The Georgia Bulldogs came up with decisive wins over SEC rivals Florida as the college nemeses turned to the Olympic-distance pool for an October dual meet.
The Gators hosted the long course duals, but found themselves in tough shape against a Georgia attack that ruled nearly every race 200 meters and up. Hali Flickinger was most dangerous, winning the 200s of free, fly and back before putting up an outstanding free relay split for the Bulldog women.
Defending SEC champions and 2015 NCAA runners-up, the Georgia women were never really challenged in Gainesville, winning 11 of 16 events, including every race 200 meters or longer.
Flickinger was on fire, going 4-for-4 in her races, including three individual wins. The first came in the 200 free, where she led a 1-2-3-4 finish in 2:01.92. Though only three of the four Bulldogs could score points, it was a huge early point swing for the visitors.
Flickinger’s individual times only got better as the meet went on. She went 2:12.26 to win the 200 fly shortly after that 200 free, blowing out the field by 3.9 seconds. That was another 1-2-3 gut punch for the Bulldogs. Finally, Flickinger took the 200 back in 2:11.83, winning by almost four seconds once again.
Maybe her best swim would come in the 400 free relay, though. Swimming third, Flickinger would split a field-best 56.38, a full second better than the next-best swimmer in the event. That’s over two-and-a-half seconds faster than Flickinger’s individual lifetime-best in the 100 free. Ultimately, Georgia’s team of Olivia Smoliga, Meaghan Raab, Flickinger and Brittany MacLean went 3:50.69 for the easy win.
Also tripling for the Bulldogs was Annie Zhu, who led a breaststroke sweep. She was 1:12.70 to take the 100 breast, with sophomore Raab second. The two repeated that order in the 200 breast, with Zhu winning in 2:34.58. Finally, Zhu and sophomore Megan Kingsley went 1-2 in the 400 IM to close the meet. Zhu was 4:54.38.
Breaststroke was a weak point for both teams last season, but Zhu looks in good form this year, enough to at least hold down the stroke while Georgia’s freestylers rack up the points.
The bright spot for Florida was the sprints, where senior Natalie Hinds went untouched. Hinds beat former NCAA champ Smoliga for the 50 and 100 free wins. Hinds was 26.61 to Smoliga’s 26.68 in the splash-and-dash, and 57.72 to Smoliga’s 58.74 in the longer sprint. In between the two in the 100 was Georgia’s new British import, Shauna Lee, who went 58.45.
A few other notable events:
- The medley relay came down to less than half a second, but Georgia got the touch in 1:58.77. That was thanks mostly to the fly leg, where sophomore Courtney Weaver outsplit her competition by nine tenths of a second.
- MacLean blew out SEC champ Jess Thielmann in the 800, 8:44.35 to 8:51.89. MacLean would also win the 400 in 4:18.70.
- Florida did win a touchout in the 100 back, with Ashlee Linn topping Kylie Stewart 1:03.43 to 1:03.46.
Georgia 169 – Florida 129
In perhaps the more surprising result, the Georgia men beat the defending SEC champs on the road thanks to a late run of 6 straight event wins.
The Bulldogs opened with a 200 medley relay win in a very back-and-forth race. The difference-maker was Pace Clark, who brought his team from behind on the fly leg, outsplitting Florida’s Mark Szaranek by almost a full second with a 24.48.
Compounding matters was that Florida couldn’t use stud freestyler Caeleb Dressel as their anchor. Florida is very thin on breaststrokers, and has been using the NCAA champion sprint freestyler as their breaststroke leg this year. Dressel outsplit Georgia’s James Guest by half a second, but the shuffle left Florida without the firepower to run down Georgia in the closing length.
The Bulldogs went 1:43.51 with the team of Taylor Dale, Guest, Clark and Michael Trice, while Florida was 1:43.92.
Where Georgia ultimately did its damage, though, was in the distance freestyles. The Bulldogs went 1-2 in both the 200 and 400 free, plus won the 800 free.
Matias Koski was the victor in both the 200 and 400. He was 1:51.69 in the former and 4:00.66 in the latter. Kevin Litherland, who was second behind Koski in the 400, won the 800 with an 8:16.34, narrowly beating out Florida’s Arthur Frayler.
Kevin Litherland’s twin brother Jay also had a strong day. Jay was second to Koski in the 200 free, then broke through for two late wins. His 2:03.94 led a 1-2-3 of the 200 back, and he capped the team victory with a 4:25.32 to blow out the 400 IM field at the end of the meet. That 400 IM time was perhaps the highlight of the meet for Georgia and for Litherland, who won World University Games gold for Team USA in the event this summer.
Florida’s Dressel was predictably dominant in the sprints (Georgia’s biggest area of weakness), but definitely showed some of the fatigue that characterizes Florida in-season. Dressel was 22.73 to win the 50 free and 51.61 for the 100 free title, but also fell to third in the 100 fly at 55.07. Georgia’s Clark went 54.83 for that win, with Florida’s new transfer addition Jan Switkowski going 55.05 for second.
A few other notable events:
- Replacing All-American breaststroker Nic Fink is a concern for the Bulldogs, but their breaststroke corps had no problem with the breaststroke-weak Gators. Gunnar Bentz and James Guest combined to go 1-2 in both breaststroke races. Bentz won the 100 in 1:05.86, then gave way to Canadian freshman Guest in the 200, where Guest was 2:23.14.
- Florida did fire back in the 100 back, with Corey Main leading a 1-2 punch. His 56.90 led that event.
- Georgia won the 400 free relay on the final leg. Dressel had used up his four entries for the day, and so though things were essentially deadlocked at the 300, Bentz was able to anchor the Bulldogs past Florida in 3:27.79.
Georgia 172.5 – Florida 127.5