So, last weekend they held the SEC Championships in Swimming and Diving. Texting back and forth results with my favorite swimming nerd, Trever Gray, one thing stood out.
Florida women did a lot better.
In what might someday just be viewed as a freak year for the Gators, the women’s swimming and diving team finished 7th a year ago. This year? 2nd.
It is not easy to move up even one spot in a competitive league. Moving up a few spots takes a huge effort. Consider that in the first year (2012) of Braden Holloway’s tenure at NC State, the men had an awesome year that was the first step to their now ACC dominance. Their finish in that year was 5th. They were 8th the previous year.
To improve that many places in the top conference in the country, you need to have several things going for you. First, you need to hit the ground running with all of your incoming athletes. It’s never simple to do well your first year in a college program, as it can often feature a pretty dramatic change in swimming environment (on top of all the other big life changes).
In this case, you had athletes that were recruited with a somewhat different coaching staff, adding an extra degree of difficulty to the scene. Florida got great performances out of freshmen Vanessa Pearl (multiple relays, 2nd in the 400 IM) and Leah Braswell (1st in the 1650, 2nd in the 500).
You also need to do very well with the existing swimmers on the team. Coaching changes can often mean that you lose athletes, whether it be to transfer, or again just due to having a completely different coaching staff.
Pretty much across the board, sophomores through seniors, Florida performed much better than last year. Swimmers whose improvement had stagnated or even reversed took big steps forward.
I don’t have any special insight into Florida, so I can’t say for sure what made this dramatic change. They moved on from a long time head coach, Gregg Troy, this past off-season. Troy is generally worshipped in the coaching community for his role in coaching Ryan Lochte and Caeleb Dressel, among others. In that long tenure, he weathered some pretty serious accusations about his comportment with the women’s team.
I don’t know much about Jeff Poppell or Whitney Hite, the two coaches who got added in the off-season, except for the fact that a good portion of the Swimswam commentariat thought that they were terrible hires. Perhaps there’s good results to be made by going in the opposite direction of whatever anonymous trolls on Swimswam say? Maybe UNC should double, nay, triple down on Rich DeSelm?
It’s worth noting that the Florida men also steamed right along, winning another conference championship. So there’s that too. Congrats to the Florida women, who are in a pretty good position to contend for a conference title next year.