Junior Leonardo Garcia looked out from beyond the three-meter high diving board, surveying the scene before him. His aquatic kingdom lay below, the calm water patiently waiting for his sixth and final diving attempt.
After a few small hops to build momentum on the board, Garcia launched himself into the air and began his elegant descent towards the blue abyss. Two-and-a-half somersaults and two twists later, Garcia plunged into the water with near-perfect form, breaking the stillness of the pool and the crowd all in one go.
He re-emerged from the water with the widest grin upon his face. Garcia’s “double out” dive had earned him the top spot in the event, besting Auburn’s Connor Pruitt by a 15.45 point margin.
“I had to hit that dive in order to win, so I was just thinking that if I don’t hit it, then I would get second,” Garcia said. “The diver who finished second (Pruitt) and I were completely tied, and it was the last dive, so I had to finish well to make the final result.”
Garcia, who won a silver and bronze medal at the 2021 FINA World Junior Diving Championships in Ukraine last month, wasn’t the only Gator who performed admirably in the last dual-meet of the season.
Florida was victorious in 23 of the 32 events between the men’s and women’s categories on the way to a 201-91 men’s final score and a 184-116 tally for the women, handing Auburn a pair of defeats. The orange and blue were ranked No. 4 (men’s) and No. 16 (women’s) heading into this meet. Auburn carried men’s and women’s rankings of 15th and 19th respectively.
The Gators earned nine competition sweeps, securing both men’s and women’s titles in the 50, 100, 200, 500 and 1000-meter freestyle; 100 and 200-meter butterfly; both diving competitions (men’s three-meter and women’s one-meter springboard); and the 200-meter individual medley.
“We had a good meet today against Auburn. We are thankful for Auburn making the trip to compete with us,” said head coach Anthony Nesty in a release.
Ekaterina Nikonova, Kieran Smith, and Kathleen Golding captured multiple event titles for the Gators over the course of the meet. Nikonova, a freshman from Russia, made her mark in the 50 and 200-meter freestyle, earning times of 22.68 seconds and one minute, 46.61 seconds respectively.
Smith, a senior who took home a bronze medal in the 400-meter freestyle at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, finished first in the 200-meter freestyle by a four-second margin (1:32.96) and 500-meter freestyle (4:18.16).
Golding’s triumphs included the 100-meter freestyle, where she edged out Auburn’s Rebekah Hamilton by about one-tenth of a second in a photo finish, as well as the 200-meter individual medley, where swimmers must perform 50 meters (or two lengths) each of butterfly stroke, backstroke, breaststroke, and freestyle.
Although it proved to not be Auburn’s day, freshman Anastasia Makarova and sophomore Reid Mikuta each won multiple events for the Tigers and accounted for both of Auburn’s event sweeps in the 100 and 200-meter breaststroke races.
This meet also served as Senior Day for the Gators, who honored their 22 upperclassmen with a pre-meet ceremony in front of the fans and the swimmers’ families.
“We really had too many outstanding performances to name them all but this meet was really about the seniors. I am so proud of them,” said head diving coach Bryan Gillooly.
“They have represented this University with class and style and they proved that once again this weekend.”
This was the first event the Gators competed in since Nov. 18-20 at the Georgia Tech Invitational where the men’s squad finished first and the women’s finished as the runner-up. Both teams are now 3-0 in dual-meets this season, with past victories coming against FAU on Oct. 2 and Georgia on Oct. 29. Two other dual-meets were canceled including a November away meet at Florida State and a Jan. 8 home matchup against Texas A&M.
Florida is expected to participate in the Auburn Last Chance Invitational from Feb. 4-6, with championship meets just around the corner. The SEC Championships are less than a month away (Feb. 15-19 in Knoxville, Tenn.), and the NCAA Championships will be held in Atlanta, Ga. in March.
“We are three weeks from the [SEC Championships] and we still have quite a bit of work to do. We will continue to press forward toward our goals and try our best to remain healthy in the process,” said Nesty.
Contact Ethan Eibe at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @EthanEibe.
Ethan Eibe is a second-year UF sports media major and covers Gators baseball for The Alligator. Outside of his writing, Ethan is a play-by-play broadcaster for UF student radio and has spent two summers announcing professional baseball with the Alpine Cowboys. He is a long-suffering Miami Marlins fan.