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Tuesday, May 28, 2024

Florida men’s swim and dive places third at NCAA Championships

Gators claimed three individual national titles last week in Atlanta

Senior Kieran Smith and his teammates shattered a UF swim record on their way to third place in the NCAA Nationals
Senior Kieran Smith and his teammates shattered a UF swim record on their way to third place in the NCAA Nationals

Florida men’s swim and dive team put an exclamation point on its season with a podium finish at the NCAA Championships. 

The Gators accumulated 374 points during the four-day meet at the McAuley Center in Atlanta, Georgia, to earn the bronze, finishing behind the California Golden Bears and Texas Longhorns. 

It is the second-consecutive bronze finish at the NCAAs for the Gators, who have not placed higher than third since 1985 (silver) and 1984 (gold). 

“It feels really good to get top-8 and top-4 in the nation knowing there are 50 states and a lot of people in this country who dive,” junior diver Leonardo Garcia said. “That motivates me to keep working hard.” 

Florida made its mark by garnering three event national titles and an impressive 42 All-American honors. The orange and blue led off the meet with its first-ever national championship in the 200-yard medley relay. 

Seniors Will Davis, Dillion Hillis, junior Eric Friese and sophomore Adam Chaney combined for a one-minute, 21.13-second swim. Chaney completed the first 50 yards with a 20.19 backstroke and Hillis followed with a 23.20 backstroke. 

Friese and Davis carried the final two legs with a 19.36 butterfly and 18.38 freestyle respectively. 

The Gators demonstrated their prowess during the first day of competition with an All-American seventh-place finish in the 800-yard free relay. The team of senior Kieran Smith, juniors Trey Freeman, Alfonso Mestre and freshman Oskar Lindholm showed out to clock in at 6:09.01.

Florida continued its winning in the 200-yard free relay, securing its first national championship in the event since 2018. The quartet of Chaney, Friese, Smith and Davis shattered the school record with a 1:14.11 time, besting the previous mark by 0.29 seconds. 

Smith was one of four Gators to receive All-American accolades in the 500-yard freestyle to wrap up Thursday’s events. Florida remained just 21 points behind front-runner Texas heading into day three. 

Florida racked up eight All-American honors and two top-3 finishes to conclude Friday.

Chaney earned the bronze in the 100-yard backstroke, completing the race in 44.35 seconds and eclipsing a UF benchmark previously set by himself. The Mason, Ohio, native aided in another record-breaking relay performance to wrap up Friday’s action, complementing Hillis, Friese and Smith yet again with a third-place finish in the 400-yard medley relay (3:01.00). 

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Other top performers Friday included senior Bobby Finke and junior Kevin Vargas (400-yard individual medley) as well as Freeman (200-yard freestyle). 

Gators diving made its presence felt through Garcia’s eighth-place effort on the 3-meter springboard. The Cali, Colombia, native tallied 397.70 points. Garcia continued his success during Saturday’s finale with a fourth-place, 406.05 point performance on the platform dive.

“I have been doing these dives for over a year and half now,” Garcia said. “The more you do them, the more confident you feel. I really want to keep working hard so I can get more consistent and have even better results.”

Junior Anton Svirskyi earned the first Honorable Mention All-American accolade of his career, placing seventh in the platform Consolation Final. The Ukrainian chipped in two points to the Gators’ team total. 

Despite being unable to hang on to a second-place finish, Florida closed the meet with a bang thanks to Finke’s second-straight national championship in the 1,650-yard freestyle. The Clearwater, Florida, native broke a pool record and showed incredible endurance by touching the wall in 14:22.28.

Florida’s senior class certainly rose to the occasion, as Davis, Finke, Hillis and Smith ended up with a combined 17 All-American honors.

This is the end of the line for a Florida squad that captured its 10th-consecutive SEC Championship last month and will retain a plethora of young, talented swimmers to keep the Gators among the top aquatic teams in the nation.

“I think you can be very talented, but if you don’t put enough work into it, I don’t think you are going to achieve,” Garcia said. “I am a strong believer in hard work, and it pays off. I am very excited [about the future of the program].”

Contact Ethan Eibe at Follow him on Twitter @EthanEibe.

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Ethan Eibe

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.

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