 361.5
  9. South Carolina – 356.5
  10. Kentucky – 315.5

Predictions: SwimSwam

Florida seems firmly in control here. Auburn being in contention for a top 2 finish in Ryan Wochomurka’s first year, a year after finishing 8th, is incredible.

But it feels like Auburn went all-in on their invite, and it’s going to be tough for them to repeat that performance at the conference meet.

If that hunch is right, then that leaves Missouri, Alabama, Tennessee, and Georgia with their strong diving corps, as the battle for 2nd place. This one should come down to where each team decides to place their efforts between the conference and NCAA Championship meet.

While Missouri and Alabama are clearly the better positioned of those two teams for SECs, Tennessee has enough depth to stay close at SECs. My hunch is that those are the motivation factors of those programs – Alabama and Missouri for top 10 NCAA spots, and Tennessee and Georgia for maximizing SEC placement.

I see the Volunteers jumping the rankings here, as they so often show up well at the conference meet, even if they pay the price at NCAAs.

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

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David Granero Sánchez
6 months ago

Please, could you tell me how can I see the results of the meeting? If I follow the link call “live results” attached in the top of the page I see the results of Tennessee vs Carson Newman

Former Big10
6 months ago

Anze is in his first season with A n M, he’s the school record holder for Iowa, no?

Mike
6 months ago

Sates is looking like ripped and ready…

chickenlamp
6 months ago
Last edited 6 months ago by chickenlamp
BigCarotTop
6 months ago

tennessee has 3 more crack breaststrokers besides Houlie.. add onsome deep sprinters and flyers and the Vols can break into the top 3 again,,if not better

secfan
6 months ago

In what world is Tennessee getting 2nd?

96Swim
6 months ago

Auburn winning 16 in a row from 1997 to 2012 is kinda crazy. Florida, Georgia and a few other schools definitely fielded some really solid teams in that timeframe.

Swimm
6 months ago

Auburn is on the right path, but they finish at best 6th here. Not enough talent on the roster to compete with Alabama, UGA, Mizzou, & UT in an SEC setting.

Rowdy Marsh
Reply to  Swimm
6 months ago

They’re getting better. Heck, it’ll be nice just to see Auburn win some events again. Times are dropping pretty consistently..

swimmer
Reply to  Rowdy Marsh
6 months ago

Fact: Their training (and then performances) were heavily impacted by the covid regulations imposed by the Auburn athletic department last year; not having to deal with that (plus with this year’s talented recruiting class) was going to result in improvements (you and your fellow alums were told that last spring) 🙄

Rowdy Marsh
Reply to  swimmer
6 months ago

I see the Gary Taylor support club has arrived.

I have nothing against Coach Taylor. It was just an overall feeling it was time to try a different direction.

Last edited 6 months ago by Rowdy Marsh
Thoughts
Reply to  Rowdy Marsh
6 months ago

Gary Taylor club or not. I would hope that Auburn looks better. New coach with top recruiting class, recruited by Taylor and staff, and COVID restrictions gone. If they don’t compete better than last year then the Auburn Athletic Department Destruction continues across all sports. Auburn is a mess!

swimapologist
Reply to  Thoughts
6 months ago

Why y’all so hard on this “recruiting” thing? Yes Gary recruited a good class for this year. But if you’re the head coach at Auburn, three years in, you don’t get to score 0 points at NCAAs and say “wait until next year.” The paycheck is way too big to justify that, sorry. You wanna justify a 15th place finish at NCAAs? Fine. A little dip? Fine. But Gary wasn’t getting his job done. Purreud.

Also, pleeeeease someone describe to me the draconian COVID measures at *checks notes* Auburn University in Alabama that are so much worse than any other school had to face. Please please please describe those to me.

I'll answer that one...
Reply to  swimapologist
6 months ago

  1. Your assumption of “Auburn” is the Auburn of the glory days…not the reality of the 2018 Auburn (more like a dumpster fire.) Athletes had been out of the water for months, lots of drinking/drugs, the roster was essentially walk-ons that wouldn’t score at conference (with the exception of a handful of swimmers, but no depth) and the overall state of the program was a complete mess… Athletes these days are not old enough to remember Auburn being a real “force” or a championship program. Recruiting the caliber of athletes that Taylor and his staff did (along with laying the foundation for THIS year, in which Taylor told us alums LAST SPRING he was doing, and that the program would
… Read more »

Rowdy Marsh
Reply to  Thoughts
6 months ago

Aside from football, how is Auburn a mess?

swimmer
Reply to  Rowdy Marsh
6 months ago

As an Auburn fan, you should ask your folks who moved in next to the AD’s office and THEN tell us Auburn Athletics are not a mess.

Rowdy Marsh
Reply to  swimmer
6 months ago

Burgess left the AD months ago and ADAG was really never the problem. There was some fallout to deal with that is left over from Leath’s tenure, but the department has just about moved on from that era. If you think burgess is still in the AD, you need to get better sources.

About Braden Keith

Braden Keith

Braden Keith is the Editor-in-Chief and a co-founder/co-owner of SwimSwam.com. He first got his feet wet by building The Swimmers' Circle beginning in January 2010, and now comes to SwimSwam to use that experience and help build a new leader in the sport of swimming. Aside from his life on the InterWet, …

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