Gators Swim And Dive Make A Statement Against Auburn

Junior Leonardo Garcia looked out from behind the ten-foot diving board and surveyed the scene before him. His water kingdom lay below, the calm waters patiently waiting for his sixth and final attempt at diving.

After a few small jumps to build momentum on the board, Garcia launched himself in the air and began his elegant descent into the blue abyss. Two-and-a-half flips and two twists later, Garcia dove into the water with near-perfect form, breaking the silence of the pool and the crowd in one go.

He came out of the water again with the widest grin on his face. Garcia’s “double out” dive had put him in first place in the event, beating Auburn’s Connor Pruitt by a 15.45 point margin.

“I had to make that dive to win, so I just thought if I didn’t hit him I would be second,” said Garcia. “The diver who finished second (Pruitt) and I were completely stuck and it was the last dive, so I had to finish well to get the final result.”

Garcia, who won a silver and bronze medal at the 2021 FINA World Junior Diving Championships in Ukraine last month, wasn’t the only Gator to perform admirably at the final dual meet of the season.

Florida triumphed in 23 of the 32 events between the men’s and women’s categories en route to a final score of 201-91 for men and a score of 184-116 for the women, giving Auburn a pair of defeats. Orange and Blue were number 4 (men) and number 16 (women) en route to this match. Auburn wore 15th and 19th place for men and women respectively.

The Gators took nine league sweeps, securing both men’s and women’s titles in the 50, 100, 200, 500 and 1000-meter freestyle; 100 and 200 meters butterfly; both diving competitions (men’s three-meter springboard and women’s one-meter); and the 200m individual medley.

“We had a good meeting today against Auburn. We are grateful that Auburn made the journey to compete with us,” head coach Anthony Nesty said in a release.

Ekaterina Nikonova, Kieran Smith and Kathleen Golding captured multiple event titles for the Gators during the match. Nikonova, a freshman from Russia, made her mark in the 50 and 200-meter freestyle, with times of 22.68 seconds and one minute 46.61 seconds.

Smith, a senior who won a bronze medal in the 400-meter freestyle at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, finished first in the 200-meter freestyle by a four-second margin (1:32.96) and 500-meter freestyle ( 4:18.16 ).

Golding’s triumphs included the 100-meter freestyle, where she beat Auburn’s Rebekah Hamilton by about a tenth of a second in a photo finish, as well as the 200-meter individual medley, where swimmers must perform 50 meters (or two lengths). each of butterfly, backstroke, breaststroke and freestyle.

While it didn’t turn out to be Auburn’s day, freshman Anastasia Makarova and sophomore Reid Mikuta each won multiple events for the Tigers and were responsible for both of Auburn’s victories in the 100- and 200-meter breaststroke.

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This meeting also served as Senior Day for the Gators, who honored their 22 upperclassmen with a pre-meet ceremony in front of the fans and the swimmers’ families.

“We really had too many outstanding performances to list them all, but this meeting was really about the seniors. I’m so proud of them,” said Head Dive Coach Bryan Gillooly.

“They have represented this university with class and style and they proved it again this weekend.”

This was the Gators’ first event since November 18-20 at the Georgia Tech Invitational, where the men’s team finished first and the women’s team took second. Both teams are now 3-0 in dual-meets this season, with previous wins against FAU on October 2 and Georgia on October 29. Two other dual-meets were canceled, including an away game in Florida State in November and one in January. 8 home game against Texas A&M.

Florida is expected to compete in the Auburn Last Chance Invitational Feb. 4-6, with championships just around the corner. The SEC Championships are less than a month away (February 15-19 in Knoxville, Tennessee) and the NCAA Championships will be held in Atlanta, Georgia in March.

“We are three weeks away from the [SEC Championships] and we still have a lot of work to do. We will continue towards our goals and do our best to stay healthy in the process,” Nesty said.

Contact Ethan Eibe at Follow him on Twitter @EthanEibe.

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