TUSCALOOSA, Alabama, February 26. IN the middle of the intense action at the Southeastern Conference swimming and diving championships was a previously overlooked school that made a big statement about the bright future of its program.
The University of Alabama, now in its second season under head coach Dennis Pursley and a talented assistant coaching staff, had no swims higher than third place at the 2013 conference meet. This year, the Tide celebrated a conference title from Anton McKee and a runner-up swim from its men’s 200 free relay. The performances helped the Tide men’s team to a fourth-place finish, a big move up from 10th place in 2013. Fourth place is the highest conference rank for Alabama in 22 years.
Equally impressive was the women’s team, who moved up from 10th to eighth place in one year.
“Last year’s team laid the foundation, so we expected to take a bit leap forward this year,” Pursley said. “But our team performance exceeded even those high expectations.”
Certainly McKee’s 1:51.59 in the 200 breaststroke was a surprise among everyone in the Tide camp. The swim gave Alabama its first swimming conference title in seven years and puts a Tide swimmer in the top three of the national rankings going into the NCAA championships. McKee has been having an exceptional season, putting up top-ranked swims in both breaststrokes at the start of the season.
On the team side, the men and women had what Pursley called “unprecedented” success throughout the meet. From the 17 school records to 93 percent of swims producing lifetime bests, it was one of the best overall meets by any of the teams in the SEC.
Like many teams, Alabama is not resting on its laurels during these crucial weeks leading up to the women’s and men’s NCAA championships. The squad could see its largest representation at the season-ending meet. How that translates to points scored and performances in March remains to be seen.
“Today, the focus shifts to preparation for the goals of exceeding these performances in next month’s NCAA championships and next year’s championship competition,” Pursley said. “The Tide is truly rising!”