Texas A&M men’s and women’s swimming and diving teams will compete in the SEC Championships from Feb. 18 to 22 at James E. Martin Aquatic Center in Auburn, Alabama.
The No. 21 women are aiming to earn their fifth consecutive championship while the No. 4 men hope to best their fourth-place finish from last season.
The dual meets this season have been stepping stones to get to the conference meet. SECs are five-day events and are an emotional rollercoaster for many swimmers and divers, men’s head swim coach Jay Holmes said.
“We want to go in and compete at the highest level,” Holmes said. “We are representing Texas A&M. It’s a fight we have prepared for and one we are thrilled to be a part of. I’m thrilled our guys have the opportunity to get in there and do it.”
Senior and team captain Benjamin Walker placed first in the 200-yard breaststroke at the 2019 SEC Championships. While he said he hopes to defend his title, he also said his teammate, freshman Andres Puente, will be his toughest competition. Puente beat Walker’s best time in the 200 breast by a couple hundredths of a second at the Art Adamson Invite in November.
“This year is about teamwork, nothing else,” Walker said. “I just really want to score as many points as I can for the team; if that’s winning three events and scoring 90 points, I’m great with that. If it’s losing, hopefully only to my teammates, or getting second, I’m fine with that. I just want to score as many points as I can for my team, that’s my goal this year.”
Reflecting on his freshman season, Walker said the team had improved immeasurably in the last four years.
“Freshman year, I remember going into [SECs] having us ranked No. 8 out of 10 teams, now some are calling us the favorites,” Walker said. “I don’t know if I like calling ourselves the favorite because I like having that underdog mentality going into the meet, but it will be really fun to see what happens. I hope we have a trophy coming out of it.”
Walker said the team’s goal is to bring a championship trophy home to Aggieland for Holmes, who is in his 33rd season with the Aggies and 15th season as their head coach.
“I think the special thing about Jay is that he is here because he loves Texas A&M, he’s a great coach, and at the end of the day he is a true Aggie,” Walker said. “It would be very special to see him bring a trophy back home to the school that he loves.”
The women’s swimming and diving team has won the SECs each of the past four years. They are hoping to continue their streak, but this year is more difficult than others with injuries and illnesses, said women’s head swim coach Steve Bultman.
“The SECs is an opportunity for some of the other girls to step up,” Bultman said. “They have a chance with others being injured to take charge. SECs are exciting, both men and women are there, stands are packed, it’s as loud as it can be. If you can’t get excited to swim fast there, you can’t get excited to swim fast anywhere.”
Senior Anna Belousova was the SEC champion in the 100-yard breaststroke her sophomore year and 200 breast her junior year. She said her goal is to replicate that success in her final season.
“It’s definitely an honor to represent a school that has been champions four times already, and we would like to keep up and do everything in our power to keep up the fight until the very last day of our very last race,” Belousova said.
Men’s and women’s diving coach Jay Lerew said he is looking forward to another successful conference championship. Texas A&M currently has the top two divers in the SEC, both of whom compete at the world level, with junior Kurtis Mathews earning a spot on the World Team and freshman Victor Povzner earning a spot on the Russian National Team.
“The SEC Championships is a team event, so every point counts,” Lerew said. “With diving, we have always done very well, and I hope to continue the phase.”
Men’s swim coach Jay Holmes said the SECs are different from the NCAAs because while only a select number of swimmers and divers can qualify to compete at the national meet, the whole team is together at the conference championships.
The men’s team is heading into the championship slate ranked No. 4, their highest since 2001. While the ranking is a recognition of the success the team had thus far, Holmes said the Aggies still have a long way to go before the season can truly be deemed successful.
“The ranking is a nice projection of what the team has done so far, but it’s what happens at the SECs and NCAAs that count, that’s the stuff people remember,” Holmes said. “The job at hand is to go to the SEC Championships, compete for a conference championship and get as many people as we can to NCAAs.”
Live updates on the SEC Championship will be available on 12thman.com, and it will be available to watch on SEC Network+.