Florida Men Swim Way into NCAA Favorite Status in 400 Medley Relay

Dillon Hillis; Photo Courtesy: Becca Wyant

Florida Men Swim Way into NCAA Favorite Status in 400 Medley Relay

There isn’t much that the Florida men’s swimming and diving team hasn’t done on the NCAA stage. Through a pristine decade of dominating the SEC, with Olympians and NCAA record holders, the Gators are in the upper crust of college programs.

But what transpired in the men’s 400 medley relay Friday night at Texas A&M’s Student Recreation Aquatic Center takes it to another level.

Florida’s foursome of Adam Chaney, Dillon Hillis, Josh Liendo and Macguire McDuff went 2:59.48 in winning the event. That’s an SEC record, and SEC Championships record and buzzes within a quarter-second of the NCAA record.

Fast as that time is, the how of it is arguably more impressive for what it says about Florida’s program.

First are the time jumps. Before last season, the SEC record had remained frozen in amber since the super-suited days of the 2009 NCAA Championships, belong to Auburn at 3:01.39. The Gators edged under that to 3:01.00 at NCAAs, then the record has skipped 3:00 altogether to put pressure on the NCAA mark set by Texas in 2017 (2:59.22).

Amazingly, there’s only one holdover from last year’s team, Chaney. They lost a stellar anchor leg in Kieran Smith to graduation, but the middle two legs have been replaced from within in winning the event three straight years.

A comparison of the splits:

2022 (3:01.00)

  • Adam Chaney 44.43
  • Dillon Hillis 51.20
  • Eric Friese 44.41
  • Kieran Smith 40.96

2023 (2:59.48)

  • Adam Chaney 44.17
  • Dillon Hillis 50.63
  • Josh Liendo 43.35
  • Macguire McDuff 41.33

Even with McDuff being slightly slower on the anchor than Smith, the other legs more than made up for it. Especially notable is the year-on-year improvement (Hillis, Chaney) and the ability to promote from within the team (Liendo for Friese). Three members of this year’s team are underclassmen. The lone impending departure is Hillis, the fifth-year senior who won the 100 breast, though his replacement is likely to be Aleksas Savickas, a freshman who finished second in that event, .05 back.

The Florida men have a massive opportunity this year. The Gators won the 200 medley relay and 200 free relay at NCAAs a season ago, bringing their total number of national relay championships to 12. They remain favorites in the 200 free relay, their SEC time within .06 of another Auburn 2009 record. Florida hasn’t won the 400 medley since 1991, and its time Friday was quicker than what Cal used to win NCAAs last year (3:00.36). Cal returns three of the swimmers from last season, while all four from runner-up Indiana are back.

This moment is fleeting. With the Olympic year looming, it’s possible Liendo might feel pressure in Canada to take a redshirt; the same is true for Savickas, as one of Lithuania’s top swimmers. But before that chaos descends next year, the Gators have a chance to make history.

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