For the first time since 2010, Georgia will host the Southeastern Conference Championships in swimming and diving at Gabrielsen Natatorium from today to Saturday.
Though competing at home should be worth a little excitement, some swimmers have been trying to downplay the importance of a friendly crowd. It does not help, either, that the team will be staying at a hotel for five days in order to enhance the feeling that it is competing at a higher level than usual.
“It’s nice being able to have our own lockers and not having to lug all our swim stuff all over the place,” junior Jordan Mattern said. “But at the same time, we are staying at a hotel, so we don’t get the comfort of our own beds.”
Maddie Locus, a junior who combined with Mattern on last year’s winning 200-yard freestyle relay at SECs, said that the key to Georgia’s success will be the team’s preparedness, not its environment. Too much confidence in the team’s ability could be just as detrimental as too little.
“The pool isn’t really that important,” Locus said. “It really doesn’t matter what pool I’m at because if I’m prepared and I’m confident and I have the team behind me, then I know I can perform well.”
The second-ranked Lady Bulldogs, who are the best in the SEC after stringing together four straight conference championships and securing a national title last season, still have to deal with Texas A&M’s women. The Aggies are just one spot below Georgia in the rankings and they tied Georgia 150-150 each when the teams met in early January.
Meanwhile, the No. 14 Georgia men are the third-highest ranked team in the SEC, below No. 1 Florida and No. 10 Auburn. Florida, which won its first SEC title in 20 years last season, led the conference in eight men’s events this year, Auburn led in seven and Georgia only led in the 200 backstroke and 400 IM.
“With Florida, it’s no secret they’re walking in as an overwhelming favorite,” associate head coach Harvey Humphries said. “Hopefully our guys will use that as a motivational tool.”
Instead of facing a single school like the Bulldogs have been used to all season, the team will compete against the top swimmers in the entire conference, of which seven women’s teams and six men’s teams are in the top 25 in the College Swimming Coaches Association of America poll.
“You can only train athletes to be at their peak for a certain number of times a year and this is one of those times,” Humphries said. “Everybody else in the country is doing the same thing.”
The team has had more than two weeks since its last meet to get in shape for SECs, which might seem like plenty of time to regroup. However, preparing for a meet this significant isn’t easy, sophomore Ty Stewart said, because the focus switches from the big picture to a smaller one.
Locus, who set a couple of personal bests in last season’s championship, said that her level of preparation relies on her mental state just as much as her physical condition. As far as her stature goes, she’s shorter than the average swimmer and has to make up for her arm and leg length in speed. But her desire to prove to her competitors that she’s just as good at them in spite of her height often causes her too much anxiety.
“Sometimes, especially at big meets, I get a little bit too nervous and I put too much pressure on myself,” she said. “So I’ve been really trying this year to calm myself down and learn how to control my brain so I can swim my best and not get in my own way.”
And although she said she doesn’t care about the locale of meets as much as people expect her to, if there is one good thing about conference championships being held in Athens, it’s that the pool at Gabrielsen Natatorium is the “perfect temperature” and that the team will feel more comfortable in front of a home crowd.