With both Auburn teams ranked No. 1 nationally in the latest collegiate polls, the defending National Champion women and the six-time defending SEC Champion men have big targets on their chests as competition opens. There are less than 100 all-session tickets remaining and the event should be a sellout sometime Wednesday, AU officials said.
"This is a fun time for the whole team because we spent so much of the year focusing on the end of the rainbow, which is the NCAA Championship," Coach David Marsh said. "As I told the staff, once we get within a week of the SECs, we want to turn our complete focus to that event. It needs at least that much attention because the competition we go against in the readiness-state that they are in, we can't afford to be anything but mentally very, very sharp."
While winning SEC Championships are old hat for the men's squad, for the women this is a chance to do something they've never done. Although they claimed the big prize last season behind the dominant swimming of Maggie Bowen, Georgia has been dominant on the women's side, something that Auburn hopes to end this year in the Tigers' home pool.
"It is obvious that this conference is the best swimming conference in the country right now," Auburn assistant Kim Brackin said. "If we are the best team in the country, which we plan on being in the end, this title should be ours. As Maggie (Bowen) says, it just has to be done. We have to do it, which is sort of the way the women's team is thinking about it. If we don't win it, that doesn't mean we can't win a NCAA title, but it is just the most logical step towards a NCAA title. Just for the pride and prestige of it, it is definitely something we covet.
"I think this year we are very strong in our medleys. Maggie will once again lead that group, but she has some girls right on her heels to score big points with her. Our backstroke events are going to be really strong. Again we maintain some dominance in the freestyle events. I would say what might be a weaker event for the conference might be the IMs so we certainly can monopolize there. And that is in terms of depth, the ninth through 16. Every event in the SEC is real strong across the board."
All-American Maggie Bowen is one of the world's top swimmers.
While the women are solid from top to bottom with the addition of several key freshmen into the mix, the men's team is its usual strong group in the breaststroke, but Auburn has also been the beneficiary of some help from newcomers. None have been bigger than sophomore Fred Bousquet. A sprinter who Marsh said was the fastest swimmer on the team the first time jumped in the pool last fall, the native of France will be a big addition to the Tigers down the stretch as they go for title number seven this week.
Senior Justin Caron says this year's Auburn team is performing well going into the SEC Championships.
"The strengths on the our team again is the breaststroke as Pat Calhoun will lead us into that event along with Justin Caron, our other captain," Marsh noted. "We should score well in the breaststroke. However, we have found some surprise backstrokers lately in Derek Gibb and Ryan Wochomurka. It is amazing when you have talent, you can use that talent by turning over into a different position in the water, and they both look like they could be NCAA-caliber backstrokers.
"Probably the most improved area of our team is in sprint (freestyles), not only with the addition of Fred Bousquet, but also Matt Kidd and Derek Gibb have improved substantially from last year at this time."
Wednesday's action gets underway at 10 a.m. when the Men's One-Meter Diving Preliminaries take place. At 1:30 the women get into the mix with the Three-Meter Diving Prelims. After a break the meet continues at 6 p.m. with the Men's One-Meter finals, the Men's and Women's 200 Medley Relay Finals, the Women's Three-Meter Finals, and the Men's and Women's 800 Freestyle Medley Relay Finals.