By Andrew Ford
Special to The Tuscaloosa News

Alabama will send eight swimmers to the women’s NCAA Championships.

The championships start Wednesday in Austin, Texas, at the University of Texas and concludes Saturday.

The Crimson Tide is taking three freshmen, but these athletes are no strangers to the big stage.

“Our freshmen are ready for the moment,” Alabama coach Dennis Pursley said. “I expect them to have a really good tournament.”

Freshmen Kensey McMahon and Rhyan White qualified in individual events. Senior Justine Macfarlane and sophomore Flora Molnar also qualified for individual events. Seniors Caroline Beene and Sarah Helm, junior Allie Surrency and freshman Kalia Antoniou all made the Tide’s NCAA roster as part of its relay contingent. It will be the first NCAAs for all four.

McMahon, a decorated high school athlete from Jacksonville, Florida, qualified for the 1,650 freestyle and the 100 backstroke. She had a stellar freshman season for UA, taking home top honors against Delta State, Ohio State, Texas A&M, Tennessee, Florida State, and Miami. She also had five top-five finishes in the 2019 season.

“The older swimmers have told me that this is an emotional meet,” McMahon said. “I have a lot of confidence from my teammates and I just need to keep my focus.”

Freshmen going into the NCAA Championships will lean on their teammates that have been there before and feed off their energy. One of those upperclassmen is Justine Macfarlane, a senior making her second appearance in the NCAAs.

Macfarlane, who qualified for the 100 breaststroke, had a productive senior season, taking home top honors against Delta State, Ohio State, Tennessee, and Auburn. She also took home 14 top-five finishes in the 2019 season.

“Going into my first NCAA Championships, I did not know what to expect,” Macfarlane said. “I now know how to handle the pressure and help the freshmen out.”

Alabama also earned the opportunity to race in the 200 and 400 medley relays and in the 400 freestyle relay.

Swimming is often perceived as an individual sport, but for Alabama, the focus remains on the play as a team in relays.

“Our emphasis on always on the relays,” Pursley said. “We always get the most points in relays, and we need to keep that a strong point going into this tournament.”