Feb. 18, 2013
COLLEGE STATION, Texas -
The Alabama men's and women's swimming and diving teams get the postseason started with the new-look Southeastern Conference Championships this Tuesday in College Station, Texas.
In addition to being in Texas for the first time, the 2013 SEC Championships will include league newcomers Texas A&M and Missouri. The addition of two teams to the lineup induced several changes to the championships structure, including an extra day of competition and an extra heat to finals. Prior to this season, there were two heats of eight competitors for the individual events, and scoring went 1-16. This year there will be three heats in finals, and scoring will go 1-24.
For the Crimson Tide, the coming week has been the focus of their season since the first team meeting in August. Dennis Pursley, in his first year as Alabama's head coach, knows his team is a somewhat limited going into the championships when it comes to point-scoring threats.
"We've probably had more than our share of injuries this season," Pursley said. "Our top female swimmer and one of our top two men won't even be with us because of injuries, and quite a few others have had to overcome injuries and illness throughout the season in order to get back on track and back where they want to be, but they've done that. So for the most part, I think we're prepared and we're ready to go."
The Tide women's top finisher from a year ago, junior Olympian and All-American Kristel Vourna and senior Anestis Arampatzis, an SEC championship finalist last year, have both been sidelined for the rest of the season.
The Tide men will look to junior All-American BJ Hornikel, who finished second in both the 100 and 200 freestyles last season, to lead the way again this year. The Tide women will look to junior diver Paige McCleary, who has finished in the championship finals of the SEC off the springboard events the last two years and was the 2011 SEC Female Freshman Diver of the Year.
In addition to its veterans, the Tide has some newcomers ready to make a splash at their first conference championship. On the men's side, rookie Brian Westlake has been impressive in the distance events throughout the regular season. On the women's side, Emma Saunders, a member of the British National Team, joined the Tide for the spring semester and has brought an immediate spark to the Tide's freestyle corps.
Coming out of the regular season, Pursley is starting to see the team spirit and character that he and his staff have been working to instill in the Crimson Tide since day one.
"What pleases me most is the fact that they're gelling as a team," Pursley said of the end of the regular season. "We saw more spirited competition and that's really what we're trying to do. We're trying to create a team dynamic and a culture that we can develop from going forward."
Competition at the SEC Championships gets underway Tuesday at 11 a.m. CT with the preliminaries of the men's 1-meter and women's 3-meter diving events. Tuesday's finals, which will get underway at 5:30 p.m. ET, will include the diving events as well as the men's and women's 200 medley and 800 freestyle relays.