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Monday, June 17, 2024
Florida diver Casey Greenberg dives in the Gators' Senior Day meet against the Florida Atlantic Owls Friday, Jan. 13, 2023.
Florida diver Casey Greenberg dives in the Gators' Senior Day meet against the Florida Atlantic Owls Friday, Jan. 13, 2023.

The Gators left the pool Saturday night holding their Southeastern Conference title trophy. 

For the first time since 1993, UF won both the men’s and women’s titles in the same season making them the first SEC school to win both in the same season in 15 years. 

The No. 5 Florida men grabbed their 11th consecutive SEC Championship, scoring a total of 1,488.5 points. For the first time since 2009, the No. 6 Florida women are SEC Champions with a total of 1,255 points bringing home the 18th conference title in school history. 

The win marks Florida’s 44th SEC Championship in program history — the second-most by any SEC team across all sports. The Gators are only the third team in the history of the SEC Championships to reach 11 consecutive titles.

The titles officially give Florida their 257th and 258th SEC Championship titles, a league high. Florida has won at least one SEC team title in each of the past 45 seasons.

Head coach Anthony Nesty won his fifth-straight men’s title, and his first women’s title with Florida. The dual titles make Nesty the second coach in UF history to win a men’s and women’s title in the same season.

Florida’s swimming and diving team headed to College Station, Texas, for the SEC Championships. It had 23 All-Americans in attendance — 12 on the men’s team and 11 on the women’s team. 

The Gators claimed four medals on opening day.

In the first race, Florida sophomore Aris Runnels, graduate student Nina Kucheran, sophomore Olivia Peoples and senior Katie Mack collected silver in the 200-meter medley relay with a school record time of 1:34.76. They came into the race in lane eight, claiming the final qualifying spot for the second heat of the finals.

Florida junior Adam Chaney, freshman Aleksas Savickas, senior Eric Friese and freshman Joshua Liendo fell short of gold by a 30th of a second in the 200-meter medley relay. The team claimed silver and now holds the second-fastest 200 medley time in SEC championships history, behind only Tennessee. 

In the 800-meter freestyle relay, sophomore Ekaterina Nikonova, senior Talia Bates, sophomore Emma Weyant and sophomore Micayla Cronk won gold with the third-fastest time in program history, 6:57.11. The team earned the Gators’ first conference title of the week.

In the men’s 800-meter freestyle relay, sophomore Macguire McDuff, sophomore Julian Smith, senior Alfonso Mestre and junior Jake Mitchell led a pool record and achieved gold — Florida’s fourth medal of the night. Mitchell’s anchor split secured the award with a finalized pool record of 6:08.64, just less than four seconds ahead of the rest of the field. 

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Head coach Anthony Nesty spent the championships searching for his fifth-straight men’s title and first women’s title at the helm for Florida. Nesty admired the Gators’ strong start in the tournament. 

“Really proud of the effort we showed on night one,” Nesty said. “Excited to see what we do for the rest of the week, we just have to continue to work hard and continue the Gator standard.”

In the 1-meter diving preliminaries, senior Leonardo Garcia placed 11th, adding 289.95 points for Florida. Junior Anton Svirskyi ended in 23rd, and senior Skip Donald landed in 26th. 

In the women’s 3-meter preliminaries, senior Maha Amer slotted in 13th place following sophomore Carina Lumia’s 11th-place finish; sophomore Elettra Neroni claimed 29th place with 226.60 points. 

Opening day ended with the Florida women ranked second in team scores with 150 points, and the men in fourth with 138 points.

The Gators left the pool on day two with eight more medals and a lead in both men’s and women’s events.

Nikonova, Mack, Bates and Cronk registered bronze in the first race of the night in the women’s 200-meter freestyle relay with a time of 1:27.28.

McDuff, Liendo, Chaney and Mestre’s 1:14.19 time nearly broke the 13-year NCAA records with the second-fastest time in Florida history in the 200-meter freestyle relay.

The Gators held four of the top five finishes in the men’s 500-meter freestyle. Mitchell claimed the third-fastest time in Florida history at 4:09.85 to win gold; Alfonso Mestre swam a 4:10.15-minute time to secure bronze. Both Mitchell and Mestre swam A-cut times. Every Gator in the event had B-cut times. 

Liendo’s third medal was silver in the 50-meter freestyle; she ended with a time of 18.39 seconds. Chaney finished in 18.71 seconds, a career-best and A-cut time. Tennessee freshman Jordan Crooks won gold with a 17.93-second time, following Caleb Dressel as the second swimmer to ever finish quicker than 18 seconds. 

Emma Weyant’s 4:37.96 earned bronze and was the sixth-fastest time in Florida history in only her third meet as a Gator. Amer brought the Gators’ their first diving medal with her silver-medal finish in the 1-meter with a 299.60. 

“She got her confidence back and kept going with it, and I could not be more proud of somebody in my entire coaching career,” said head diving coach Bryan Gillooly. “It was outstanding.”

The Gators collected 16 medals through three days of competition while holding their leads on both the men’s and women’s side.

Liendo, who trailed Tennessee’s Crooks on day 2 in the 50-meter freestyle, surpassed him in the 100-meter butterfly preliminary Thursday morning. He pushed in the last 25 yards to earn his first individual gold medal in the tournament. 

“I still have to work on my turns, but I knew it was going to come down to it with a race that close,” Liendo said. “It came down to the details, and coming off that last wall, I just wanted to bring it home.”

The Canadian Olympian’s 44.11-second time clocked his fastest time of the season and the second-fastest in school history; he trailed Dressel’s NCAA record by 90 seconds.

Weyant picked up her second gold of the week in the women’s 400-meter individual medley; she had the second-fastest time in the NCAA this season and second-fastest in program history. Her 4:01.18-minute time was five seconds less than her preliminary time. The Olympic silver medalist finished more than three seconds ahead of the rest of her conference. 

Cronk’s career-best 1:43.77-minute swim took the fourth-fastest time in Florida history in the 200-meter freestyle, promising another bronze for the Gators. McDuff tapped the wall in 1:32.34 minutes, granting him his first individual bronze medal of the championships.

The Gators set four records and left with six more medals, for a total of 22, Friday night. They stayed in the lead in both the men’s and women’s events.

Sophomore Joaquin Gonzalez Pinero claimed the first medal of the night for the Gators. He clocked the sixth-fastest time in school history at 1:41.37 minutes, winning silver in the 200-meter butterfly.

Runnels, Kucheran, Peoples and Cronk earned bronze with the second-fastest time in school history, shaving 4.54 seconds off its seeded time in the 400-meter medley relay. 

Kucheran secured a Florida record with a 59.12-second time in the women’s 100-meter breaststroke A-final. She now ranks at the top of Florida history in her first season with the Gators. 

In the 100-meter backstroke, Runnels, the only Gator, improved her time with 51.97 seconds; she ended in sixth place and moved into the top-five fastest times in school history. 

Chaney, Hillis, Leiendo and McDuff’s time of 2:59.48 minutes in the 400-meter medley relay nearly broke the all-time record of 2:59.22. The team destroyed the SEC, meet, and school record to make the Gators a three-time defending conference champion in the event.

Florida went one-two in the 100-meter breaststroke. Savickas won silver, just 0.05 seconds short of Dillon Hills’s gold-winning time of 51.02 seconds. Julian Smith finished sixth, and the Gators ended with three spots in the top-six finishes.

Savickas solidified his name in SEC and Florida history with a 1:50.08-minute time in the 200-meter breaststroke, smashing the SEC, meet, pool and school record. Hills trailed behind him, snatching silver with a career-best time of 1:51.14.

Nikonova, Bates, Mack and Cronk set a school record with their 3:10.83-minute time. McDuff, Liendo, Chaney, and Smith’s efforts fell short of gold but still earned a silver medal for the Gators.

The men’s 100-meter freestyle had four Gators competing. Liendo pulled another silver medal when he swam a 41.24-second time. McDuff landed fourth, Smith ended in seventh and Chaney placed eighth.

Garcia brought Florida its first men’s diving medal and second overall. His second dive scored a 96.00 with five ten’s from the judges and a final dive of 88.40, garnering bronze with a total of 418.65.

Nikonova earned bronze in the 100-meter freestyle swimming, the fourth-fastest time in school history. 

In the men’s 1,650-meter freestyle, Watson won bronze swimming, the fourth-fastest time in school history. Hayden Miller claimed a top-five finish at 15:49.21, making the eighth all-time in Florida history. 

In the women’s 200-meter backstroke final, Weyant and Zavaros finished seventh and eighth. Freshman Zoe Dixon finished fourth in the B-final, placing 12th overall.

The record-breaking results leave Florida fans and swimmers hopeful for a subsequent title at the NCAA.

“I really think Florida has a realistic shot at winning the national title when we get to Minneapolis… I think it definitely can happen.” said Rowdy Gaines, former Olympic swimmer and swimming announcer. 

Florida will compete again in the Bulldogs Last Chance Meet from Feb. 24-25 in Athens, Georgia. 

Contact Krisha Sanghavi at ksanghavi@alligator.org. Follow her on Twitter @krishasang.

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Krisha Sanghavi

Krisha Sanghavi is a third-year public relations and economics major. In her free time, she loves cheering on Miami sports teams and spending time with her friends.


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