Five Races to Watch at SEC Swimming and Diving Championships

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Shaine Casas is one of the marquee performers of the SEC Swimming and Diving Championships this week. Photo Courtesy: Connor Trimble

The SEC Swimming and Diving Championships kick off the Division I conference championships on Tuesday night from Auburn, Alabama with the 200 medley and 800 free relays as well as the women’s 1m and men’s 3m diving.

The SEC meet is arguably the most intense and most exhilarating of the conference meets. It is debatable that it is a more exciting atmosphere than NCAAs; with nine co-ed teams and three women’s only teams all jam-packed into the same venue.

The meet will start Tuesday night, 24 hours earlier than the women’s Big Ten and ACC meets this week. The first night of SECs is sort of like that first Thursday night of the NFL season. It is one meet that everyone looks forward to and serves as the appetizer for the rest of conference season.

Swimming World has highlighted the five races you will not want to miss this week from SEC Swimming and Diving Championships at Auburn.

SEC SWIMMING AND DIVING CHAMPIONSHIPS PSYCH SHEETS

Men’s 200 Medley Relay

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Alabama’s NCAA winning 200 medley relay last season. Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

Why watch? It’s the first men’s event on Tuesday night and four teams have a legitimate chance of winning it.

Alabama won the national title last year in this event but has only returned one member from last year’s team with backstroker Zane Waddell and yet they still have the top time in the conference. Alabama has seemed to cycle through members of this relay better than they do running backs on the football field. The Tide are seeded 0.01 ahead of Texas A&M while Missouri and Tennessee are both within a half second of those two schools.

Anything can happen in a relay as short as the 200 medley, and it will set the tone for the rest of the week. It usually comes down to the last 25 and there is almost always a ridiculous split thrown down on Tuesday night with memories of Caeleb Dressel of year’s past.

Women’s 50 Free

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Erika Brown at the 2019 NCAA DI Women’s Championship – Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

Why watch? Seniors Erika Brown of Tennessee and Anna Hopkin of Arkansas put up identical 21.19’s at their respective invitationals in November, and the winner this week might break 21 seconds.

The 50 free will be one of the can’t miss races come NCAAs in a month with Brown, Hopkin, as well as Cal’s Abbey Weitzeil, who became the first woman to break 21 seconds from a flat start earlier this season. It is very possible that three women could break 21 seconds at NCAAs, and two of them will be fighting tooth and nail at SECs.

Last season, Brown broke the NCAA record at SECs with a 21.15. Weitzeil ended up lowering that a few weeks later but Brown has always seemed to show up and swim quick at SECs. Will that trend continue or will she be peaking at NCAAs? It may not even matter as the excitement of the conference meet could push her to a best time.

Hopkin is also a big dark horse here as she reached the World Championships final in this event last summer whilst representing Great Britain. She was ninth in the world last year while Brown was 15th. The one and only flip turn will be a huge deciding factor in this event.

Men’s 200 Free

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Kieran Smith. Photo Courtesy: Connor Trimble

Why watch? Because Kieran Smith has not swam this event “rested” yet this season and has been flying under the radar all season.

Florida sophomore Kieran Smith has the third fastest time in the conference this season in the 200 free, but he swam that in a duel meet with Georgia. He did not swim at the Georgia Tech Invite, as he instead went to the US Open to swim long course and get some of that racing in before Olympic Trials, so he has not swam a short course meet with a jammer on yet this year.

Smith had the fastest duel meet time in the nation this year so what does that mean for him come SECs? He actually has not been faster than a 1:34 from a flat start in his life but is certainly capable of a 1:31. He should have a good battle with Texas A&M’s Mark Theall, Georgia’s Walker Higgins and Gator teammate Khader Baqlah.

Women’s 100 Breast

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Zoie Hartman. Photo Courtesy: Connor Trimble

Why watch? Because Georgia freshman Zoie Hartman is the real deal. And to see if the Bulldogs can go 1-2-3.

Georgia has not really been known to be a breaststroke powerhouse as that was often their weak spot on their national championship teams of recent memory. But the Bulldogs have three of the top four times in the 100 breaststroke in the SEC this season, led by freshman Zoie Hartman, who also has the top time in the nation. Danielle Della Torre (59.28) and Sofia Carnevale (59.96) are ranked second and fourth respectively heading into the meet and should give the Bulldogs a spark on Friday night.

This is a quietly stacked race with the presence of two-time defending champ Anna Belousova of Texas A&M and last year’s runner-up Nikol Popov of Tennessee. Can the freshman Hartman dethrone the record holder Belousova? It will be a tough ask, but more than one swimmer could break 58 this weekend.

Men’s 100 Back

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Shaine Casas. Photo Courtesy: Connor Trimble

Why watch? To see Texas A&M sophomore Shaine Casas line up alongside 50 back World champ Zane Waddell of Alabama.

Casas had a huge breakthrough meet this summer at US Nationals in August, putting himself in the top ten in the world in the 100 and 200 backstroke in long course. Casas then proved that was not a fluke by swimming two nation-leading times at the Art Adamson Invite in November. The rest of the country will be following him closely to see how fast he can swim at SECs this week as he will do battle with Alabama senior Zane Waddell.

Waddell also had a big summer as he shocked the world in claiming the gold medal in the 50 backstroke at the World Championships while representing South Africa. Casas (44.48) and Waddell (45.46) are the top two seeds in the 100 backstroke, and Casas is looking like a good candidate to take down the 43.49 NCAA record of Ryan Murphy set in 2016.

It could be a big ask for the sophomore, but he has a lot of talent, and this championship season could be his awakening as a contender for the 2020 Olympic Team this summer. He proved he is a contender last summer, but a good short course meet will only advance his status as one of the best in the country.

The SEC Swimming and Diving Championships will certainly be a can’t miss meet, and records have a chance to fall.

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