Five takeaways from Missouri swimming and diving’s performance at the SEC championships

After Missouri finished in the top half of the conference at the SECs, there is much for fans to learn about the team ahead of the NCAA championships.
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The Southeastern Conference championships concluded on Sunday, and now head coach Greg Rhodenbaugh and the Missouri swimming and diving teams will focus their full attention on the NCAA championships.

These championships are what swimming and diving teams across the country work toward all season long. Every meet on regular season schedules was a chance to qualify for the NCAAs, and with the NCAA diving championships beginning in two weeks, time is running out for athletes to book a ticket to Minneapolis or Columbus, Ohio.

Missouri has one meet remaining that Tiger swimmers and divers can use to qualify for the NCAAs, justly named the Mizzou NCAA Qualifier held at Mizzou Aquatic Center this weekend.

Before then, a lot can be taken from Mizzou’s performance at the SEC championships that can provide insight on what fans can expect out of the Tigers at the NCAA championships.

Here are five things of note about Mizzou swimming and diving after the SEC championships:

Started slow, finished strong

With the format of the SEC championships being preliminary heats in the morning followed by final heats in the evening, it is tough to recover from a slow first swim. This is what Missouri endured throughout the week.

Many Tigers narrowly missed out on finishing in the top eight after preliminary heats, thus missing out on valuable team points in the “A” final. They then recovered in a consolation “B” or “C” final and improved their times immensely.

An example of this is senior Hannah Stevens’ performance on the final day of the meet. Stevens swam a 1:53.32 in her preliminary heat in the 200-yard backstroke. This time placed her in the “B” final for the event, or ninth place through 17th place after preliminaries. Stevens went on to dominate this final heat, placing first in the heat and ninth overall with a time of 1:51.75, two seconds faster than her morning swim.

Rhodenbaugh commended those swimmers who were able to recover after preliminaries and perform their best in the finals.

“The morning was a mixed bag; we had some really good stuff and we had some not very good stuff,” Rhodenbaugh said in a press release on night two of the meet. “This evening was really good because the people who got it done this morning were in the right frame of mind and were ready to go. They came back tonight and did a really nice job.”

Mizzou swimmers cannot afford to have slow preliminary times in the NCAA championships with a much larger field of teams involved and much smaller room for error.

Some struggle under pressure

The team started day one of the SECs slow in preliminary heats and did not recover much at all in that evening’s final heats. This was evident in the overall team standings after night one, when the Mizzou men were in sixth place and the women in 10th.

Rhodenbaugh said he believed his team was struggling to acclimate to the environment and big stage of the venue in College Station, Texas.

“In swimming, we didn't really arrive at the meet until the 800 free relay at the end,” Rhodenbaugh said in a press release on night one. “For some reason we were distracted on the first two relays, whether it was the noise or the venue. We finally settled down and swam like we could on the 800 free relay.”

The NCAA championships looms on an even larger stage. Mizzou will have to be able to get its bearings quicker to stand a chance against the top programs in the country in a larger and more raucous venue.

Upperclassmen have been using their experience well

Junior Jacob Wielinski and Stevens finished runners-up in the 1,650-yard freestyle and 100-yard backstroke, respectively. In diving, senior Madeline McKernan placed third in the women’s platform competition with a season-high score. These were the highest finishes for Mizzou in individual events.

Additionally, senior Sharli Brady was a part of two record-breaking swims in the 200-yard butterfly and the 200-yard freestyle relay team, and junior Mikel Schreuders tied his own school record in the 200-yard freestyle to place third in the event overall.

If the SEC championships were any indication, Mizzou will lean on its more experienced upperclassmen at the NCAAs to score important team points throughout the week.

The team has tunnel vision

Going into the SEC championships, Mizzou held a combined 1-6 record against SEC opponents. The team’s lone conference win was back in October, when the Mizzou men barely edged South Carolina in the final event of the meet.

This did not discourage the Tigers at the SECs, with the Mizzou men placing fifth overall and the Mizzou women placing sixth.

The Mizzou men placed ahead of Kentucky, which defeated the Tigers at a dual meet in November, while the Mizzou women finished in front of South Carolina and Arkansas, two teams that defeated them at a double dual meet back in October.

SEC competition prepared Mizzou for a run at the NCAA championships

The SEC is one of the most competitive swimming and diving conferences in the country per the national rankings.

Eight men’s SEC programs are ranked in the top 25 of the most recent CSCAA Coaches poll, with nine receiving votes. On the women’s side, there are also eight SEC schools ranked in the same poll.

Currently, the Mizzou men sit at No. 15 in the rankings, while the Mizzou women are ranked at No. 20. In a less competitive conference, No. 15 and No. 20 would be more than enough to compete for a conference title.

In the SEC, however, this places the Mizzou men at sixth in the conference and the Mizzou women seventh.

Therefore, the high level of competition seen at the SEC championships and in SEC meets throughout the season have prepared Mizzou to compete with the best programs in the country at this year’s NCAA championships.

Edited by Joe Noser | jnoser@themaneater.com

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