Taking the Southeastern Conference title might not be the Lady Bulldogs’ ultimate goal. But keeping their streak going is a major source of pride for the team.
Georgia will hit the pool today in search of its fourth consecutive SEC team title for a senior class that has known nothing but top-of-the-podium conference finishes.
“SECs is a big meet, and it’s really important,” Georgia junior Shannon Vreeland said. “But it’s really important for us to swim our best at the end of the season. Although losing SECs might be a blow after winning three in a row, if we know we’re getting better and we still have really great swims and we’re progressing from where we were earlier, I think we’ll be fine.”
The newly expanded SEC Swimming and Diving Championships begin today and run through Saturday at Texas A&M’s Recreation Center Natatorium in College Station, Texas. The meet has stretched to five days to accommodate both men and women from two more schools.
“It’s hard because you want to win this thing,” Georgia coach Jack Bauerle said. “But our point of focus every year is NCAA championships. If you don’t hold some people out of taper, you take the chance of doing as well at nationals. We’re hoping that emotion takes over and people like (Megan) Romano and Schmitty (Allison Schmitt) and Vreeland they just have to step up and swim out of their minds whether they feel perfect or not.”
Georgia will have the most decorated swimmer at the SEC meet as Schmitt returns after redshirting last season so she could train for the Olympics. Schmitt won three gold medals, a silver and a bronze at the London Olympics. Vreeland also won a relay gold.
“It’s a great team atmosphere,” Schmitt said. “As soon as I came back, I felt welcome, even with all the freshmen and sophomores that I didn’t really know. It was kind of like I was the new freshman on the team. It was quite a different team from the last time I was here. That’s something I wasn’t really prepared for, but I adjusted really well. It’s a great team to come back to.”
Georgia heads into SECs with some of the nation’s top times. Schmitt is ranked No. 1 in the nation in 200-yard freestyle. Megan Romano is No. 1 in the SEC in the 50 and 100 freestyle. Melanie Margalis is tops in the 200 individual medley and Laura Ryan has the SEC’s highest platform diving score. Georgia should get a major boost from its relays with the nation’s No. 1 times in the 200, 400 and 800 freestyle relays.
“We’ve been training pretty hard since I came back,” Schmitt said. “The main focus for me right now is the same. We don’t want to give away anything that might hurt the team goal of SEC and national championships. I’m still training hard right now. We want to keep the streak going. Right now we’re on a pretty good streak. There’s going to be a tougher field with more teams in the SEC.”
Georgia’s men have already created a name for themselves last week when their “Harlem Shake” video spoof gained nationwide attention. Now they look to capitalize on that notoriety by making a run toward the top of the SEC podium.
“With all these outside things going on, we need to focus on SECs now,” Georgia sophomore Conor Sweeney said. “This is so random with this video going so viral. We could use this video and a big finish at SECs to really boost the program and help recruiting and show everybody what we can do.”
Georgia’s men scored a major surprise last year when Doug Reynolds became the first Bulldog to win the 100 butterfly since Bo Holland in 1965.
“Hopefully I’ll be a half-a-second faster this year than last year,” Reynolds said. “This time of year is amazing. You start feeling fast in the water because you’re cut. Dual season is a little bit harder because we’re heavier training. But taper season is awesome. I’m feeling good. I’m doing times that are at least as fast as I was going into SECs last year.
Georgia finished third at last year’s SEC meet after taking fourth the previous season. Georgia has not broken into the top two since 1998. Georgia will be spearheaded by three-time defending conference mile champion Martin Grodski, who also won the 500 last year. Nick Fink won the 100 and 200 breaststroke.
“We want to go up a step but a lot of things have to go our way,” Bauerle said. “If we don’t go up a step, we certainly have to cut into it. This team is a better team than it was a year ago and better than it was a couple of years ago, no question. Now we’re starting to get some depth and we’re pretty strong in the top 12 or top 14. We’re actually leaving some people at home who can score. We’ve never done that before but we’re going to have to do it this year.”