**Note: This was a print-only story**
The Alabama athletics communications department held a luncheon at the Cypress Inn in Tuscaloosa Monday to allow media to speak with the Crimson Tide fall sports coaches. The Crimson White was able to catch up with Dennis Pursley, head coach of the Alabama swimming & diving team, there for a preview of the team’s upcoming season.
Crimson White: A schedule for this season hasn’t been posted yet. When does the season begin?
Dennis Pursley: The season starts in October. We don’t have a lot of dual meets – that’s by design. Our philosophy is [to be] more focused on training preparation for championship competition right now.
CW: A lot of the top teams in the nation reside in the SEC. Which teams, in particular, are the ones to look out for this season?
DP: It’s going to be pretty similar to what it typically is. Georgia is always a national powerhouse, especially on the women’s side. Florida is always a national powerhouse. Previously, [they were] stronger on the women, but now they’re stronger on the men’s side. New addition to the conference, Texas A&M, has one of the top women’s teams in the country. Tennessee is getting better and better. They’re going to be strong on both sides this year. Half the top-10 teams in the country are in the SEC. From one year to the next, you’ll get Florida this year, Georgia next year. And of course there’s Auburn, who has won more NCAA titles in the country in recent years.
CW: Your team finished 10th at the SEC Championships last season. How do you improve on that this season?
DP: I expect to be in the middle of the pack this year, not at the bottom. It’s a little deceptive with the rankings. We actually had a higher percentage of personal-best performances in the SEC Championships than any other team in the SEC, and yet we finished near the bottom. And that’s a reflection of our talent level last year. As a team, there is individual exceptions, that weren’t at the same level as the top SEC teams, but we’re closing that gap with our incoming class. We’re not going to be there in one year, but we’re going to see significant progress in the rankings this year.
CW: You had a couple of swimmers make the NCAA Championships last season. Who is poised to have a big year?
DP: The numbers speak for themselves, but BJ Hornikel is an outstanding performer on the men’s side. Anestis Arampatzis, who was one of our top-2 ranked swimmers going into the season, got injured and wasn’t able to represent us in the championship competitions, unfortunately.
On the women’s side going into last season, the same thing. Our top-ranked female, Kristel Vourna, was injured and not able to represent us at the end of the season. … Kaylin Burchell swam very well and finaled [sic] in the SECs and made it to the NCAA Championships. That was nothing short of a miracle given all the injuries and illnesses she was confronted with during the season. If we can keep her healthy this year, we can expect some big things. [Overall], we have a big influx of talent on both the men’s and women’s side that should have a lot stronger representation in those championship meets.
CW: What are your goals heading into the team’s first meet of the season?
DP: I just want to see a bonded team, a spirited team, a team of athletes that really care about one another and that care about the team performance and show that with their demeanor and spirit they bring to the competition. Of course, we’ve got the skills that we have to work on, and the race tactics and those sorts of things that are a given, but bringing that team concept, that team focus to the competition is going to be a big priority for us.