Before the Southeastern Conference Championships began in Columbia, Missouri, the UF men’s swimming and diving team, ranked No. 9, had a target painted on its back.
Despite a 2-2 record in SEC dual meets this season, the Gators were pegged as one of the favorites to win the SEC Championship for the fourth consecutive year.
And they lived up to the hype, winning the championship with a score of 1,275 points.
Sophomore Caeleb Dressel, who was named SEC Male Swimmer of the Meet, was the best overall swimmer in Columbia. After five days of competition, the Green Cove Springs native accumulated six individual SEC championships — twice as many as Florida’s next highest individual total.
One of Dressel’s biggest performances at the SEC meet was in the 50-yard freestyle. His winning time of 18.23 seconds not only broke the conference and American record, but it also shattered his time from last season’s SEC meet by 0.70 seconds.
While Troy was astonished by how much Dressel has improved over the last year, he was not surprised by what he saw from his sophomore star.
"A few weeks ago I had him and I saw some things that I had never seen before in practice," Troy said. "I was pretty certain that he was going to be good."
The UF women’s team, ranked No. 9, was also considered one of the favorites to win the conference title. But with only three total victories over a five-day span and a total score of 754 points, the Gators finished in sixth place.
Even though the UF women’s team was unable to match the dominance of the men’s team, there were still some exceptional performances on the women’s side last week.
Senior diver Kahlia Warner captured two of Florida’s three victories in the 1-meter and 3-meter dives, scoring 346.10 and 383.75 points. Having improved her technique in both dives under second-year diving coach Dale Schultz, Warner’s performance was good enough to earn her SEC Female Diver of the Meet.
"It was about this time last year that she bought into what we were doing," Schultz said. "It’s been good. She’s a trooper… and we’ve got a lot of goals ahead of us."
Troy said was proud of the way both of his teams performed in the SEC meet.
As the men’s team captured its fourth conference championship under his tenure, Troy admitted there was a significant increase in difficulty this season.
"For winning four in a row, this one was harder, there’s no doubt about it," Troy said. "There’s an expectation that goes with championships. The guys felt that."
Georgia and Auburn, each of which defeated the men’s team at home this season, were the two biggest threats to end Florida’s championship streak. But the Gators avenged their losses, edging the Tigers by 52 points and defeating the Bulldogs by 265.
Now, the Gators’ focus turns to preparing for the NCAA Championships, which begin on March 7.
The Gators currently have 11 guaranteed spots in the NCAA meet. Both the men’s and women’s teams will try to win the program’s first national championship since 1984 and 2010, respectively.
Even with a larger field and less room for error ahead of them, the Gators are confident in their chances at capturing a national title.
"First time since I’ve been here at Florida that we’ve had five of the solidest relays we’ve ever had," Troy said.
"(If) we get up and swim great relays like we did this past weekend, we can swim with anyone."