March 26, 2014
AUSTIN, Texas - For most college students, Austin, Texas isn't considered a prime spring break destination, but for the nine members of the Alabama swimming and diving team who are spending their mid-semester break here at the NCAA Championships, there is no where they would rather be.
"Our guys are really excited to be in Austin," UA head coach Dennis Pursley said. "With this being spring break for us, we were able to get our here a few days early and get settled in."
The championships get underway Thursday on the University of Texas campus at the Jamail Texas Swimming Center. The 200 freestyle relay, where the Crimson Tide is seeded second, opens the meet with prelims starting at 11 a.m. CT. Alabama will also see action in the 50 and 500 freestyles as well as the 400 medley relay.
Seniors BJ Hornikel and Vlad Caciuc, junior Phillip Deaton, sophomores Brett Walsh and Crews Wellford and freshmen Anton McKee, Kristian Gkolomeev, Connor Oslin and Pavel Romanov make up the largest contingent that Alabama has sent to the national championships in more than a decade.
Hornikel, a three-time All-American, will be looking to improve on his fifth-place finish in the 100 freestyle from last year's championships in Indianapolis, Ind. The senior sprinter qualified to swim the 50, 100 and 200 freestyle as well as legs on the 200, 400 and 800 freestyle relays along with the 400 medley relay.
"You always have to have someone who has competed at the level that you aspire to be at and for us, that's BJ," Pursley said. "He's the only one on the team that has been to the NCAA Championships in the past and he's someone who has reached the highest level, earning first team All-American honors and grabbing a top-5 national finish last season. So he's definitely somebody the other guys can look to as someone who has been there and competed at the highest level."
McKee, Oslin, Gkolomeev and Romanov all qualified in individual events, giving the Tide the largest rookie lineup at NCAAs this season. Caciuc, Deaton, Walsh and Wellford will all see action in the relay events.
"As much as BJ has been a role model for these other guys, I'm also happy for him because after being there by himself last year, he's going as part of a team this year, with eight other guys around him and that certainly makes a difference," Pursley said.
McKee won the 200 breaststroke with a school and league record at last month SEC Championships, will swim the 100 and 200 breaststrokes as will Romanov. McKee will also swim the 500 freestyle along with legs on the 200 and 400 medley relays.
"Anton has been getting faster week-by-week since he got to campus and our hope is that he can keep that up," Pursley said. "That's a big ask after the meet he had in Athens at the SEC Championships. He probably swam as close to a perfect a race as I've ever seen at SECs in the 200 breaststroke. You rarely see that from a veteran, much less a rookie who has only been specializing on the breaststroke for about year, but he's exceeded expectations every step of the way and we hope he has one more performance left in him."
Gkolomeev, who joined the Tide in January for the spring semester, will swim the 50 and 100 freestyles as well as the 200 and 400 freestyle relays. Oslin will swim the 100 backstroke as well as the 200 and 400 medley relays and the 800 freestyle relay.
Deaton and Wellford will swim on the 800 freestyle relay while Walsh and Caciuc will swim the 200 and 400 freestyle relays and the 200 medley relay. Walsh will also swim a leg on the 400 medley relays.
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