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Gators men's swimmer Sebastian Rousseau, right, and Florida's coaching staff hopes to return home with an SEC title.

Tuesday February 19, 2013Gators Men's Swim Team Seeks to Challenge Auburn's Streak at SEC Championships

Gators men's swimmer Sebastian Rousseau, right, and Florida's coaching staff hopes to return home with an SEC title.

Scott Carter
By SCOTT CARTER Senior Writer

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Outside the O'Connell Center late last week, Gators junior swimmer Brad deBorde stood near the team's practice pool for a few minutes talking to a reporter.

deBorde was discussing the Gators' intense rivalry with Auburn and how close meets between the two tradition-rich men's programs usually are. In late January at Auburn, the Gators spoiled Senior Day for the host Tigers when they beat them by 34 points in a dual meet, a larger-than-normal margin in this rivalry.

"It was great winning there,'' deBorde said. "It usually comes down to the last relay."

deBorde obviously knows his history.

At last year's SEC Championships in Knoxville, Tenn., it wasn't until the meet's final event -- the 400-yard freestyle relay -- that Auburn clinched the conference title over the second-place Gators.

With the margin between the programs so slim, it's no wonder that as deBorde reflected on the rivalry, Gators coach Gregg Troy walked by and reminded a support staff member to have the swimmers set down during interviews to conserve energy.

With the SEC Championships opening Tuesday on the campus of Texas A&M, Troy and the Gators are focused on snapping Auburn's amazing run of dominance at the annual event.

The Auburn men have won 16 consecutive SEC championships, the third-longest streak for a single program in SEC sports history. The Florida volleyball won 18 consecutive SEC titles from 1991 to 2008, and the Arkansas men's cross country team won 17 consecutive league titles from 1991-2007.

Equally head-scratching is that the Gators have finished second the past 11 years at the SEC meet, then went on and edged Auburn in certain years at the NCAA Finals, including 2010 and 2011.

"It's definitely something we want to do every year,'' Florida redshirt junior Sebastian Rousseau said of ending Auburn's streak. "The goal is to win. The fact we have come up short quite a few times, it's not a great feeling to leave it like that."

The head-to-head battle for the SEC supremacy has been unusually close the last three seasons, with Auburn edging Florida for the title by 19 points in 2010, 17 points in 2011 and 30.5 points a year ago.

The Gators own an SEC-record 33 men's conference titles but none since 1993; meanwhile, Auburn has won 18 of the past 19, starting its current record streak in 1997.

The streak is even difficult for Auburn coach Brett Hawke to comprehend. Hawke was an Auburn swimmer when it began.

"It's crazy to think that the streak has been going on that long,'' Hawke told the Birmingham News this week. "A lot has happened over that time. I know Florida really wants to break it. It's definitely going to come down to the last day again."

There will be no secrets between the Gators and Tigers as they battle for this year's league title. These swimmers have competed against each other on the collegiate level, amateur circuit and in international competition.

A glance at the best SEC times in nearly every event yields either a Florida or Auburn swimmer at or near the top.

deBorde and Auburn's Marcelo Chierighini own one of the conference's top individual rivalries the 50 free and 100 free. Chierighini holds a slim lead for best time of the year over deBorde in both events.

Still, deBorde tied Chierighini for first in the 50 free in 19.84 seconds at last month's victory over the Tigers and is optimistic the Gators have enough depth to once again threaten Auburn's grip on the SEC trophy.

So is Rousseau, a member of the past two South African Olympic Teams who did not compete for the Gators a year ago.

"Two years ago when we went there they were honoring their seniors and they beat us pretty badly,'' Rousseau said. "To be able to [beat them this time], to go to their home, beat them in their territory, and just get in their face the way they race, was a good step for us."

Much of the Gators' optimism stems from the Gators' deep roster. In the win at Auburn, Gators freshman Pawel Werner and Rousseau placed first and second in the 200 free.

Freshman Arthur Frayler led a trio of Gators in the 1,000 free, followed closely by teammates Carlos Omana and senior Jason Taylor.

Meanwhile, veteran and 2012 SEC Male Swimmer of the Year Marcin Cieslak remains a force in his events, including the 200 fly.

Is this the year the Gators finally snap the streak? deBorde hopes he can finally say yes once the final event is completed on Saturday.

"It's something I'm embarrassed about. It just makes me sick,'' deBorde said. "We still see ourselves as the underdog trying to prove ourselves. I like our chances but at the same time they have beaten us the last 16 years.

"Their strategy is to go out and hold on and see what happens. We kind of pace and race throughout. It just kind of embodies the whole competition, these two different strategies, these two different teams, these two different philosophies going head to head. We'll see who comes out on top."


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