If the 2004 SEC Championships at Georgia were any indication of things to come, the Cats can look forward to moving into the upper echelon of the conference. The 12th-ranked Kentucky men moved up one spot from their 2003 conference showing to fifth place in 2004. Meanwhile, the UK women moved from ninth to sixth a season ago and figure to contend for titles in several events again this year.
Any discussion of potential Wildcat SEC champions begins with senior All-American Daniel Cruz. Competing in his home state of Florida for the final time as a collegiate athlete, Cruz is one of the favorites in the 100 and 200 butterfly events. The Palm Coast, Fla., native missed out on an SEC title in the 200 butterfly by .03 seconds a season ago when Auburn's Jeremy Knowles edged him for the title. Cruz went on to place third in the event at the NCAA Championships and sixth at the 2004 U.S. Olympic Trials. He currently holds the SEC's fastest times in the 100 and 200 butterfly events.
Junior Steven Manley also figures to be in the mix for conference titles. The Dublin, Ireland native took second in the 500 freestyle a year ago and fourth in the 200 freestyle. He owns the conference's fastest time in the 500 freestyle and the third-fastest time in the 200 freestyle.
The freestyle relays present a discipline in which Kentucky is prepared to excel. UK owns the fastest times in the 200 and 400 freestyle relays and the second-best time in the 800 freestyle relay. With plenty of interchangeable parts at the disposal of Coach Gary Conelly, Kentucky stands to medal in each event. Cruz and Manley will join seniors Jerram Chudleigh, Tim Patrick and Clay Gasparovich and junior Daniel Farnham to solidify these events for Kentucky.
Farnham and Patrick also will be in the mix for the 50 and 100 freestyle titles, while Chudleigh expects to contend for top honors in the 200 backstroke. Freshman Kristian Outinen has helped solidify the breaststroke event and may find himself in the finals of the 100 and 200 breaststroke events. With Outinen's addition to the medley relays, Kentucky is in line to move up in yet another event next week.
Junior Laura Graham placed fourth and fifth in the 100 and 200 breaststroke events, respectively, a season ago and holds school records in both events. She is in position to potentially medal in each breaststroke event this week. Junior Shantel Commander forms a potent one-two punch with Graham in the breaststroke discipline, as well as the individual-medley events. Senior Jessica Siegele, a school-record holder in the 100 backstroke, owns the fourth-fastest SEC time in the event and looks to improve upon a 10th-place showing from 2004. Freshman twins Heather and Jenny Bradford deepened the butterfly and freestyle events for the UK women this season and will greatly improve UK's showing in these events. Their additions to Conelly's lineup have pushed UK's 200 medley-relay team near the top of the conference.
Kentucky will compete in the 800 freestyle relay and the 200 medley relay on day one in Gainesville.