By Sami Harb
Special to The Tuscaloosa News
University of Alabama senior Anton McKee was one of nine Alabama swimmers to earn be named an All-American at the NCAA Swimming and Diving Championships after earning a 10th-place finish at nationals. McKee was good enough to earn an All-American in both the 100 and 200 breaststroke races. In the 200, the final race of his collegiate career, McKee didn’t disappoint, finishing second in the country with a personal best of 1:51.22.
“I just stuck to what I know how to do, stayed long and strong at it worked out for me to earn a best time after three years,” McKee said of his second-place swim.
In a race that was won in American record time, both McKee and his coach were both well of aware of the effort it would take to be successful.
“He swam his race about as well as he possibly could have,” assistant coach Will Leonhart said. “For a guy to go out like that was really special to watch.”
While McKee was able to leave Indianapolis with two more All-American nods to add to his career total (11), it didn’t come without some adversity experienced by both he and the team during the early stages of the meet.
McKee was disqualified in two other events in which he competed, one as an individual and the other as a part of the 400 medley relay team, which was expected to score major points for the Crimson Tide.
“Early on in the meet, the team as a whole really had some ups and downs, that was no different for him. The DQ in the relay was the biggest blow,” Leonhart said. “All the credit goes to the guys for coming together and putting it together and doing an awesome job in every race after that.”
For McKee, making the podium in the 200 breaststroke was a career-defining achievement in his final race, especially after coming so close during his other attempts. He finished fourth, fifth and fourth in his appearances at nationals as a freshman, sophomore and junior, respectively.
After being disqualified in two previous events and doing enough to earn an honorable mention All-American spot in his third, McKee felt the pressure to perform closer to expectations in his final race of the meet, and of his career. However, none of that pressure affected his mind-set prior to competing in the 200. Instead, as always, he remained confident in his preparation and the work he has put into the Alabama program during his tenure allowed him to approach the starting blocks with zero regrets, regardless of the outcome.
“The prelims and semifinals were both kind of weird leading up to it, knowing it would be my last race of college,” McKee said. “I told myself that no matter what I do I’m satisfied knowing that I’ve done everything I could for the university. For me, it kind of took the pressure off to know that it was the last one.”
As a graduating senior, the individual success for McKee is just a part of what he and his fellow seniors Connor Oslin and Pavel Romanov have done to elevate the men’s swimming program to national relevance under coach Dennis Pursley.
Together, the trio has earned 26 total All-American honors and been a part of three teams that have earned a top-10 finish at the national meet. To put those accomplishments in perspective, consider that the Crimson Tide finished in last place at SEC Championships the year before their arrival.
“It’s really about the culture that has been engrained in this program,” McKee said. “It’s been fun to see all of our hard work result in something as great as this has been.”