Swimmers try to leave mark

Florida swimmers Omar Pinzon, left, and Shaune Fraser pose at the Stephen C. O'Connell Center on Monday. Both Pinzon and Fraser are two-time Olympians.

Erica Brough/Staff photographer
Published: Monday, February 1, 2010 at 11:49 p.m.
Last Modified: Monday, February 1, 2010 at 11:49 p.m.

The list of SEC titles mounted poolside at the O'Connell Center is impressive until you see where it ends — 1993.

That's the last time Florida has won the SEC championship in men's swimming.

No school in the conference has garnered more league titles in men's swimming than the Gators. Thirty-three times it was Florida that ruled the pool. But since 1994, that distinction belongs to the Auburn Tigers.

Eight straight years Florida has finished second to Auburn as it reeled off 13 consecutive conference crowns and 16 of the last 17. The Gators look to snap that streak Feb. 17-20 at the SEC Championships in Athens, Ga.

“Being second eight years in a row is tough,” Gator head coach Gregg Troy said. “We are not happy about it. I know I certainly am not.”

No. 6 Florida capped off a perfect dual meet season Friday, beating Tennessee in Knoxville to improve to 9-0 overall, 4-0 in the SEC. The Gators have one of their more talented teams in Troy's 11 seasons as coach, led by senior All-Americans Shaune Fraser and Omar Pinzon.

“We have a good group of older guys and younger guys,” Troy said. “We seem to swim up to our competition. With Auburn, you have the reigning national champion, and we had one of our best dual meets in the last few years. We are seeing the things we need to see at this time of year, but we definitely have some things we need to improve on. We have good senior leadership from swimmers like Shaune and Omar.”

The two had strong performances a week ago in upsetting No. 5 Auburn at the O'Connell Center. Pinzon, an Olympian from Bogota, Columbia, won three individual events in the 100-yard back (47.46), 200 back (1:42.80) and 200 individual medley (1:47.91) while Fraser, a two-time Olympian from Georgetown, Cayman Islands, won both the 100 fly (47.00) and 200 fly (1:44.37).

“It was nice to beat Auburn, but there are more important things to come with SECs and the NCAAs approaching,” said Fraser, the defending national champion in both the 200 free and 200 fly. “It will be even sweeter if we are able to win the SEC championship.”

“It was good for us to beat them, but it is more important to get ready for the SECs and NCAAs,” Pinzon added. “That's where it matters the most. This is the most talented team we have had since Shaune and I have been here. We know we need to continue to improve.”

Last year Auburn cruised to the conference title en route to its sixth national title in seven years. Florida's men, who won consecutive national titles in the mid-1980s, finished fifth at the NCAAs in 2009, marking the fourth time in the past five years that the Gators ended their season in the top five. Texas is currently ranked No. 1, with Stanford, Arizona and California filling out the top four.

Fraser will attempt to defend his individual national titles in the 200 free and 200 fly, which he set a NCAA record (1:40.75), at this year's NCAA Championships on March 25-27 in Columbus, Ohio.

Swimmers taper or have a reduction in practice workload in preparation for peak competitions, like the SECs and NCAAs. In swimming, how a team performs at the end of the season is more important than its dual meet record.

“Beating Auburn helps instill some confidence for the younger swimmers,” Fraser said. “But we know Auburn will be there at the SECs and the NCAAs, so we have to continue to improve and get ready.”

Troy was pleased with Pinzon's performances against Auburn, and has been encouraged by performances from Conor Dwyer, a junior transfer from Iowa, who recently was named national collegiate men's swimmer of the week after winning the 200 and 500 free and anchoring the winning 400 free relay against the Tigers.

“Conor is really coming on,” Troy said. “I am very pleased with seniors like Omar Pinzon, who has been overlooked a lot because he has been in Shaune Fraser's shadow. He really had big swims on a national scale competing against Auburn. We start to get those things, we are going to be really good

“It is all about opportunity. That is what we have stressed with the team all year long. You are only as good as your last performance. People remember SEC and NCAA titles, they don't remember dual meets.”

Contact Larry Savage at 352-374-5050 or at larry.savage@gvillesun.com.

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