Tide swimmers take on the NCAA championships

Three Alabama swimmers will travel to Indianapolis, Ind., over the next two weeks to compete in the NCAA championships. Alabama will be competing against schools across the country in hopes to achieve career-high performances.

From the women’s team, senior Jenna Gallo and sophomore Kaylin Burchell will represent Alabama in the upcoming championship meet. Junior BJ Hornikel will be the sole swimmer for the men’s team. Coach Dennis Pursley said each swimmer has worked hard over the course of the year.

“I’m very pleased with the progress the team made this year,” Pursley said. “We knew coming into this year we would not be competing for conference championships or national championships. We want to go to the championships to set personal best records.”

Both Burchell and Hornikel have previously been to the NCAA tournament, but this will be the first time Gallo will compete. Previously, Gallo bested her own and the school’s record at the SEC championships. Gallo swam a 1650 freestyle in 16:13.56, shaving 13 seconds off of her previous time as well as five seconds of the school’s best time.

Burchell also posted career-high times at the SEC championships for her 100 and 200 breaststrokes. Burchell will be swimming the 200 breaststroke in the upcoming meet. Though both women posted career-best times during the SEC championships, Pursley said it was a challenge to improve in such a short period of time.

“Well, both [Burchell and Gallo] turned in lifetime best performances [at the SEC championship] to qualify for the NCAAs, so it’s a challenge because we only have a short amount of time between the championships,” Pursley said. “We’re trying to ratchet it up a notch and get it to the next level. It’s a matter of maintaining and tweaking what we already have.”

Hornikel will swim both the 100 and 200 freestyle the second week of the NCAA championships. Hornikel also bested his previous career records at the conference championships.

“Hornikel is a veteran,” Pursley said. “He also had personal best times at the conference championships in order to qualify, but he wants to move forward more in the season. He’s going to be focusing on fine tuning things and tweaking things. He wants to get a step ahead.”

Pursley’s main concern with this event is that all three swimmers will have to focus solely on themselves and not the competition.”

“At this level, there are just so many swimmers, any one of them could step up and get to the finals,” Pursley said. “They’re going to have quite a few swimmers in front of them. There are many swimmers that are unknowns, but the focus is on swimming the perfect race and getting the very best out of themselves.”

Though Alabama has three swimmers in the championships, Pursley doesn’t expect a team win. Because of the new coaching staff and the young team, Pursley said Alabama isn’t ranked high enough just yet.

“We don’t have enough athletes there that are ranked high enough to be contenders for the top team rankings,” Pursley said. “We just want to see each of the athletes get a personal best performance, which is going to be really challenging. Statistically, 20 to 40 percent of swimmers swim their personal best at the championship, so our goal is to be in that percentage.”

Burchell and Gallo will compete in the competition March 21-23. Hornikel will compete the following week March 28-30.

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