Texas A&M joined the SEC less than a year ago, will host the conference’s men’s and women’s swimming and diving championships starting today and could hoist a league title banner by this weekend.
The Aggies —as well as fellow newcomer Missouri — have made a tough swimming conference even more competitive, and they could prove it beginning today at Texas A&M Natatorium in College Station.
“This may be the strongest and deepest conference championships ever,” UT swimming coach Matt Kredich said Monday.
Diving preliminaries start at noon and the swimming events begin later in the afternoon.
On the women’s side, Georgia and Texas A&M are the “strongest teams on paper,” Kredich said, although Florida, Auburn and UT will be on the next tier of teams “capable of giving them a run.”
For the men, Florida has one of the strongest teams in its history and is the favorite to end Auburn’s streak of 16 consecutive men’s titles.
“There are a handful of teams after that fighting for third or fourth, and I’d like to think that we’re among them,” Kredich said.
The Lady Vols will be led by senior Kelsey Floyd, who has won each of her 100 and 200 butterfly events this season, and sophomore Molly Hannis, who is undefeated in the breaststroke and is the defending SEC champion in the 100.
The Lady Vols finished second in the SEC last year and seventh in the NCAA field.
The men will be led by senior sprinter Ed Walsh, who swam an under-20 second in the 50 freestyle and finished second in the 100 last month.
“The ones we’re counting on are the ones who’ve been here, our seniors,” Kredich said. “
Although the pool at Texas A&M is new for most of the Vols, Kredich said it’s starting to feel like home.
“Every venue has its own personality,” he said. “Some of our swimmers came up to me and said, ‘I love this pool. It feels like home.’ We’ve competed in pools where it takes a while to get to know the walls. Here, there’s a real familiarity.”
Kredich hopes that sense of familiarity will aid UT’s youngest competitors.
“We have a lot of freshmen between the men’s and women’s teams,” he said. “We want them to rise to the occasion.”
Evan Woodbery covers Tennessee athletics. Follow him at www.Twitter.com/TennesseeBeat.