A good way to begin a title defense is getting off to a fast start.
The Florida men’s swimming and diving team did just that, winning both relays races on the first day of conference competition in Columbia, Missouri.
The No. 5-ranked Gators, who have won the Southeastern Conference championship the past three seasons, had a rocky start on the diving boards early Tuesday afternoon. In the 3-meter diving preliminaries, all three of Florida’s divers failed to advance to the final round. Freshman Samuel Smith was Florida’s highest-placed diver, finishing 10th overall.
When it was time for the first races of the meet to begin, however, the Gators showed off their speed. With only two races taking place on Tuesday for both the men’s and women’s teams -- the 200-yard medley relay and the 800-yard freestyle relay -- the UF men’s team swept both events.
In the 200-yard medley relay, senior Corey Main held off a charging Auburn’s Peter Holoda on the final leg by to give the Gators their first victory of the meet by a slim .05 seconds. In the 800-yard freestyle relay, the Gators took an early lead over and never looked back, clinching their second victory of the day by nearly two seconds over No. 6 Auburn.
Sophomore Jan Switkowski, who is competing in his first SEC championship meet this week, played an important role for both of UF’s victories. He served as the third leg on the 200-yard medley relay and as the anchor for the 800-yard freestyle relay.
On the women’s side, the No. 9-ranked Gators started the day strong but fell off late.
Senior diver Kahlia Warner, Florida’s top diver this season, finished first in the 1-meter diving competition. It would be the last time the UF women’s team would taste victory on Tuesday.
In the 200-yard medley relay, the Gators finished a disappointing 10th, nearly five seconds slower than first place Tennessee. The Gators were more successful on the 800-yard freestyle relay, but still managed to finish third behind No. 1 Georgia and No. 5 Texas A&M.
In the beginning of the 800-yard freestyle relay, the Gators managed to keep up with the Bulldogs in the first two legs. Senior Natalie Hinds, who competed in the second leg, managed to keep the Gators within striking distance of the Bulldogs at the halfway point of the race.
The Gators, however, struggled to find speed in the second half of the race. They eventually lost second place during the third leg to the Aggies and, in the end, finished about eight seconds behind the winning Bulldogs.
Both teams will begin day two of the five-day long conference meet tomorrow at 10 a.m.