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Dakota Luther, a sophomore, was one of two current Georgia swimmers to be named to the 2019-20 USA National Team. She was joined by Andrew Abruzzo and seven former swimmers. (Photo/Julian Alexander)

After bringing home 26 medals from SECs, the Georgia swimming and diving team will face its final chance to qualify for the NCAA championships at the Bulldog Invitational Last Chance meet on Feb. 29 and March 1.

The Bulldogs will be joined at the event by eight other schools, including Alabama, Auburn, Florida and South Carolina.

The Last Chance meet serves as a final opportunity to achieve A or B cuts, which are competitive event times that, if achieved, qualify individual swimmers for the NCAA championships.

Georgia currently has 12 swimmers that swam A-cut times during the SECs, qualifying to move onto the NCAAs. However, A-cut swimmers can swim at the Last Chance meet to add another event or just to be a part of the team.

Sophomore Dakota Luther, who swam an A-cut time of 1:52.47 in the women’s 200-yard butterfly event at SECs, chose the latter.

“[I can] be a part of the team and get some more racing in before NCAAs,” Luther said.

Head coach Jack Bauerle said some athletes swim at the meet to see if they can swim faster before they finish the season, and some seniors participate just to have one more experience in the pool as a current Bulldog.

Other swimmers, however, are participating in Last Chance because they did not achieve A or B-cut times.

Senior Jackson Ford swam the men’s 100 breast, 200 breast and 200 IM at SECs and did not swim a qualifying time for any event. He is taking advantage of the Last Chance meet to be eligible for the men’s 100 and 200 breast events.

“This is a fun meet [because] this is our pool and we know the team here,” Ford said. “We’re not under pressure to score points. It’s more [about] going for the best that you can do.”

Since the meet is two days, most swimmers are focusing on one or two events that they want to qualify for and will spend a full day on each event.

When it comes to preparing for the meet, swimmers aren’t in the gym or the pool. Instead, they’re resting. While the rest period is awkward for some swimmers’ bodies — considering they take a rest period after intense Christmas training — Ford believes the extended rest period helps him feel prepared for Last Chance.

“For me personally, I think I’ll be okay because I do well with rest,” Ford said. “But some people do better when they’re up and always at it.”

Many of the Bulldogs are also training for the U.S. Olympic Team and will be participating in the Olympic Trials for swimming this June. Those swimmers who do not qualify for NCAAs after the last chance meet may forgo their spring break to stay in Athens and begin training heavily in preparation for the trials.

As for team expectations for the final meet, Bauerle mentioned swimming faster times for the men’s 200 and medley relay events and said it was their “top priority.”

“I think we’re a much better team than we were in August, and I think we’re a much better team than we were even in December,” Bauerle said. “That’s all you can ask for in a team. They’re getting better all the time.”

The Bulldog Invitational Last Chance meet will be held at Gabrielsen Natatorium with preliminaries beginning each day at 10 a.m. and finals beginning at 5 p.m. on Saturday and 4 p.m. on Sunday.

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