AUSTIN, Texas – Alabama senior Robert Howard got his last NCAA Swimming and Diving Championships off to a fast start Thursday night, taking bronze in the 50 freestyle at the Jamail Texas Swimming Center in Austin, Texas.

The Alexander City, Ala., native posted four sub-19 second 50 freestyles on the day, including leading off the Crimson Tide’s 200 freestyle relay in prelims and finals and the prelims and finals of the 50. His last 50 of the night went for an 18.80, securing third place in individual final of the event.

“I felt like it was a little up and down in prelims and finals today,” Howard said. “My 50 at the end of the relay wasn’t as fast I thought it would be, but Jonty (Skinner) said, just get faster every swim, so I’m trying to carry that mindset into tomorrow. I think that’s the key for everyone.”

It was the best individual finish of Howard’s career at the NCAA Championships after finishing seventh in the 50 in 2018.

“I haven’t gotten reflective at this point, but I’m sure when I have time to think about my career, and where I am right now, I’ll say, ‘wow,’” Howard said.

Howard’s trip to the podium to pick up the bronze trophy in the 50 freestyle was his second of the night. He combined with sophomore Sam DiSette, freshman Jonathan Berneburg and junior Zane Waddell to take sixth in the 200 freestyle relay with a time of 1:16.23. The Tide moved up four places in the 200 free relay from a year ago at this meet.

Alabama closed out Thursday night’s finals with a ninth-place finish in the 400 medley relay, where Waddell along with seniors Laurent Bams, Knox Auerbach and Howard, combined to post a 3:04.55. The Tide moved up two places from last year’s finish in the 400 medley relay.

As a team, the Crimson Tide is in eighth place, with 60 points heading into Friday’s events.

“I’m pleased with where we are in the team standings, in the top-10 after Thursday and ranked second among SEC schools,” UA head coach Dennis Pursley said. “We’re swimming solid, but we’re not having the kind of breakout performances that you hope for at this meet. We hope to have some of those kind of swims before the meet is over.”

In prelims, Waddell was 30th and DiSette was 33rd in the 50 freestyle, posting times of 19.47 and 19.52, respectively. Freshman Nicholas Perera was 53rd in the 200 individual medley after touching the wall at 1:47.30.n

Howard will swim the 200 freestyle, Bams the 100 breaststroke and Waddell the 100 backstroke on Friday, while Perera will swim the 400 individual medley. Howard and Perera set the school records in the 200 free and 400 IM, respectively, at last month’s SEC Championships. The Tide will start things off on Friday with the 200 medley relay. Prelims get underway at 10 a.m. CT, while finals start at 6 p.m. CT.

“It’s going to be a real challenge to maintain our position in the team rankings, but that’s our goal,” Pursley said. “We have a small team here this week, with no divers, so if we can hang on and stay in the top 10, I’d be real pleased with that.”