ORLANDO – Considering how they've fared in the past, it should come as no surprise that with their championship hopes on the line, the Florida Southern Moccasins used a rush of backstroke swimmers to take charge late in the final day of competition. Then the breaststroke swimmers kept the pressure on, and the 400-freestyle relay team put it away as Florida Southern held on to finish just nine points ahead of Nova Southeastern for its third straight Sunshine State Conference Men's Swimming Championship.
In the five years the SSC has held a championship meet, Florida Southern swimmers have won nine of the 10 backstroke races, including all five in the 200. Jeb Halfacre (twice), Luis Rojas, and Thomas Nguyen were already on that list, and now so is Marco Palacios. The sophomore from Madrid, Spain, who had already won the 100 in this year's meet took gold in the 200 with his second SSC Championship record time, and his second NCAA automatic qualifying time. With senior Luis Rojas and sophomore Evan Coleman also in the top-five with NCAA "B" times, the Moccasins were able to break a deadlock with the Sharks for first place, and from there went on to win the league title.
Trailing by 30 points, Nova Southeastern had a chance to make up some ground in the first event of the night with six swimmers entered in the 1,650-freestyle compared to Florida Southern's two. However, those two for Florida Southern were juniors Juan Tolosa and Raul Garrastazu who finished second and fifth respectively. Tolosa had a time of 15:31.65, putting him behind only Saint Leo freshman Daniel Bis, who set a meet record in the 1,650 at 15:26.72 to finish off a sweep of the distance events at the SSC Championships. That meant even with just two swimmers in the 1,650, the Moccasins still lost only 14 points off their lead over the Sharks.
In the 100-freestyle, it was third-place Tampa that did most of the damage as the Spartans took second through sixth in the A finals, leaving Nova Southeastern to first and seventh, and Florida Southern to eighth. Winning the race for the Sharks was Thiago Sickert, who set a championship record in 43.48 seconds. Senior Allan Gutierrez had a time of 45.09 seconds for Florida Southern. With the B finals figured into the total, where junior Jesus Marin, sophomore Diego Gimenez, and junior Edson Lima all placed, Florida Southern and Nova Southeastern would finish the first two events on Sunday's schedule tied in total points with Tampa only 12 points behind.
That's when Florida Southern looked to its backstroke swimmers to re-claim the lead for good. Palacios was the first to touch the wall in the 200-yard race with his second NCAA automatic qualifying time and of the meet (1:45.66). It was only 0.17 seconds ahead of Saint Leo's Pawel Trenda, who also had an automatic time for the Lions. After that, Rojas finished third and Coleman finished fifth, with Nova Southeastern's only two swimmers placing fourth and eighth. That gave the Moccasins 50 points and the Sharks 26 in the 200-backstroke. The Spartans, who had no one reach the A finals, fell further behind.
Even when Nova freshman Anton Lobanov won the 200-breaststroke in yet another SSC Championship record time (1:53.49), the Moccasins still out-scored the Sharks in that event too. Coming in right behind him were freshman Luis Jasso in second place and senior Dylan Lake in third. That gave both Moccasins NCAA provisional qualifying times too. With freshman Parker Basting winning the B finals of the 200-breaststroke, and sophomore Mason York scoring as well, the Mocs were able to add one more point to their lead.
In the 400-freestyle relay, Nova Southeastern won both the A and B race, but it wasn't enough to overcome Florida Southern's lead. The Moccasins' A team which consisted of Gutierrez, Rojas, Palacios and Marin posted a time of 3:00.25 to finish third.
Florida Southern's final margin of 800-791 over Nova Southeastern was the closest score in the 5-year history of the SSC Championships. The closest previous margin was 81 points when Florida Southern finished second to Nova Southeastern in 2012. Tampa finished third this year with 740 points, followed by Saint Leo (516), Florida Tech (399), and Rollins (150).
This year also marked the first time three different schools won at least five of the 19 events held. Nova had eight wins, and Florida Southern and Saint Leo each had five. The other belonged to Tampa. There were also a total of 16 SSC Championship records broken in the meet.
Florida Southern will now prepare for the NCAA Division II National Finals, which run March 11-14 in Indianapolis.