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UF Men’s Swimming & Diving: Event Titles From Smith and Baqlah Pushes Florida to Lead After Third Day at SEC’s

Khader Baqlah won his second career 200 Free SEC title on Thursday night.
Photo by Courtney Culbreath

Courtesy of UF Athletic Association

Florida swept the 400 IM top-three finishers, as well as notching fifth and sixth-place finishers in the event.

Event Titles from Kieran Smith and Khader Baqlah pushed No. 11 Florida to a lead after the third day of competition at the 2020 SEC Championships at the James E. Martin Aquatics Center.

The Gators scored 299.5 points during Thursday night’s finals to overtake first place, with 694.5 points over three finals sessions. Texas A&M sits behind them in second place with 538.5, with Georgia sitting in third (493.5 points).

Smith claimed his second conference title in Auburn with a winning 400 IM swim of 3:37.31.

The time stands as the fastest in the NCAA this season and the second-fastest swim in program history and smashes his previous personal-best by almost three full seconds.

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A 200 free swim of 1:32.05 helped Baqlah secure his second career SEC title in the event by just .38 seconds. In the finals, he would cut down 1.77 seconds from his morning swim that slotted him as the fifth-seed.

The A-cut time would set a new season-best for the senior and stands .09 seconds from a personal-best.

Smith wasn’t the only Gator to make an appearance on the 400 IM podium, as Grant Sanders and Robert Finke finished in second and third to claim a clean medal sweep.

Sanders, who would post a prelim swim of 3:42.90, improved upon that time at night to earn a second-place finish behind Smith with an effort of 3:40.20.

His time sits as the third-fastest tally this season in the NCAA and the third-fastest time ever by a Gator.

Heading into the final with the fourth-fastest time, Robert Finke dropped 2.23 seconds to earn his second bronze medal of the week with a swim of 3:41.56.

The effort sits as the nation’s fifth-fastest swim, joining Smith and Sanders in setting a top-five NCAA swim.

Gator Splashes

  *   A Gator duo took to the 100 fly sprint event, with Will Davis dropping .49 seconds from his prelim swim to claim a fourth-place effort of 45.75, a new personal-best. In his first collegiate A-final, Eric Friese would finish in eighth with a swim of 45.97.
  *   Miguel Cancel and Kevin Vargas jumped the 400 IM trio in the A-final as the pairing finished fifth and sixth, respectively. Cancel would post a new personal-best swim of 3:44.32, with Vargas touching just .41 seconds behind his teammate for a sixth-place nod.
  *   As Florida’s lone A-final qualifier in the 200 free, Gerry Quinn finished in fifth place with a swim of 1:34.15. He also set the fourth-fastest time in the morning prelims with a swim of 1:33.73.
  *   Tyler Silver led a trio of Gators in the 100 fly B-final with a new personal-best time. The senior would touch in 46.61, good for 12th overall. Finishing behind him was Isaac Davis (14th) and Dillon Hillis (15th) to wrap-up Florida’s 100 fly competition.
  *   Florida’s final two finalists competed in the 200 free, with Clark Beach finishing in fourth-place in the B-final with a B-cut swim of 1:35.10. In the prelims, he set a new personal-best of 1:34.78. In the C-final, Dakota Mahaffey finished in fifth with a swim of 1:35.68.

Quotables

Head coach Anthony Nesty-

On the team’s performance in the finals…
“The 400 IM’ers came in this morning and took care of business. We had five in finals. Obviously, one-two-three tonight is the result of it. We had some really good fly swims as well, and Khader Baqlah closed out the deal for us tonight by winning the 200 free.”

On Khader Baqlah…
“I’m really proud of him. He’s been up and down all year, but he’s finally been able to get his legs underneath him. I tell our guys all the time, at this level, you have to be resilient. Things aren’t going to go well all the time. You have bad semesters. You have bad seasons, but we’re here to see what we can do to improve and sometimes it takes a while, and he was very resilient. He had an okay summer and an okay fall. Obviously, winning the championship tonight was very special for him.”

On the remainder of the competition…
“We only have eight swims tomorrow. Saturday, we will have a lot more, so we will just have to swim real well tomorrow morning and hopefully that carries over into the next day. Saturday, we call it Gator Day. We come in and get the job done and hopefully be victorious.”

Gator Medals

Day One- Bronze- 200 Medley Relay (Mahaffey, Guarente, Friese, W. Davis- eighth-fastest UF history), Gold- 800 Free Relay (Smith, Baqlah, Quinn, C. Beach- fifth-fastest in UF history/Smith’s SEC, Florida 200 free lead-off split)

Day Two- Silver- 200 Free Relay (Friese, Smith, W. Davis, I. Davis), Gold, 500 free- Kieran Smith (American, NCAA, US Open, Florida record), Bronze- 500 free- Robert Finke

Day Three- Gold, 400 IM- Kieran Smith, Gold, 200 Free- Khader Baqlah, Silver, 400 IM- Grant Sanders, Bronze- 400 IM- Robert Finke

 Standings

1. Florida- 694.5
2. Texas A&M- 538.5
3. Georgia- 493.5
4. Alabama- 438.5
5. Tennessee- 422
6. Kentucky- 416
7. Missouri- 415
8. Auburn- 385
9. South Carolina- 265
10. LSU- 258

What’s Next

Day Four will kick-off on Friday morning with the 200 fly prelim at 10:30 a.m. ET.

Tomorrow’s prelim and finals slate additionally includes the 100 back, 100 breast, and men’s platform dives.

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