The 2018 Sunshine State Conference Swimming Championships get underway this Thursday in Clearwater at the Long Center where the Florida Southern men's team will be one of six schools competing for the title. Nova Southeastern ended Florida Southern's four-year reign as league champions last year, with the Mocs finishing second.
The Long Center is located at 1501 North Belcher Road in Clearwater and previously hosted the SSC Championships in 2012 and 2013. This year's meet runs Thursday through Sunday and features preliminaries in a morning session and championship races in the evening session each day. Admission is $10 per session for adults or $60 for the entire meet. The all-session pass includes a program and all heat sheets. Admission for children ages 3-12 is $5 per session or $25 for the all-session pass. Children's passes do not include programs or heat sheets. Championship programs may be purchased separately for $5 and include heat sheets for all sessions. Heat sheets are also available for $2 per session. Tickets will only be available at the gate.
The prelims begin at 10 a.m. all four days of competition, and the finals sessions start at 6 p.m. Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. Sunday's finals begin at 5 p.m. A complete schedule of events can be found at Sunshine State Conference Swimming Championship Central, with live coverage also available through the SSC website.
Since the SSC adopted swimming seven years ago only two schools have won the league championship in the men's division. Nova Southeastern won the first two, Florida Southern won four straight from 2013-16, and Nova re-gained the title last year. Neither team has ever finished lower than third, with Florida Southern in that position just once (2011), and Nova Southeastern also falling there only one time (2014). The two schools have accounted for nearly 70 percent of the gold medals handed out at the SSC championships since it began.
Only two individual gold medalists return from last year, though Nova Southeastern senior Franco Lupoli was the first men's swimmer in SSC history to win four of them in one meet. All four were in the middle distance or distance freestyle events and he picked up an additional gold medal in the 800-freestyle relay. The only other returning individual gold medalist is Florida Tech junior Victor Rocha Furtado in the 100-free.
Even with the graduation of six-time SSC backstroke champion Marco Palacios (three in the 100 and three in the 200), the Moccasins still have an impressive collection of returning medalists on their own roster – and one of those does have an SSC title to his name from two years ago. Junior Matthew Holmes won the 400-individual medley in 2016 in what was then a meet-record time. Last year he was runner-up to the now-graduated Marco Aldabe from Nova Southeastern and had an additional second-place finish in the 200-IM. He goes into this year's meet with the top times in the conference this season for both individual medleys, is top-10 nationally in both, and has hit NCAA provisional qualifying times in both. He has additional "B" times in the 100-free and 200-free, and is first or second on the Mocs' times list in both of those events as well.
Senior Luis Jasso is another Moccasin swimmer with multiple medals to his credit, having earned three silvers in the 200-breast, and a silver and bronze in the 100. Junior Sean Kim has a silver in the 100 and bronze in the 200 from the 2016 championship meet, and gives the Mocs another strong breaststroke swimmer. Only Saint Leo's Henrik Dahrendorff is ahead of the two Moccasins on the SSC times list, and both Jasso and Kim have already posted NCAA "B" times in both breaststroke races.
Three other veteran Moccasins won either silver or bronze medals at last year's SSC Championships, with junior Nico Campbell placing second in the 200-free, and junior Luka Planinc taking second in the 500-free, a pair of close races where each was second only to Lupoli. Senior Noah Franz had a pair of bronze medals by placing third in the 100-free and 200-free, and Planinc also had a bronze in the 1,650-free.
Of that Moccasin trio, Planinc ranks the highest on the conference and national times list, currently third in the SSC and sixth nationally in the 1,000-free. He also has NCAA provisional qualifying times in the 200, 500, 1,000 and 1,650. Campbell has "B" times in the 50-, 100-, and 200-freestyle events, and Franz has accomplished the same in the 100 and 100.
Though Florida Southern graduated its top backstroke swimmers from a year ago, the Moccasins simply replaced them with two newcomers who rank as the best in the SSC going into the postseason. Freshman Brandon Dyck is number one in the conference and 14th nationally in the 100-back; and junior Matias Lopez, who leads the team with 10 individual wins this season, is number one in the conference and 10th nationally in the 200-back. Dyck has NCAA "B" times in both distances, while Lopez has done that in the 200. They are attempting to extend a streak that has seen a Moccasin swimmer win the 200-backstroke every year in the SSC Championship Meet, and the 100 in all but one.
The only individual events in which the Mocs have yet to achieve an NCAA provisional qualifying time are the 100- and 200-butterfly. Freshman Miguel Bernotti, a mid-season addition to the roster, has the team's best time in both butterfly events and won two of his three races in the 200 this January.
Florida Southern has also performed well over the years in the relay events at the SSC Championships, and last year was no exception. The Moccasins were second in four of the five relay races in 2017, and third in the other. Campbell was a member of four of those relay teams (three silver and one bronze), while Holmes and Franz were part of three (two silver and one bronze). The Mocs have placed in the top three in 33 of a possible 35 relay races all-time at the SSC Championships and go into this year's meet ranked seventh on the national times list in the 800-freestyle.
After the conclusion of the SSC Championships, Florida Southern's qualifiers will move on to the NCAA Division II National Championships in Greensboro, North Carolina, March 14-17.