By Andrew Ford
Special to The Tuscaloosa News
For the Alabama swimming and diving team, the SEC Championships are finally here.
The motto for the league is “It just means more,” and starting Tuesday in Athens, Georgia, the Crimson Tide will find out if it’s up to the challenge.
The good news for Alabama — the seniors have been there before and know how to handle the challenges of competing in a demanding league.
“The SEC is extremely competitive, and we just need to take things one race at a time,” Alabama coach Dennis Pursley said. “Our strength is in the relays and we will need our depth to come through.”
On the women’s side there is a balance of youth and veterans as the Crimson Tide has had contributions from each class. The youth on the team respects the veterans, and the veterans provide leadership by example.
Going to a championship meet can sometimes put pressure on athletes and it can be particularly nerve-racking for inexperienced freshmen. Emma Murray said the Crimson Tide’s underclassmen are ready, though.
“Top to bottom, we have all contributed this year, and have really worked on creating our identity as a team,” said Murray, a senior from Atlanta who specializes in the breaststroke and butterfly. Her top 100 breaststroke time is 1:02.52 and her best 200 breaststroke time is 2:17.77.
“I grew up competing at Georgia, and for the SEC Championships, it is a crazy atmosphere with standing room only,” she said.
For Murray and the rest of the veterans, the freshmen are an integral part of the Crimson Tide’s success.
“I am super excited for the competition and I can’t wait to cheer on all my teammates,” said Rhyan White, a freshman from Utah, who has posted team record times in the 100 and 200 backstroke.
For the Crimson Tide men, experience and preparation is everything. With a strong core of upperclassmen, the Crimson Tide is confident heading into Athens.
“We have been training for this the whole season, and I feel good about our chances heading in,” said Zane Waddell, a junior from Bloemfontein, South Africa.
Waddell posted the top 100 backstroke and best 100 butterfly for the men this season.
At last year’s championships, the men finished eighth, while the women were sixth.
Pursley understands the hype around the SEC and he is trying to use it to his advantage.
“We just need to take things one race at a time,” he said. “We need to showcase all of our strengths from both teams.”