By Sami Harb Special to The Tuscaloosa News
The men and women of the Alabama swimming and diving team will begin the postseason this week when they travel to Knoxville to compete in the 2017 SEC Championships from Feb. 14-18.
“This is the exciting time of the year for us. We try to put all our eggs in one basket basically, in the championship competitions at the end of the year,” coach Dennis Pursley said. “We’re excited about it. We feel like we’ve got a lot of swimmers and divers who are performing at a higher level coming into the championships than they have in previous years.”
On the men’s side, the field is loaded with several of the elite teams in the country. The Crimson Tide men are ranked No. 10 in the country. However, Alabama still sits behind conference foes No. 5 Georgia Bulldogs, No. 6 Florida Gators and No. 7 Auburn Tigers.
Since Pursley’s first year, when the men’s team finished last at SEC Championships, Alabama’s program has risen to compete in a conference that once again features a bevy of highly ranked teams.
“After that last-place finish, I think the following year we jumped up to fourth or fifth, and since then we’ve kind of been at the level in the SEC’s,” Pursley said. “Six out of the top 10 teams in the NCAA championships last year were SEC teams, so it’s tough to take those final steps, but it’s really going to be a dogfight this year, and our goal is to win it all.”
Heading into a competition in which the Crimson Tide will almost certainly have to be at its best to be victorious, the swimmers are also eager for the opportunity to elevate the status of the Alabama program.
“I’m really looking forward to showing people up and setting new expectations that we actually are a championship team this year,” junior Christopher Reid said. “Personally, I’m hopefully looking for a title.”
On paper, the men figure to score big points in the relay events as the Crimson Tide have top-3 seed times in all five relay events, including the top times in 200 and 400-meter freestyle relays. Those relay teams feature several of the top 50 and 100-meter freestylers in the conference including Luke Kalizak and Zane Waddell, who each rank in the 50 and 100, respectively.
For the women, a program still in a building phase will look to showcase its improvement in the postseason.
“The women, we’re not at the level yet where we can compete for a championship title,” Pursley said, adding that they want to move up the ranks, closing the gap between where they’ve been the last couple of years and the top teams.