It’s a phrase you don’t hear often in sports: a 10-peat.
A decade of success for the Florida Gators swimming and diving program continued at the SEC Championships in Knoxville, Tennessee, from Tuesday through Saturday. The Gators’ men won their 10th straight and 43rd overall title, finishing with 1,414 points over the five-day long event.
Florida took home 16 medals divided between nine gold, two silver and five bronze. The lone podium appearance for the women’s squad was a bronze in the 400-yard free relay, the final event of the meet. Florida’s women finished with 905 points, good enough to record a fifth-place finish.
The men’s and women’s teams arrived in Knoxville ranked No. 5 and 17 respectively by the College Swimming & Diving Coaches Association of America.
The first day of events saw Florida capture two gold medals in the men’s 200-yard medley relay and 800-yard free relay. Their one minute, 22.06 second time in the 200 set a new SEC meet record, while a 6:08.00 finish in the 800 set a new overall SEC standard.
Senior Kieran Smith knew the importance of starting off strong in one of the premier meets of the season.
"That was a great, great win,” Smith said. “We knew we had a really good set of relays to start off the meet with the 200-medley relay and 800, and we delivered, obviously.”
The Ridgefield, Connecticut, native returned to gold-medal territory on day three with a top finish in the 400-yard individual medley.
Florida used three podium appearances on the second day of competition to snag first place away from Texas A&M. Smith teamed up with sophomore Adam Chaney, junior Eric Friese and freshman Maguire McDuff to earn gold in the 200-yard free relay with a meet best 1:15.18 effort.
Chaney praised McDuff for rising to the occasion in his first SEC Championship action, getting the Gators to the wall first.
"We had some people out but with this group of guys, especially [McDuff] coming in and stepping up on that relay, it was awesome,” Chaney said. “I can't even describe how it felt."
Chaney also won a bronze medal Wednesday with an 18.81 second time in the 50-yard freestyle. Smith placed runner-up in the 500-yard freestyle to earn his third podium of the meet.
“This meet so far has been a roller coaster for me, started the first night with such a great relay, kept things going and then came up short on the 500,” Smith said. “I didn't swim the race how I wanted to.”
“To be first tonight and have an SEC championship under my belt as a senior, it is all I could ask for."
On the penultimate day of the meet, Chaney continued to shine.
The sophomore from Mason, Ohio became the first Gator to win gold in the 100-yard backstroke since 2011. His 44.51 second time broke former Olympian Ryan Lochte’s school record (44.60) that had stood untouched since 2005.
Chaney was also a member of the 400-yard medley relay squad that brought Florida the gold. Him, Smith, Friese, and sophomore Amro Al-Wir combined to clock a 3:02.61 time.
"I had pretty good confidence,” Chaney said. “This morning felt really good, and I just felt clean in the water, and I knew that I could bring it tonight."
The Gators capped off the meet with three more gold medals during Saturday’s finale.
Smith came through again in the 200-yard backstroke with a 1:39.51 performance. The quartet of McDuff, Friese, Chaney and Smith won their second race together in the 400-yard free relay, touching the wall in two minutes, 46.91 seconds.
Junior Trey Freeman struck gold in the meet’s longest race — the 1650-yard swim. The Salt Lake City, Utah, native edged out Georgia sophomore Jake Magahey by less than a half second, winning the title in 14 minutes, 39.74 seconds.
Head coach Anthony Nesty reflected on his personal journey after the victory.
"As an alumni and now as a coach, it has been my lifelong dream to be the coach at Florida and it came through a couple of years ago, Nesty said. “10 in a row. We are going to enjoy this, but we have a lot more work to do.”
Florida will next participate in the NCAA Diving Zones from March 6-9 and the NCAA Championships from March 16-19. Both competitions will be held in Atlanta, Georgia.
Contact Ethan Eibe at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @EthanEibe.