Not even close: Lady Bulldogs win fifth consecutive SEC title

Harvey Humphries brought an extra shirt to Gabrielsen Natatorium on Saturday.


Rachel G. Bowers

He came well-prepared to the final day of the Southeastern Conference championships, anticipating the Georgia women’s swimming team’s fifth consecutive conference title.

All 28 members of the team and the coaching staff took a post-meet celebratory plunge into the diving pool after crushing the field, compiling 1,589 points over five days.

“We go in (the pool) every day, but not like that,” said Humphries, Georgia’s associate head coach.

Not only did the Lady Bulldogs put the lead out of reach — Texas A&M was second with 1,204 points and Florida was third with 1,130 — they swept all eight freestyle events.

The final day saw senior Shannon Vreeland, freshman Olivia Smoliga, sophomore Chantal Van Landeghem and junior Maddie Locus take first in the 400 freestyle relay, finishing in 3 minutes, 14.41 seconds.

“It just shows how strong our program is that we won every freestyle event from top to bottom,” Vreeland said. “And we also had two of the top three in all the distances.”

Vreeland won the 200 freestyle and swam a leg in the 200, 400 and 800 freestyle relays. Smoliga made the most of her SECs debut, totalling the most individual points (92) at the meet along with Florida’s Elizabeth Beisel. Smoliga won the 50 and 100 yard freestyle races, placing second in the 100 backstroke and swimming on the 200 medley, 200 freestyle, 400 medley and 400 freestyle relay teams.

The freshman from Glenview, Ill., said she always wanted to jump into the pool to celebrate a championship, but hadn’t gotten the chance to do it until Saturday.

“Georgia is the place to do it,” she said. “ … Then to be at our home pool, that just tops it off.”

Brittany MacLean, who won the 500 and 1,650, said the Lady Bulldogs’ training regimen is what makes the difference.

“I feel like what we do is definitely the most challenging work I’ve ever done, but at the same time, it’s reasonable,” she said. “They don’t expect us to come do the most unrealistic things every day. It’s really on point. It’s like racing the best in the nation every day. We’re a solid program and people keep wanting to come here for that reason. We just keep building off of that. I think it’s definitely the people you’re surrounded by as well as the good coaching staff.”

Senior diver Laura Ryan earned a medal in all three diving events — the 1- and 3-meter springboard and platform — taking first in 3-meter, second in platform and third in 1-meter. Fellow senior diver Ann-Perry Blank finished first in 1-meter and second in 3-meter.

“The support for the divers from the swim team was awesome today and all week,” diving coach Dan Laak said. “It showed. They did a great job, the divers did. It helps with you have 50 people cheering for you. It’s a lot of fun to have divers in the finals and it’s even more fun to have them here at home.”

The Georgia men clung to third place with 1,095 points as Florida won the title behind its 1,440 points. Auburn took second with 1,280.5.

Andrew Gemmell and Ty Stewart each earned a third-place finish on the final day. Gemmell finished third in the 1,650 freestyle in 14:45.77 and Stewart earned bronze in the 200 backstroke, finishing in 1:41.81.

Vreeland, who has been a part of an SEC championship team in each of her four years at Georgia, said it’s bittersweet that her last season is coming to a rapid close.

“It’s been a fantastic run,” Vreeland said. “I’ve been a part of really fantastic teams and had some incredible teammates. It’s sad that it’s almost over, but it’s going to be so exciting to watch this next group of girls come up and see what they can do next year as well.”

The Lady Bulldogs’ title was their 11th all time and 11th since 1997. Georgia swimmers and divers broke 18 program records and eight SEC records through the five-day event.

The men’s NCAA championships are in Austin, Texas., from March 27-29 and the women’s NCAAs are in Minneapolis, Minn., from March 20-22.

Vreeland said the Lady Bulldogs can get make their times even faster for NCAAs.

“We need to come back and train even harder, train even faster,” Vreeland said. “We all swam way faster than we even anticipated. … We know that we can get in the water and swim even faster in practice.”

Here are full results from the five-day meet.

A previous version of the story noted that there were seven freestyle events at SECs. There were eight total, not seven.

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