Michele King and Carly Mathes
Feb. 17, 2009
AUBURN, Ala. - The Tennessee women's swimming and diving team takes an 8-2 record and a No. 7 national ranking into the 2009 Southeastern Conference Swimming & Diving Championships Wednesday through Saturday at the James E. Martin Aquatics Center in Auburn, Ala.
The Lady Vols will use their strength in the breaststroke and depth in the freestyle and back events to challenge No. 1 Georgia, No. 5 Florida and No. 6 Auburn for the conference title.
The host-Tigers are the two-time defending SEC champs, and return five All-SEC First Team performers. Georgia, however, is the unanimous No. 1 team in the country, and Florida returns junior Gemma Spofforth, who swept the backstroke events at last season's conference championships.
"The SEC and NCAA championship meets represent the culmination of a season of training as a team, so many of our goals are condensed into this one month." Lady Vol head swimming coach Matt Kredich said. "The first set of goals is to compete for team, relay and individual conference championships. We want to be incredibly competitive from the first performance to the last, and in the meantime we'll make adjustments to our races and continue to try to perfect them. The SEC is the strongest conference in the country this year with four teams currently ranked in the top-7, so we'll all be held to a very high standard. This shouldn't be a surprise to our team - we hold each other to that standard on a daily basis - so this should be a lot of fun."
Saffer and Barsanti each turned in outstanding breaststroke performances in January. Saffer has the second-best time in the conference in the 100y breast (59.42) and beat Georgia's Mhyria Miller (who has the fastest time - 59.18) head-to-head. Barsanti has come on strong as of late and should be a threat in the 200y breast (2:11.14). Saffer set the school record in the 100y breast on Jan. 24, while Barsanti became the fastest Lady Vol ever in the 200y breast on Jan. 30.
King and Akerfelds were two of the top point scores during the 2008 championship season. King was runner-up in the 50y free at the 2008 NCAA Championship, and also took third in the 100y free and 100y breast at the 2008 SEC Championships. Akerfelds was named SEC Freshman Female Swimmer of the Year after taking second in the 1650y free and third in both the 500y free and 400y IM at last year's conference championships.
"We have a great breaststroke group, and I think we'll get a lot of points from those events," Lady Vol Kredich said. "We have a lot of entrants in the 200 IM, 50, and 100 freestyle as well. Our medley relays are really good as are our 200 and 400 free relays. The great thing about this meet is that there is always someone who really steps up in a way that they never have before, and they can change the meet for the whole team. It'll be fun to see who that is this year."
On the boards, Tennessee will bring freshmen Jodie McGroarty and Gabrielle Trudeau. McGroarty has team best scores of 287.85 on the 1-meter and 312.15 on the 3-meter, while Trudeau has the best platform mark of 264.00. Both have qualified for the NCAA Zone B Diving Championships in the 1-meter and the 3-meter, with Trudeau also earning here Zone mark on the platform.
"I'm very excited that we are at the point we train for - the start of the championship season," UT head diving coach Dave Parrington said. "We are only bringing our freshman, Jodie (McGroarty) and Gabbie (Trudeau) this week. Though they have competed at big international meets, this will be an experience unlike any other for them. I anticipate they will respond in the right way and both have a great meet."
It will be hard for the Lady Vols to replace Christine Magnuson, who dominated last season's SEC Championships with four victories (50y free, 100y fly, 100y free and 200y free relay) en route to being named the SEC Female Swimmer of the Year. However, Tennessee has shown it can compete with any team in the country this season as a different Lady Vol steps up each meet.
Tennessee wrapped up the regular season with an 8-2 record, losing its final two dual meets to Georgia and Florida. The meet with the top-ranked Lady Bulldogs was very close, though, as UT took UGA to the final event before falling 158-142. The Lady Vols also lost to the Gators, 174-124, but in both meets many UT swimmers showed they are rounding into shape for the championship season.
Barsanti, Saffer, senior Sarah McCall (200y breast), sophomores Tricia Weaner (100y and 200y back) and Morgan Farrell (100y back) and freshman Jenny Connolly (100y back and 100y fly) all recorded season-best and NCAA 'B' cut performances against Georgia and Florida.
Seniors Katie Gehring and Ashley Quinn have shown tremendous improvement in the 50y free, as well, while seniors Carly Mathes and Brittany Nauta are returning SEC champions. The pair teamed with King and Magnuson to capture the SEC title in 200y free relay last season.
The meet begins Wednesday with prelims at noon and finals at 6 p.m. Thursday through Saturday, prelims will begin at 10 a.m., with finals coming in the evening session.