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UF Men’s Swimming & Diving: Gators Win 2020 SEC Championship, Push Streak to Eight in a Row

Florida claims their 41st conference title in school history with 1,194 points over the championships.
Photo by Courtney Culbreath

Courtesy of UF Athletic Association

Florida won its 41st-overall and eighth-straight SEC Title, and Robert Finke scorched the 1,650 free American and NCAA record on the final day of SEC’s.

The No. 11 University of Florida men’s swimming and diving team has been crowned the 2020 Southeastern Conference Champions with 1,194 points over five days of competition at the James E. Martin Aquatics Center in Auburn, Ala.

The Gators would edge out Texas A&M, who finished in second-place with 975.5 points. Georgia would round out the top three with an overall score of 953.5.

This year’s title marks a league-leading 41st-overall SEC championship, including a current streak of eight in a row. That is now the third-longest streak in conference history (Auburn–16 from 1997-2012, Florida–13 from 1956-68).

The Gators won the 2020 championship with 15 medals–five gold, three silver, and six bronze, as well as five event titles–four individual and one relay.

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A pair of Gators etched their names in the history books, as Kieran Smith and Robert Finke both set new American records during the week to help them claim event titles.

Smith shattered the 500 free previous American record with a time of 4:06.32, almost a full second faster than the previous top swim, and broke the previous NCAA mark by almost two full seconds.

For his performance over the week, Smith was named the Swimmer of the Meet.

Finke set the fastest mile swim in American history on Saturday night. Finke’s time of 14:12.08 destroyed the previous American record held by Zane Grothe (14:18.25) by a full six seconds and the previous NCAA record of 14:22.41 by ten full seconds.

He now holds the American, NCAA, US Open, SEC, and Florida 1,650 free record.

Finke’s previous best was set with a time of 14:23.01 at last year’s SEC Championships in Athens, Ga.

Florida’s 800 free relay won its eighth-straight crown on the first day of swimming on Tuesday with a new SEC and pool record time of 6:09.91, beating a mark set last year by the Gators in Athens, Ga. by .59 seconds. To lead off the relay, Smith clocked the fastest 200 free split in SEC and Florida history of 1:30.31.

Event titles
800 Free Relay (Kieran Smith, Gerry Quinn, Khader Baqlah, Clark Beach)
500 Free, 400 IM- Kieran Smith
200 Free- Khader Baqlah
1,650 Free- Robert Finke

Records
500 Free- Kieran Smith: American, NCAA, US Open, Florida
1,650 Free- Robert Finke- American, NCAA, US Open, Florida
800 Free Relay- SEC and Pool record
200 Free- Kieran Smith: SEC and Florida

Medals (15)
Gold- 800 Free Relay, 500 Free- Kieran Smith , 200 Free- Khader Baqlah, 400 IM- Kieran Smith, 1,650 Free- Robert Finke (5)
Silver- 200 Free Relay, 400 IM- Grant Sanders, 400 medley relay, 200 Back- Clark Beach (4)
Bronze- 200 Medley relay, 500 Free- Robert Finke 400 IM- Robert Finke, 100 Breast- Dillon Hillis, 100 Free- Kieran Smith, 200 Breast- Grant Sanders, 1,650- Brennan Gravley (6)

How it was done

Day One-
Florida ended day one in fifth-place, but the team started the competition out with a bang. UF won its eighth-straight 800 free relay title that saw Kieran Smith, Gerry Quinn, Khader Baqlah, and Clark Beach break a SEC Championship and James E. Martin Aquatics Center Record with their swim of 6:09.91, beating a mark set last year by the Gators in Athens, Ga. by .59 seconds.

To lead off the relay, Smith produced the fourth-fastest 200 free time in history, touching in 1:30.11 to set a new SEC and Florida record.

The Gators also reeled in a silver medal in the 200 medley with a second-place finish by Dakota Mahaffey, Will Davis, Isaac Davis, and Eric Friese.

Day Two-
Smith wasn’t done. He came back on the second day to set a new American and NCAA record in the 500 free to claim the SEC title. His time of 4:06.32 beat the previous American record by almost a full second and the previous NCAA mark by almost two full seconds.

Finke would also pick up his first individual medal of the week with a third-place finish in the event.

A third Florida relay medal was gained in the 200 free relay, as the team of Friese, Smith, Will Davis, and Isaac Davis finished in second.

Day Three-
Florida would head into finals on Thursday night in second place with 395. A clean sweep of the podium in the 400 IM and another SEC title in the 200 free would change that, as Florida scored 299.5 on day three to take the lead and never look back from there.

Smith would notch his second SEC title of the meet in the 400 IM, and Khader Baqlah would register his second career 200 free SEC title.

Grant Sanders (second) and Robert Finke (third) would join Smith on the podium, as Sanders hit the third-fastest swim in Gator history and Finke touched with the fifth-fastest time in the nation.

Day four-
With only a combination of seven swims between the morning and afternoon, Florida took full advantage, sending four to an A-final on Friday night. Dillon Hillis led the way after securing his first career SEC podium appearance with a third-place finish in the 100 breast.

Florida capped the night off with another relay medal, this time coming in the 400 medley by Clark Beach, Hillis, Smith, and Will Davis. The relay finished in second with the eighth-fastest time in program history.

Day Five:
Bobby Finke got things started with a new American record in the 1,650 free, smashing the previous best by six full seconds. He would finish in 14:12.08 to claim a SEC title and become the fastest American in history.

Florida would go on to claim three more medals on the final day to close things out with a silver by Clark Beach (200 back) and a trio of bronze medals by Gravley (1,650 free), Smith (100 free), and Sanders (200 breast).

All three bronze medals came in personal-best fashion.

Quotables

Head coach Anthony Nesty-
“I am incredibly proud of our men. What they accomplished this week was nothing short of exemplary. Each one of them competed with the greatest heart and tenacity.  Every man did their job, and they executed as a committed and focused unit. This championship is extremely challenging physically, due to the length of days in the competition itself. Every team wants the prize and are equally hungry. This week, the Gators earned this championship and did so decisively. It was very rewarding to see their hard work has rewards. I want to thank our Administration and support staff for their loyal and earnest dedication to our programs and these athletes. We must now focus our attention on the NCAA Championships. We still have work to do.  The season is not over yet. I am honored to coach these young men, and I care very much about each and every one of them.”

Head Diving coach Bryan Gillooly-
“It’s an honor to be a part of this team with Coach Nesty and Coach Steve (Jungbluth) and the rest of the staff. We’re just the point of the sphere to all the support staff back in Gainesville, as well. This is all for them. This is all for Gator Nation, and I’m happy to be a part of it. We’re glad to contribute.”

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