Long before she made her way to Gainesville, Burckle was a major blip on the swimming radar, a blip that only keeps growing larger and more prominent now that she swims for the Gators. In just her first year at the collegiate level she swam the second-fastest 200 freestyle in Florida history and the fourth-fastest ever in a conference-championship meet. Caroline Burckle's time of 1:44.64 to win the Southeastern Conference (SEC) title two weeks ago was also a U.S. Swimming 17-18 national age-group record.
"It was a lot of fun," Burckle said a week after the event. "I really didn't expect it at all. I just tried to get in there and do the best I could I knew that the other girls were going to be really fast, and I would have been happy with whatever happened." This was her first SEC championship meet but she wasn't awestruck by the assemblage of top flight swimming talent.
"I think it was just something new I had to experience," she said. "It was something new that I had fun with so I just went out there and raced."
There is no resting on her laurels. The competitive freestyler is preparing for her chance at a national title when the NCAA swimming and diving finals are held on March 17-19 at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Ind. She thinks she has at least one more big race in her.
"I don't know if I am peaking," she said. "I think there is always room for improvement at the end of the season and at the NCAA's hopefully I will be faster than I was here."
The Gators hosted the SEC Championships and Burckle is very fond of the home pool advantage and the fans that come out and watch the meets at home.
"It is good being in your own environment that you are familiar with and all the fans in the crowd are cheering you on," Burckle said. "You know everyone is behind you 100 percent. I think it is just a comfort thing. Friends from other sports come and watch and it is exciting to see them up there."
The hometown women's swimming team finished third in the meet. Of course finishing third in the SEC isn't so bad when you realize Florida is ranked third in the country, right behind Auburn and Georgia, which finished first and second at the SEC meet.
Burckle believes Florida has a chance to do even better at the NCAAs.
"Our team is amazing this year," she said. "I am just a freshman this year and not sure how it was before me, but apparently it is one of the best ever and everyone is really close. I think as a team we are going to be really good at the NCAAs."
The upside of a close team is the support they can offer each other. Burckle believes this is the unseen strength of Florida's team.
"They are amazing," she said of her teammaates. "They all support each other 100 percent. No matter what happens they are all behind you."
The fact that Florida promotes such a strong team atmosphere paid off when the Gators came recruiting Burckle in Louisville. She had her choice of the top programs, but UF had the team atmosphere and some other outstanding advantages.
"I really felt comfortable here," she said. "I liked the team atmosphere, how the guys and the girls practiced together. You can't find a better coaching staff anywhere. It is amazing. The facilities and school itself are really good. I just really enjoyed it."
She thinks Head Coach Gregg Troy has Florida on track to become one of the truly dominant programs in all of college swimming. Coach Troy, who coaches the men's and women's teams at UF, has seen steady improvement each year from both teams. Both are currently ranked in the top three in the nation.
"Coach Troy is a great coach," says Burckle. "He is tough, but he knows what is best for you and he will train you for that."
Having attended the SEC swimming and Diving Championships in Gainesville, it is easy to notice the real family atmosphere surrounding all of the teams. Hoards of family members make up the crowd for all the schools in attendance. Each carry score cards so they can keep up with the team scoring as it goes along. Burckle's parents were in town to se her record breaking performance.
"They are wonderful," she said. "My brother (Clark) swims as well and he is always supporting me and I'm, supporting him. It's good to know he and my parents are always there and they are always trying to make all the meets."
Clark Burckle has become a household name for college swimming coaches. His older sister thinks he has what it takes to be a real star.
"He is really good," Caroline said. "He could compete on this level and get in the finals here."
When asked if she was helping Coach Troy out with Clark's recruitment to UF, Caroline laughed and said, "Yeah. But, he is getting all sorts of calls this week from all the colleges."
With the NCAAs drawing closer, Burckle is certain to remain focused getting herself ready for the big meet. She's aware of the crowds and the pressure, but she's not awed by it or the fact that so many of the top swimmers in the world will be competing.
"I think it will be a lot of fun," she said. "But, I know there are a lot of other good competitors out there."
She will approach this final meet of the season like she approaches the wall on her final leg of the 200 yard freestyle event. She knew as she was coming to the wall that she was going to win the event. She stayed focused until she hit that wall.
"You have some sort of idea (that you are going to win)," she said. "You just have to kind of see out of your eyes both ways and put your head down and go for it."
Caroline Burckle will "go for it" in about two weeks when she competes in the 100-yard freestyle, the 200-yard freestyle, and the 500-yard freestyle. Then a whole nation of swimming fans, coaches and competitors will see what the SEC has already witnessed, a focused Gator that isn't going to settle on past achievements. Burckle is a competitor that wants to win for herself, her family, her team, and her school. She will have all of them behind her in two weeks and all will be expecting the wins.