Editors Note: With the merging of the men's and women's teams at Tennessee, the SEC conference is unique among the top three swim conferences with most teams running combined programs. The conference also runs their championship meet together, making for one of the most unique collegiate swimming experiences in the country. Back in the early 90s, rivalries ran so deep that punches were known to be thrown, swimmers pushed in the pool (not by accident) and teams separated from sitting side by side. Today's swimming appears more congenial, but the intensity of SECs hasn't waned.
The bread and butter of college swimming: conference championships. Most colleges claim to have the ‘Most Competitive’, ‘Wildest Parents’, ‘Most School Spirit’, or ‘Loudest Pool Deck’ in the Nation. And I would agree- these conference meets can get loud, crazy, and most importantly fast. But, and maybe I’m biased, I would say that the SEC takes the cake for these superlatives.
Imagine yourself. You’re a seasoned swimmer, with college dual meet experience. You know the drill: walk into the building with the team, everyone wearing matching track suits, enthusiasm buzzing. But, this time it’s different: it’s not just a normal dual meet, it’s SECs, time to show off everything you’ve done so far this year. You walk onto a pool deck laden with teams taking over their bleachers, the different colors of the team uniforms and banners hanging from the walls distracting you until you get to your seat. You do your practiced meet warm up as the deck continues to fill with athletes, coaches, officials, and meet workers alike. Searching up in the stands for friends and family, you see the bleachers continue to fill up until they are overflowing, unheard of at most swim meets.
When your warm up is done, you walk to the bleachers to grab your race suit and head to the locker room where you see the faces of people frantically running back to the bleachers to grab a new suit after ripping their own. The locker rooms are packed with girls squeezing into tight racing suits, and when you finally get yours on you walk back to your own team area.
The pool deck is completely packed with swimmers, people lining the sides of the pool trying to get a better view of their teammate’s races. Before your own race, you have to push through a throng of people to even get close to your coaches, and when you get there you simply get a smile and nod of the head because they know (and you know) you’re about to kill it. Pushing back through the crowd of people you listen to the different cheers echoing off the ceilings, coming from the pool deck and the stands.
When you get behind your own block you look around you. Your stomach begins to churn, little butterflies fluttering. You look to the side of the pool and nod confidently at your teammates and coaches. And then you look at the girls beside you, knowing you’re about to blow them away; you almost start to feel bad for them. But then you change your mind. The pool deck begins to get louder, your team chanting your name, whistling and screaming. Each team is trying to outdo one another, yell louder, and be more creative. But the only team you see or hear is your own.
Everything comes into focus in that moment. All the work you’ve done this year down to just a couple seconds. It’s all there. You can feel the energy bouncing off of your skin, your ears, and your heart.
The whistle blows, you climb up onto the block and the time is now.
While you may read this and think, “Hey, I think my conference meet sounds a lot like this!”, maybe it does. And maybe I am biased…ok I know that I am definitely biased. But being surrounded in a conference with multiple Olympians, national champions, national team members, and the likes, it’s hard not to think or imagine that the SEC is the most competitive, the loudest, and the most colorful conference meet in the country.