SEC Masters head to NCAAs

GAINESVILLE, Florida. – On the morning of Feb. 11, just hours before the Florida swim and dive teams travel to Tennessee for the Southeastern Conference Championships, Antoine NestyThe cell phone rang. The UF coach glanced at the screen, saw that the call was coming from the team coach, and immediately had a thought in his head.

“It must be a ‘Bobby.’ ”

It would be a “Bobby”, as in Bobby Fink, the fabulous man of the distance and the individual medley, as well as one of the brightest stars of the United States at the Olympic Games last summer in Tokyo. Finke, it seems, has a streak of bad luck as UF heads for big encounters, and he was right on time this time. Kind of like last year when he slipped on a bunch of leaves outside Exactech Arena and sprained his foot the day before a competition. Yes, it really happened.

This time, Nesty learned that Finke had tested positive for COVID, and with nine times All American Will Davis and six times All American Dillon Hillis had entered quarantine protocols and would be scratched from the Feb. 15-19 encounter.

“I had a really fiery speech ready for our guys,” Nesty recalled. “I ended up using that NFL phrase that they use a lot. You know, ‘next man’. What can you do?”

Answer: What UF men always do.

Win the conference championship.

SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey (right) takes a moment to congratulate the UF coach Antoine Nesty on the program’s 10th straight conference championship after last month’s meet in Knoxville, Tennessee.

With Finke, Davis and Willis back in Gainesville, the Gators dominated the SEC encounter — wiping out co-finalists Tennessee and Alabama by a whopping 476 points — to claim their 10th straight conference title. UF finished the game with 1,414 points, compared to 938 for the Volunteers and Crimson Tide. Florida took the second lead of the five-day event, marked by a record victory in the 200m freestyle relay, courtesy of Adam Chaney, Eric Friesedouble olympic bronze medalist Kieran Smith and Macguire McDuff (1:16.49) and surged ahead of Texas A&M. The Gators poured it from there, winning four individual events and five stints, along with two more second-place finishes and four more individual third-place finishes, as well as a stint.

What would have been the margin in the world with Finke and his other two COVID victims?

“All teams have very good athletes,” Nesty said. “So are we, but our depth is impressive.”

When this was done, Florida Men’s Swimming was only the seventh program (all sports) in league history to win at least 10 consecutive league crowns.

Rare are the dynasties where championships are not only annually celebrated, but expected. Of course, it’s not as easy as it seems. Just ask those lifting the hardware.

“Athletes, of course, make it look easy, but you have to work day by day. For us, it’s always about consistency and quality of work, and that work starts in September. ,” said Nesty, whose fifth-ranked team now looks to the NCAA Swimming and Diving Championships, which begin Wednesday at the McAuley Aquatic Center in Atlanta. “It’s a long season. You start in September, you go in March and it doesn’t stop along the way. Consistency in training, stretching, nutrition, the mental aspect has to be constant, otherwise the chances of being successful will be impacted.”

 

olympic medalists Kieran Smith (left) and Bobby Fink will be shooting for the Nationals this week in Atlanta.



Finke emphasized consistency.

“With our coaches and swimmers, the expectations are the same every year,” he said. “We are here to improve every day and to do it for ourselves, but above all to do it for the team. The guys take that to heart. It’s not about what we do individually, but for the program, which reflects everything about our family and our club coaches and everyone who has helped us get to this point.”

It’s a consistency that’s ingrained in the culture, thanks to a parade of not just every American who graced the O’Dome, but also the “Gator Greats” who doubled as international superstars and world champions. .

Friese, a junior from Potsdam, Germany, and a member of his country’s Olympic team last year, vividly remembers the morning of his first season when UF icon Caeleb Dressel, four-year-old retired from the competing as a Gator (and two years before he stole the world swimming show in Japan), showed up for practice and jumped into the lane next to Friese during team practice. It wasn’t long after Ryan Lochte (“My hero,” Friese said) showed up and did the same.

“The overall swimming stage here is some of the best in college, but now you have a guy showing up who is the best on the planet,” Friese said. “I’m so grateful to be able to have this as a daily experience in training. Sometimes I have to remind myself how special it is.”

Eric Friese (right), who finished second in the 100 butterfly at the SEC, will swim the 50 freestyle and 100 butterfly at the NCAA this week.

At the Olympics, Friese’s German teammates saw him in casual, friendly conversations with Finke (with his two gold medals) and Smith (two bronze medals), and wondered how he knew those hoppers so well. of podium. Imagine when they saw Friese with Dressel.

Oh, and that was before Katie Ledecky entered the fold.

Ledecky, a seven-time Olympic gold medalist, 15-time world champion and eight-time NCAA champion at Stanford, joined the Gators last fall as a volunteer assistant coach, giving the program another personality bigger than nature both in the pool and wandering on the deck.

“Obviously she’s the best in the world and the quality of work she brings in every day lets everyone be honest,” Nesty said. “When she’s in training, it’s 100%. She challenges our men quite frequently, and for our women, she’s just a fantastic role model. How great it was to have her and show them how she follows her routine and takes care of herself away from the pool; just her dedication to the sport and the way she trains every day.”

Such a work ethic and star power can only rub off, which is clearly the plan. Ledecky wasn’t the reason the Gators smoked their SEC competition last month; they’ve been doing this for years. His presence, however, along with the dominance of Finke and Smith, as well as Friese, Chaney, Davis and Hillis, et al – Florida sent 17 people to the NCAA – gave a big boost to a program that was already in a class apart. in the league.

UF’s mastery of the SEC did not convert to the NCAA championships, however. Oh, the Gators will have their moments there, no doubt, but top-ranked Texas will go to Georgia as the defending national champion, having won six of the last seven titles. It would take a Herculean effort — and probably a few Longhorns mishaps — to break the UT race. A top-three finish would be a sensational crowning achievement for the 2022 season.

The Florida 2022 men’s swimming and diving team raises two hands (and 10 fingers) to signify winning their 10th consecutive SEC title last month.

It’s been 38 years since Florida won a men’s national swimming championship.

“That won’t stop us from wanting to go out there and try to do something unexpected,” Finke said. “One of our goals is to win every relay, and there’s a huge opportunity to do that. If we can steal points there, maybe [Texas will] DQ one, so who knows? But we will be happy anyway because we are going to have a very good meeting.”

This time, Nesty is convinced that Finke will be there. No “Bobby” call this time.

“He’s had one for the year,” Nesty laughed.

In another year to remember. For everyone.

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