As the Tennessee swim team prepares to finalize its SEC Championship roster, it is time to look at how the Vols have fared so far this season.
Checking polls is often an intriguing and unbiased way of determining how a sports team has done according to the expectations that “experts” have set. If one were to use this system to grade how the Tennessee swim team has done during its dual-meet competitions, the Vols would pass with flying colors.
The Vol men were a preseason No. 18 team in the country, and the Lady Vols were slated at No. 14, according to the CSCAA poll.
Now, in the latest update, Tennessee is No. 12 on the men’s side and No. 9 on the women’s side. They have made this jump thanks to excellent swimming and impressive performances against several top-25 teams.
Before the season, head coach Matt Kredich noted that this schedule would be a key factor in determining his team’s success.
“Competition is really the engine that drives improvement,” Kredich said.
This engine, facing 14 top-25 teams combined between the Vols and the Lady Vols, has Tennessee driving full speed ahead into the SEC Championships.
Facing a tough schedule is one thing, but winning those meets is another. Tennessee has done both, with the men sitting at 6-2-1 and the women going 7-3 against a challenging schedule.
There have been many key swimmers on this team, but a few stand out with their levels of success this season.
On the women’s side, Erika Brown, Tess Cieplucha and Stanzi Moseley have been a dynamic trio of sophomores for the Lady Vols.
Brown is a freestyle and butterfly specialist who has earned the SEC Swimmer of the Week award two times this season. She broke school records in the 50-yard freestyle (21.50), the 100-yard freestyle (47.54) and the 100-yard butterfly (50.33) during the Tennessee Invitational. Her 100-yard butterfly time is the best in the country this season, and her 50-yard freestyle time is the third-best.
Health has been a critical component of her success this season.
“She (Brown) struggled with illness a lot last year, and we really didn’t see her at her best until NCAAs,” Kredich said. “She’s been healthy. She’s been really focused. I’m not surprised at this point.”
Cieplucha specializes in the individual medley and backstroke. She won her first SEC Swimmer of the Week award after winning the 400-yard IM (4:11.22) and the 500-yard freestyle (4:48.43) against Louisville in November.
Cieplucha’s 400-yard IM time is good for sixth-best in the NCAA, and her coach says she is someone on whom the team can count in all four strokes.
Moseley, who transferred to Tennessee after her freshman season at Southern California, swims freestyle for the Lady Vols. She was named SEC Swimmer of the Week after her four-win performance during the Lady Vols win against Arkansas.
Moseley’s 200-yard free time (1:44.63) is the 16th fastest in the country.
For the Tennessee men, junior Kyle DeCoursey has been a catalyst for the Vols. The freestyle-specialist has the seventh-best time in both the 50-yard freestyle (19.18) and the 100-yard freestyle (42.30).
“He (DeCoursey) is someone we lean on and rely on as a closer,” Kredich said.
Other noteworthy swimmers for the Vols are sophomore Taylor Abbott and seniors Ryan Coetzee, Sam McHugh and Peter John Stevens.
As good as the Tennessee swimming team has been between the lanes, the divers have had just as much success in the diving well.
The Tennessee men are headlined by redshirt junior Colin Zeng and senior Liam Stone, while the women are propelled by junior Rachel Rubadue and freshman Ana Hernandez.
Zeng, a transfer from Ohio State, has won the SEC Diver of the Week award six times this season and is en route to a probable SEC Diver of the Year award. He has won every 1-meter springboard event he has competed in this season, and he has only lost on the 3-meter twice.
Zeng has competed in the platform event just once this year, where he scored a 460.20, good for second in the NCAA this season.
“Colin continues to really show his stuff,” Parrington said. “He really trains his butt off.”
His teammate, team captain Liam Stone, is the reigning SEC Diver of the Year. Stone bested Zeng in the 3-meter event on Senior Day against Florida by less than a point.
Despite being in Zeng's shadow as far as scoring has gone this season, diving coach Dave Parrington thinks that Stone is primed to round into form during the championship meets.
“He’s getting his takeoffs, getting his strength and getting higher in the air,” Parrington said. “He’s moving faster, and all the sudden it’s different than what he has been dealing with this year.”
Rubadue brings talent, experience and leadership to the women’s side of the diving team. She won SEC Diver of the Week after sweeping the diving events at the Tennessee Invitational.
“She (Rubadue) has taken her training to another level,” Parrington said. “We have made some modifications to her strength schedule, and she has bought in.”
Hernandez has had an up-and-down freshman campaign for the Lady Vols. She had what Parrington called a breakout day against Louisville in November, but then she suffered an ankle injury that set her back during the Tennessee Invitational.
Now the Tennessee swimming and diving team will head toward their most important meet so far this season. Based on their track record, it should be a successful meet for the Vols.
“Everything we do is geared toward championship season,” Parrington said.
The SEC Championships will take place in College Station, Texas, from Feb. 14 to 18.