The Vols continued to smash school records in the second night of the SEC Championship Finals, while some of the youngest Tennessee swimmers picked up big wins for the team.
Freshman Meghan Small beat the women’s 200 individual medley school record twice on Wednesday on path to the gold. She finished the preliminary heat in 1:54.86 and became the top seed by one second. She shaved another second off in the finals, finishing in 1:53.31, to narrowly beat Texas A&M’s Sydney Pickrem (1:53.64) and to set the new school record and aquatic center record.
It took some time and seeing sophomore Madeline Banic take the 50 free in dramatic fashion for her to process her own victory, though.
“I think watching Banic get up on the stand hit me more, and then I just started bawling,” she said. “I just saw how much it meant to everybody from a different perspective and it really hit me.”
Banic won the 50 freestyle and set a school record with a time of 21.54 to beat Georgia’s Olivia Smoliga by just .2 seconds. Banic and Smoliga’s times in the final were good for the best in the country this year. Smoliga set the previous best in the nation (21.58) this season at the UGA Fall Invitational.
“I honestly was not expecting that,” Banic said. “I definitely had it in my vision to go my best time, but to drop that much in one night was incredible.”
Her previous best in the event was 21.96 at the 2016 SEC Championship meet.
Like Small, Banic did not realize what she had accomplished until she was out of the pool and her teammates started to swarm her.
“I don’t think I’ve ever been so happy and really claustrophobic at the same time,” Banic said.
Freshman Erika Brown also beat her career best in 50 free in the B final, finishing in 22.33, just behind Auburn’s Julia Meynen for second place.
Tennessee head coach Matt Kredich considered Banic and Small’s wins the highlights of the night for the Vols.
“Banic just pulled one of the biggest upsets in SEC history,” Kredich said. “She beat some great people with a brilliant race. For a freshman and sophomore to come away with wins tonight, for our team to come away with two wins, is great.”
Banic and Small, along with Brown and senior Kira Toussaint, also took the bronze in the 200 freestyle relay, finishing in 1:27.96.
On the men’s side, freshmen Taylor Abbott and Marc Hinawi both beat their career best times in the 500 freestyle and finished 13th and 17th, respectively. Abbott (4:18.96) finished fifth in the B final and Hinawi (4:19.35) won the C final. Sophomore Kyle Decoursey finished sixth in the 50 free for the second year in a row with a time of 19.25.
While the men did not fare as well as the women on Wednesday, coach Kredich is still impressed, overall, with the way both of the fairly young teams have handled the competition so far.
“A lot of sophomores and freshmen did some great stuff tonight,” Kredich said. “They’re getting some great experience early on that I think will serve us well in the rest of the meet.”
In diving, sophomore Rachel Rubadue missed the cut for finals in the women’s 1-meter, finishing 13th in the preliminaries with 294.40 points.
The Florida men’s team took the lead with 486.5 points through 15 events, while Texas A&M’s women’s team remains in first with 488 points through 14. Tennessee’s men’s team is in seventh place with 261.5 points and the women are in fifth with 344 points at the end of day two.