The 2018-19 college swimming season has entered its final stages as the Sunshine State Conference Championships begin this Thursday in Clearwater where seven women's and six men's teams will be competing at the Long Center for league titles and individual placements at the NCAA Championships in March.
The Long Center is located at 1501 North Belcher Road in Clearwater and is hosting the SSC Championships for the fourth time (2012, '13, '18, and '19). This year's meet runs Thursday through Sunday and features preliminaries in a morning session and championship races in an 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.
Only two schools have ever won the SSC Men's Swimming championship since the league adopted the sport eight years ago. Nova Southeastern won the first two, Florida Southern won four straight from 2013-16, and Nova Southeastern has now won back-to-back titles again in 2017 and '18. Neither team has ever finished lower than third, with each doing that just one time (Florida Southern in 2011, and Nova Southeastern in 2014). The two schools have also accounted for nearly 70 percent of the gold medals at the SSC championships since it began, and have combined for 66 percent of all medals won (299 of 456).
Last year saw Nova Southeastern out-score Florida Southern, 876-802, the fourth year in a row the Sharks and Moccasins were together at the top of the standings. Florida Tech claimed third place by a single point over Tampa, which marked the first time a team other than Nova, Florida Southern, and UT finished in the top three. Even with its runner-up finish, however, Florida Southern still led the way with 10 gold medals in the meet and 20 medals overall. Nova Southeastern and Florida Tech each won four golds, and Saint Leo won one.
All five of those teams go into the SSC Championships in the CSCAA top-25 too. Tampa is the highest ranked team from the SSC at No. 8, and Florida Southern is No. 13. Nova Southeastern and Saint Leo are tied for No. 16, and Florida Tech is No. 21.
One year after nearly every gold medalist graduated, the SSC Men's Swimming Championships will have champions return in 10 of the 14 individual events. The only ones who have departed are multi-time distance champion Franco Lupoli of Nova Southeastern, and Florida Southern's Luis Jasso, who won both breaststroke titles in 2018.
Headlining the league's returning male champions are Florida Southern senior Matthew Holmes (200-IM and 400-IM); Florida Tech senior Victor Rocha Furtado (50-free and 100-free); and Nova Southeastern junior Magnus Poulsen (100-fly and 200-fly). Three other Florida Southern gold medalists are also back in sophomore Brandon Dyck (100-back), sophomore Matias Lopez (200-back), and senior Nico Campbell (200-free). Saint Leo junior Matija Rafaj, who won the 500-free, completes the list of SSC returning champions.
Holmes, who also won the 400-IM as a freshman, already has three individual gold medals at previous SSC Championship Meets and two relay golds which he won last year in helping the Mocs take the 400-medley and 800-free. With highly-ranked national times in three events (2nd in the 200-IM, 3rd in the 400-IM, and 13th in the 200-free, all of which rank number one in the SSC), Holmes is a legitimate threat to win three more individual gold medals, which would tie him with Marco Palacios (2014-17) for the most by a Moccasin in team history. Jeb Halfacre (2011-13) and Miguel Ferreira (2011-13) are the only others to win as many as five, and might have won more, but the SSC did not sponsor swimming until their sophomore seasons.
Holmes leads Florida Southern with 11 individual wins this season, including three apiece in the 100-breast and 200-free. His others have come in the 100-free, 500-free, and 200-IM, and he already has NCAA provisional qualifying times in seven events. He's also less than half a second away from an NCAA "B" time in the 200-breast.
Campbell is returning to the SSC Championships one year after winning the 200-free and anchoring the Mocs' winning 200-medley relay team. This year, the only swimmer in the SSC with a faster time in the 200-free is his own teammate, Holmes, and Campbell has been the Mocs' top performer in the 50-free and 100-free as well. He's hit NCAA "B" times in all three of those freestyle events, and has been a part of all but of Florida Southern's relay wins this season.
Dyck and Lopez share the task of continuing the Moccasins' dominance in the backstroke, with Dyck holding the SSC's top time this year in the 100, Lopez holding it in the 200, and 12 combined backstroke wins between them. Over the last eight years, a Florida Southern swimmer has won the SSC gold medal in all but one of those events, with Dyck taking the 100 and Lopez the 200 last season. Dyck was also on the backstroke leg of their gold medal 200- and 400-medley relay teams, and Lopez provided the anchor on the SSC champion 800-freestyle relay team. Dyck has achieved NCAA "B" times in both backstroke events and the 50-free, and is half a second or less from that mark in the 100-free and 100-fly.
In addition to his ability in the backstroke, Lopez has teamed up with Holmes to give Florida Southern a formidable pair of championship contenders in the individual medley. Though Holmes has the best times in the conference for both the 200 and 400, Lopez isn't far behind, has NCAA "B" times in both, and ranks sixth nationally in the 400. With provisional times in four events already (200-free, 100-back, and both IMs), Lopez is on the verge of adding a fifth in the 200-back.
Though not one of the SSC's returning gold medalists, sophomore Miguel Bernotti was a silver medalist in the 200-fly and his time would have won five of the previous seven SSC championship races in that event. He has an NCAA "B" time in the 200-fly this year, and along with Dyck is less than half a second from that standard in the 100-fly. Bernotti ranks No. 1 on the SSC times list in the 200-fly this season.
The Moccasins' best swimmer in the distance events has been senior Luka Planinc, who holds their top spot and NCAA "B" times in the 500-free, 1,000-free, and 1,650-free. He has another "B" time in the 200-free. Planinc is second on the SSC times list in the 500 and 1650 this year, and has silver or bronze medals in all three distance events at previous SSC Championship Meets.
Florida Southern also has NCAA provisional times in the 500-free from Holmes, who was last year's SSC runner-up, and senior Charles Gotsch. Junior Daniel Rodriguez has an NCAA provisional time in the 1650, and Gotsch is 0.32 seconds away from that mark.
After the conclusion of the SSC Championships, Florida Southern's qualifiers will move on to the NCAA Division II National Championships in Indianapolis, March 13-16.