The Florida Gators men’s and women’s swim and dive teams are headed into their final two days of competition at the SEC Championship in Auburn, Alabama.
The men, ranked 11th in-country, hold the top spot on the leaderboard with a 156 point lead over second-place Texas A&M. The women remain in second behind Tennessee. Women’s head coach Jeff Poppell said following Thursday’s competition, “We’re still very much in the team race, just down 47 points to Tennessee. We don’t have many swims tomorrow so we’ll need to make the most of our opportunities to stay in the hunt heading into Saturday.”
Women’s Swim and Dive:
The team claimed three medals on Thursday night. Vanessa Pearl secured a runner-up bid in the 400 IM, swimming a new season-best swim of 4:04.61. Her time marks the fourth-fastest time in the NCAA this season.
“I’m really proud of Vanessa and the way that she competed in the 400 IM. She had a little goggle mishap on the start but battled through the swim regardless,” Poppell said. “I think that swim sets her up really well for the NCAAs in just under a month.”
Next, Sherridon Dressel recorded the third-fastest 100 fly swim in Florida history. Dressel earned a bronze medal and a notched a lifetime-best effort of 51.20 and improved on her previous morning race time by shaving off .40 seconds.
“Sherridon has come so far since her freshman year and it’s just so awesome to see the success that she is having as a senior,” Coach Poppell said. “That was Sherridon’s first individual swim of the meet and a great way to get things rolling heading into tomorrow’s 100 Back, her best event.”
Finally, diver Elizabeth Perez received a podium finish for the first time in her career at the SEC Championships. The sophomore earned a silver medal with 346.50 points and was only 7.25 points of a first-place finish.
Overall, Poppell was pleased with his team’s efforts and said the team had a fantastic day with many outstanding performances both in the pool and on the diving boards. So far the team has racked up four medals, one from day one of competition with the 200 Medley Relay (Dressel, Ball, Garofalo, Pearl- third-fastest in school history) and the three from Pearl, Dressel and Perez on day three.
Men’s Swim and Dive:
For the men, the team had a record day and swept the 400 IM with all three Gators on the podium plus fifth and sixth-place in the event. With two event titles coming from sophomore Kieran Smith and senior Khader Baqlah, the Gators were able to surge to claim the lead on Thursday.
Head Coach Anthony Nesty said, “The 400 IM’ers came in this morning and took care of business. We had five in finals. Obviously, one-two-three tonight is the result of it. We had some really good fly swims as well.”
Smith clinched his second first-place finish in Auburn on Thursday in the 400 IM with a time of 3:37.31. His time holds as the fastest in the NCAA this season and the second-fastest swim in program history.
The new record crushes his previous personal-best by almost three seconds. Smith has had a record week in Auburn. The sophomore had a historical day just a day before on Wednesday in the first day of the competition. Smith clinched first in the 500 Free with a new record time of 4:06.32. His time set a new American and NCAA record.
Finally, senior Khader Baqlah gave the Gators their fourth gold medal in this week’s competition. Baqlah swam a time of 1:32.05 in the 200 free and gained his second career SEC title event. The senior shaved off 1.77 seconds from his preliminary swim to send him to the finals.
“I’m really proud of him. He’s been up and down all year, but he’s finally been able to get his legs underneath him,” Nesty said. “Obviously, winning the championship tonight was very special for him.”
The Gators will go into their final two days of competition with control of the lead and their fate. The competition will wrap up on Saturday and the Gators are a handfull of races away from their eight consecutive SEC Team Championship for the men. The women, with the lead within reach, have the opportunity to bring home the SEC Championship for the first time since 2009.