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Courtney Harnish, a sophomore freestyle and butterfly swimmer from York, Pennsylvania, swims the 1650 yard freestyle during finals on Feb. 23, 2019 at the Gabirelson Natatorium in Athens, Georgia. The University of Georgia hosted the 2019 SEC Swim and Dive Championship over five days. (Photo/Julian Alexander)

March is not just a month for basketball. For the Georgia swimming and diving team, the year-long season all comes down to the NCAA men and women’s championships at the end of March.

All the record-breaking times these swimmers accomplished throughout the year were in anticipation of NCAAs. They put in extra hours of practice and even sacrificed their spring break so that they could focus their bodies and minds on the season finale. Not only have the athletes been preparing, but the Ramsey Center, the host site of the NCAA women’s championships, took on major renovations as well. Now due to the concerns over the spread the COVID-19, Gabrielsen Natatorium will be quiet until the next season.

Overall, the men finished 5-1 and women 4-2 on the season. Nationally, the Bulldogs sit at No. 12 with 843.95 points and the Lady Bulldogs high at the fifth spot with 873.70 points. In the SEC, women take a dominating second spot behind Tennessee and the men claim No.4. Both teams finished top five in the SEC.

Lengthening Georgia’s record books

In early October, the season began on a high note with a sweep at Alabama. Georgia swimmers took first in 15 events in the meet and freshman Zoie Hartman made her college debut.

Three weeks later, Georgia went on a three-game winning streak against North Carolina and later Duke. Both meets were hard-fought and came down to the last relays to seal the victories. Sophomore Andrew Abruzzo’s meet-sealing win in the 200 IM was the highlight against the Tar Heels and junior Courtney Hartman’s three wins topped Duke.

Georgia then lost its two-day competition against rival Florida starting with diving on October 31. After the losses, Georgia swimming traveled to the Tennessee Invitational for three days starting on November 21.

The Bulldog men claimed the overall invitational victory with 961 points, beating No. 4 Indiana by 19, while the Lady Bulldogs placed second with 984.5 points. At the conclusion, both teams combined for seven individual victories and four from the diving well.

The diving team started 2020 back at the Tennessee Invitational. Followed by junior Zach Allen’s runner-up finish in the men’s 3-meter springboard on Day One, senior Mckenzie Austin, Freida Lim, and Allen posted three top-10 finishes.

Golden performances

The next four meets at home ended in victories against No. 19 Texas A&M and No. 12 Tennessee. However, the main focus of the season all came down to the SEC championships held in Auburn, Alabama.

It was at the SECs that Georgia added several record-breaking times and 12 medals. In the first three days, Courtney Harnish won the title in the 500 freestyle for the second time and senior Veronica Burchill’s gold-winning time of 1:42.33 in the 200 placed her the second-fastest in the nation. Georgia brought home five gold medals in the final two days thanks to Hartman’s 200 breaststroke, sophomore Dakota Luther’s A-cut time of 1:52.47 and junior Camden Murphy’s time of 1:42.02 in the 200 butterfly.

The Last Chance Meet turned into the final event of the 2019-20 season. Sixteen swimmers and divers would have qualified for the NCAAs.

What’s next?

Though Georgia will be without some of the fastest swimmers in the nation like senior Veronica Burchill, Clayton Forde, Walker Higgins and divers Frieda Lim and McKensi Austin, they will be in good hands for the 2020-21 season. Georgia will be adding six swimmers and one diver to its strong roster next season.

Among that list is Luca Urlando, who is one of the four male swimmers rated the nation’s best recruits. Urlando will be accompanied by the likes of current Bulldogs Zoie Hartman and Harry Homans.

Both Hartman and Homans were named SEC men’s and women’s freshman of the week. In her first collegiate meet, Hartman placed first in the 100 and 200 breastroke and posted eight more B-cut wins during the season. Homans took first in the 200 backstroke at Duke and posted four B-cut times

Since early October, the swimmers and divers have been up before sunrise hitting the pools and dedicating their entire days to improvement. The NCAAs would have been the icing on the cake for all of their hard work this season, but now they’ll have to wait till next year.

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