The Florida men’s and women’s swimming and diving teams will both hit the pool deck for the first time this season on Friday at Georgia’s Gabrielsen Natatorium in Athens.
The women will kick their season off first, with their meet starting at 10 a.m. The No. 10 Gators will go head-to-head against the No. 4 Georgia Bulldogs. Florida’s women’s team includes 23 returners and 12 new swimmers after losing 13 graduates last year.
One key for the women’s swim team in this top-10 showdown is the continued success of junior returner Vanessa Pearl. Dominant in the breaststroke and the individual medley, Pearl currently holds UF’s school record in both the 200-yard breast and 200-yard IM along with seven All-American distinctions. The Gators will need Pearl to perform to her standard as she faces off against Georgia’s top breaststroke and IM swimmer, Zoie Hartman.
Other keys for the women include top performances from All-American Leah Braswell in the 500-yardand 1650-yard freestyle races. For the women divers, returners Elizabeth Perez and Emma Whitner are expected to start off strong after securing their first SEC medals last season.
The men’s team will start after the women at 2 p.m., and in their case they reside on top of Georgia in the rankings heading into the season. It will still be another top-10 showdown, though, with the Gators at No. 3 and the Bulldogs at No. 8.
Gator fans will recognize most Florida swimmers and divers, since the team consists of 25 returners and 16 newcomers. The men look to start the season off strong in search of a ninth-straight SEC Championship title.
A big key for the men this season will be the return of 2020 SEC Male Swimmer of the Year, Kieran Smith. The junior holds the American, NCAA, SEC and Florida records in the 500-yard freestyle. Junior returner Robert Finke will also help lead the charge for the men after a dominating 2019-20 season in the 1,650-yard freestyle, which he holds the American, NCAA, SEC and Florida records for.
The return of Trey Freeman will also be huge for the Gators. In the 2019-20 season, Freeman only participated in two meets before suffering a season-ending knee injury. The return of the 2019 All-SEC first team and freshman team should give the Gators another boost.
The women’s matchup will mark the 34th time that Florida and Georgia meet in the pool. The Gators look to extend a two-meet win streak over the Bulldogs. The men’s programs have met 81 times, with the Gators leading the rivalry 60-18-3.
Unlike other Gators sports this season, the 2020-21 swimming and diving schedule includes out of conference matchups, though all will take place in the state of Florida. The women swimmers are slated to participate in seven regular-season meets before the SEC Championships, with one extra for the divers. The men will participate in five meets, with one additional for just the divers, before heading into the postseason.
On Friday, you can catch the women at 10 a.m. and the men at 2 p.m. on the SEC Network+ with live updates on the MeetMobile app.
This article was updated to reflect that the meet's events were measured in yards, rather than meters as The Alligator originally reported.
Contact Sara Kate Dyson at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @sarakatedyson.