Georgia women take big lead at SEC swimming and diving championships

Brittany MacLean, Shannon Vreeland and Amber McDermott were a 1-2-3 punch.

The three Georgia swimmers swept the podium of the 500 freestyle at the Southeastern Conference championships, finishing first, second and third, respectively, at Gabrielsen Natatorium on Wednesday.

But it looked more like a typical training day for those Lady Bulldogs.

“A lot of people mentioned to me after the race that you can definitely tell we train together every day,” said Vreeland, who finished in 4 minutes, 37.73 seconds. “Just being able to get out there and swim with them and go one, two, three and to be able to do that at home. We talk about it every year because we’re always in the mix, but just to have a Georgia podium is just so exciting.”

MacLean’s 4:34.63 set a new conference record, trumping the 4:34.87 put up by Florida’s Caroline Burckle in 2008. She said her teammates and coaches stayed patient with her after struggling last season, giving her some redemption Wednesday.

“They were so supportive when I was down that I knew that I needed to perform because I owed it them and everyone was so awesome with me,” MacLean said. “We had a really tight race. Anyone could’ve had their hand on the wall.”

Sweeping the 500 freestyle, the first final event Wednesday, proved to provide momentum for the Lady Bulldogs, who piled up 577 points through two days of competition. The next closest team is Florida with 421 points.

Melanie Margalis, who won the 200 individual medley, said watching MacLean, Vreeland and McDermott swim so well gave her some extra juice, which allowed her to break her own conference record in the event that she set last year.

“I think that I was so pumped up just from the 500 girls, just seeing how awesome our girls did in that, it was so exciting and I think I really built off them and being between (Florida’s Elizabeth) Beisel and Texas A&M’s Erica (Dittmer) really pushed me and it was fun,” said Margalis, who finished in 1:52.87.

Freshman Olivia Smoliga pulled out an unexpected victory for Georgia in the 50 freestyle, touching the wall in 21.54, shaving nearly a half of a second off of her preliminary time.

“I had a towel in my hand, I was whipping it and all I know is, I have no idea where that towel ended up because I was going insane,” MacLean said of watching the 50 freestyle race. “I was so excited for her and just for the team in general for everyone to be feeding off the momentum.”

The Georgia men, who sit in third place with 414 points, were held without a first-place finish on Day Two, but Chase Kalisz and Matias Koski each notched third place finishes.

Kalisz’s came in the 200 IM, finishing in 1:42.53, and Koski’s came in the 500 freestyle, finishing in 4:14.96. The Bulldogs fell into third from second after their eighth-place finish in the 200 freestyle relay.

“It’s good for right now. I’m in a different part of the season that most of the people here,” Kalisz said. “… I think there’s a lot more good swims to come from me. I think when we get down to the big meet for NCAAs, but right now it’s the best time and I’m fine with it.”

Associate head coach Harvey Humphries said the men’s divers and second-line swimmers will make the difference between the Bulldogs finishing second or third.

“We can’t miss opportunities because we’re not as deep of a team as the women. We’re really good up front, our first 10 people or so,” he said.