The No. 5 Gators men’s swim and dive team travels to Columbia, Missouri, to take a shot at the competition a week after the women.
The team is looking to secure their ninth first-place championship in the Feb. 23-26 meet.The meet marks one month since the Gators last hit the pool in a tight 521-426 win against Auburn.
The Gators didn’t fail to thrive at their last regular meet, either. They produced seven B-cuts, three being junior Kieran Smith in the 100-yard backstroke, the 100-yard freestyle and the 200-yard individual medley.
Florida’s season was meager and uneventful as they got in three meets before the postseason and hold a shaky .667 win percentage.
The Gators lost to Georgia 134.5-165.5 in the season opener. It was the first time they didn’t win their opening meet since the 2008-09 season and lost to the Bulldogs in an opener since 1952.
Still, Florida performed in its typical, remarkable manner.
Sophomore Trey Freeman made two B-cuts in the 200-and-500-yard freestyle, and Smith had a B-cut performance in the 100-yard freestyle. Freeman also broke his record in the 100-yard freestyle at 44.97.
The team had room for improvement but didn’t drown by any means.
Florida swung back with a 521-426 win at the Auburn invitational in November and notched eight B-cuts across every event.
Star junior Bobby Finke swam the 1650-yard freestyle at 14:34.27 to receive first place and an SEC A-cut. His time, currently the second best in the conference, automatically sends him to the NCAA Championship March 24-27 with an A-cut.
Sophomore Kevin Vargas set a personal record in the 100-yard breaststroke at 54.93. Fellow sophomore Erick Friese also met a high time at 1:17:01 in the 200-yard freestyle and earned an A-cut.
Last year’s championship followed a record-breaking postseason. In the 2020 SEC Championships, Smith set a nationwide record in the 500-yard freestyle at 4:06.32. Finke did the same in the 1650-yard freestyle at 14:12.08.
Head coach Anthony Nesty has high expectations for his team as it enters the conference championships.
“There’s more than one way to win the meet,” he said. “I want to come out the next meet being the best team, no matter we win or not.”
Nesty said he tried to remain calm because being nervous will make his athletes nervous. His main concern, however, is Florida’s age.
Many players are freshman and sophomores and lack conference-wide meet experience, which may affect their performance, he said. There are also the added challenges from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Day one of the championships begins at 11 a.m. with prelims and resumes at 6 p.m. with the 200-yard medley and the 800-yard freestyle relay.
Contact Faith Buckley at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow her Twitter @_fbuckley
Faith Buckley is a first-year journalism student at UF and The Alligator's swimming and diving beat writer. She is specializing in sports media to one day hopefully work as an NHL commentator.