BIRMINGHAM, AL – The 2017 NCAA Division II National Swimming and Diving Championships begin Wednesday morning in Birmingham, Alabama at the Crossplex and 10 qualifiers from the Florida Southern men's team will be there seeking to add to the program's list of national titles. This is the second time the city of Birmingham has hosted the Division II National Finals, and the last time they were here in 2013, the Moccasins posted the first of their back-to-back national runner-up finishes.
The 4-day championship meet features 19 events (14 individual races and five relays) and two diving events, and the NCAA will provide full coverage all week with live results and video. (Links will be provided once they are available.) Competition each day begins at 10:30 a.m. Central Time/11:30 Eastern with preliminaries in various events. The top eight swimmers in prelims advance to the championship finals that night, with the next eight advancing to the consolation finals. (There are no prelims in the 1,000-freestyle, the 1,650-freestyle, or 800-freestyle relay.) The finals session for Wednesday, Thursday and Friday will begin at 6 p.m. Central/7 p.m. Eastern, and Saturday's finals get underway at 5:30 p.m. Central/6:30 Eastern. A full meet schedule may be found here.
The Moccasins are in their second season under head coach Mike Blum and are the only team in the country to place in the top-five at the last five D-II National Finals. Last year they were third, and their best finishes came in 2013 and 2014 when they were the Division II national runner-up to Drury (MO) in each of those seasons. That marked the end of Drury's run of 10 straight national championships, with Queens (NC) having won the last two.
A total of 34 schools will be represented at this year's National Finals, and Florida Southern is one of only three that had 10 or more swimmers selected. The other two are the recent national champions, Drury with 12 and Queens with 11. It's the fourth time in the last five years the Moccasins have had double digit qualifiers.
Four of the 10 Moccasin men's swimmers in Birmingham this week took part in last year's National Finals, and senior Diego Gimenez is making his fourth straight trip to the Finals. Senior Marco Palacios and junior Luis Jasso are at the Finals for the third year in a row, and sophomore Matthew Holmes is there for the second time in as many seasons. Two transfers are going for the first time as Moccasins, though senior Antonio Nunez-Alvarez and junior Luka Matacin each qualified for the Division II National Finals while swimming at their previous schools. Joining them as first-time participants are senior Evan Coleman, junior Noah Franz, and sophomores Nico Campbell and Luka Planinc.
Swimmers earn automatic spots by achieving NCAA "A" times throughout the season, but can also be selected based on the strength of their "B" times. Once a swimmer has been chosen to compete in a specific event or events at the National Finals, they may compete in any additional events in which they achieved the NCAA "B" standard. However, each swimmer is limited to no more than four individual events, or seven total events including relays. Florida Southern has qualifying individuals or possible relay teams in all 19 swimming events.
Palacios was one two automatic qualifiers the Moccasins had, and will be the top seed in the 100-backstroke and No. 2 in the 200-back after winning conference titles in each of them for the third year in a row. He was a silver medalist in the 100-back at last year's National Finals and also swam the backstroke leg for both of Florida Southern's national champion medley relay teams. Undefeated in the 100-back this season, Palacios will be going for First Team All-American honors (top-8 at nationals) in both distances for the second year in a row.
Coleman will provide Palacios will some company in the backstroke after being selected in both the 100 and 200 on the strength of his "B" times. Though it's Coleman's first trip to the National Finals, it's the fourth year in a row he achieved provisional qualifying times in both backstroke events. The Mocs could also use Gimenez in the 100-back, where he's been an honorable mention All-American in past seasons, and Matacin in the 200-back.
Florida Southern's second automatic qualifier was Jasso in the 200-breaststroke where he holds the nation's third-best time this season. He'll also carry the No. 6 seed time into the 100-breast, was the Sunshine State Conference silver medalist in both breaststroke races, and has already won three individual All-American certificates in either the 100 or 200 in his career. He'll be the Mocs' lone swimmer in the breaststroke at this year's Finals.
Many of the same swimmers who will be competing in the backstroke will also be swimming the butterfly. Palacios was selected in the 100 where he was the Mocs' top performer this year, and Nunez-Alvarez was picked for the 200 where he sat atop the Mocs' times list. Palacios competed in the 100-fly at last year's National Finals but is looking for his first All-American award in that event while Nunez-Alvarez is a former national runner-up in the 200. He accomplished that feat as a freshman at the University of Bridgeport. Gimenez and Coleman could compete as butterfly swimmers too for the Mocs, though only in the 100.
The individual medley features Holmes and Nunez-Alvarez as the Moccasins' top swimmers. Holmes earned a selection in both the 200 and 400 and won a silver medal in each race at the recent conference championships. He was an honorable mention All-American in both at last year's National Finals, a double honor Nunez-Alvarez also achieved as a sophomore at Bridgeport two years ago. The Mocs have two other swimmers who could compete in the 200-IM in Matacin and Jasso.
Several Moccasins will be contributing in the six freestyle events, with Gimenez the most experienced of that group. As their top performer this year in the 50 and their number two swimmer in the 100, Gimenez will have an opportunity to help the Mocs in both of those events in his fourth straight appearance at the National Finals. Franz will also be looked to in the sprints after barely finishing second to Gimenez in the 50 this year and notching the Mocs' best time in the 100. Campbell could swim in both of those races too, while Palacios, Matacin and Holmes have eligibility in one or the other.
The 200-freestyle saw Franz, Campbell and Matacin all finish within 0.14 seconds of each other on the times list, and Planinc and Holmes were within a second of that trio. Planinc will then take over as Florida Southern's primary distance swimmer covering the 500, 1000 and 1650, and Holmes could join him in the 500. In terms of qualifying times, Planinc's position in the 500 is the best among any of the Moccasin swimmers competing in the four longest freestyle races.
The relay races are where Florida Southern has turned in its best performances at the National Finals over the years, and last year the Moccasins won national titles in both of the medley relays. Palacios was on the backstroke leg in each of those races, and Gimenez anchored the 200-medley squad. That gave Florida Southern a total of six national championship relay teams since 2011. The Mocs have also won three silver and three bronze medals in relay events during the last six years.
Eight of the Moccasins selected for Nationals this year have helped at least one of the five relay teams post its top time for the season, with Campbell and Franz part of four of them. Florida Southern has top-10 seed times in all five relays, with its 400-medley team of Palacios, Jasso, Nunez-Alvarez and Holmes putting together the best showing on that list, placing them fifth on the national times list for that event.
In addition to following the NCAA Championships live online, check back each night on fscmocs.com for a full recap of the day's action. For a look at how the Moccasins have fared in previous NCAA Championships, click here.