Feb. 17, 2014
ATHENS, Ga. -
Just two weeks after closing out the 2013-14 regular season with a dual meet at Georgia, the Alabama Swimming and Diving team is back in Athens, Ga., for the first leg of the postseason.
The Crimson Tide and the rest of the conference will begin competition in the 2014 Southeastern Conference Championships on Tuesday with diving and a pair of relays. For second-year Alabama head coach Dennis Pursley, it is also the start of what his squad has been pointing to all season.
"This has been our focal point since the first days of practice," Pursley said. "We have been working relentlessly on being at our best at this time of year."
While Alabama will be led by veterans like senior All-American BJ Hornikel, senior All-SEC diver Paige McCleary and junior All-American Kristel Vourna - all of whom have scored in the championship finals at the SEC Championships - the Tide will also be looking for its rookies to make a splash this week.
Among those newcomers who have enjoyed early success on the men's side of the slate during the regular season are Anton McKee and Kristian Gkolomeev. McKee has been dominant in the breaststroke races, but has the versatility to show up almost anywhere in the lineup. Gkolomeev joined the Tide in January and, within just three meets under his belt, he is already ranked fourth all-time for the Tide in the 50 freestyle. The 2012 Olympian will give the Tide a definite boost in both individual sprint events and relays. Off the boards, rookie Brent Sagert will help shore up the Tide's diving fortunes
On the women's side of things, distance ace Bonnie Macdonald and butterflyer Leah Bird have led the Tide's young contingent. The Tide has also gotten a renewed punch from Vourna and junior Kaylin Burchell, both of whom battled illness and injury last season. Vourna ended up redshirting the season while Burchell recovered soon enough to make a miraculous run all the to the NCAA Championships. This season, both have been healthy throughout and should make a splash this week in Athens.
Tuesday starts with the women's 1-meter competition and the men's 3-meter diving as well as the men's and women's 200 medley and 800 freestyle relays. Diving preliminaries get underway at 11 a.m. ET while finals get underway at 5:30 p.m. ET.