The 2015 SEC Championships have concluded in Auburn, Alabama. What did we learn on day 5? Here are 6 big things that stood out:
1. Danielle Galyer joins the most crowded party in the NCAA: For the second day in a row, the Kentucky Wildcats got an event win. Tonight’s came from sophomore Danielle Galyer, who had an insane breakout swim. Galyer, a sophomore, entered the meet with a lifetime-best of 1:53.28. But Galyer left the night as an SEC Champion after going 1:50.95. Galyer didn’t even make the A final in this event a year ago, but won the whole thing in 2015. She now moves up into the top 10 nationally (she would be #4, though the results of other conference meets this weekend will bump her down some) and becomes yet another NCAA A final contender in what might be the deepest and fastest event in the NCAA right now.
2. Kylie Stewart saving rest? Speaking of the 200 back, Georgia’s star freshman was fairly underwhelming in her SEC debut. Stewart, one of only a handful of swimmers to ever break 1:50 in the 200 back, was just 1:52.82 for fifth, not even breaking her own season-best. It’s very possible that Georgia is saving her full rest for the NCAA Championships, which would make for a compelling rematch with Galyer. Then again, freshman seasons are notoriously tricky, and it’s possible the transition to college swimming is taking a bit longer with Stewart. We won’t know the full answer until the NCAA Championships, but whatever the case turns out to be, Stewart’s swimming could have major impacts on Georgia’s repeat national title hopes.
3.Gkolomeev’s big step forward: Alabama’s Greek sprinter Kristian Gkolomeev has been tearing it up at this year’s SEC Championships. A co-NCAA champ as a freshman, the lanky swimmer just now seems to be really putting it all together – he won both the 50 and 100 frees and was a nightmare for opponents on relay splits all week long. The compressed NCAA meet schedule (3 days instead of 5) will be a challenge for Gkolomeev, but if he continues his meteoric rise, he could turn out to be among the NCAA’s best overall swimmers next month.
4. Young Gamecocks making waves: One of the more impressive teams on the men’s side tonight was South Carolina, who had multiple big swims from young athletes. It started with freshmen Tom Peribonio and Akaram Mahmoud (4th and 5th in the 1650) and ended with another rookie, Nils Wich-Glasen (2nd in the 200 breast) to give South Carolina it’s best SEC finish in a long time. The Gamecocks wound up 7th after taking dead last in 2014, and with this young roster, we could be seeing a further rise from this team in the coming years.
5. Georgia men still lacking sprinters: The big knock on the Georgia men this year has been their lack of true sprinters to fill out their relay races, and that was pretty much the only thing holding them back from an SEC title this year. UGA, while putting together some outstanding individual swims from characters like Matias Koski (1650 winner) and Nic Fink (200 breast winner), couldn’t finish higher than 3rd in any relay, and took 4th in the 400 free relay to end the night with a relay team of their miler Koski, their breaststroker Fink, and their IMer Gunnar Bentz along with Michael Trice, the team’s only true sprinter. If Georgia plans to move up in the SEC and nationally, they’ll have to follow their women’s team’s pattern of dominating the freestyle events through all the distances – 50 to 1650.
6. Burchell’s big break & the rise of Alabama: One of the best races of the night was the women’s 200 breast, where Alabama senior Kaylin Burchell erased a 1.5-second lead over the final 50 to win the SEC title. Burchell is one of a number of Crimson Tide athletes who are really starting to rise to the top of the conference. Though ‘Bama isn’t yet ready to compete with the big dogs in the conference points-wise, the development of swimmers like Burchell and Gkolomeev is a promising sign about the future of the program.