Prior to the arrival of LSU freshman swimmer Brooks Curry last fall, the last time the Tigers’ program produced a gold medal winner in the Southeastern Conference championships was 2004.
Curry ended the program’s 16-year drought by achieving the feat in his first SEC meet. He not only delivered a memorable performance with three school records on the league’s biggest stage this past season, but the Atlanta native created some lofty future expectations.
“It will be great,” Curry said of the 2020-21 season. “I’ll have a lot of confidence going into next season.”
By most accounts, Curry didn’t arrive at LSU with a lot of fanfare from Rivers Academy where he established personal bests of 20.65 seconds in the 50-yard freestyle, 45.19 seconds in the 100-yard freestyle and 1:40.82 in the 200-yard freestyle.
The 6-foot-3 Curry concluded first collegiate season with the nation’s top marks among freshmen in all the aforementioned categories. He was looking forward to riding his wave of momentum into the NCAA championships March 25-28 in Indianapolis when they were cancelled because of the coronavirus pandemic.
“It was really disappointing,” Curry said. “It didn’t seem like it was actually happening when they told me.”
Curry was selected the SEC’s Freshman of the Year and landed some of LSU’s most significant team awards including Most Valuable Male Swimmer, Newcomer of Year and Most Improved Swimmer.
It was quite a transformation for Curry, who enjoyed a rather nondescript recruiting process, committing to LSU coach Dave Geyer during the early stages of his high school junior year.
“I reached out and talked to Auburn, Alabama and Georgia,” Curry said. “But I didn’t communicate with them nearly as much as I did with LSU. The coaches made me feel really at home. I just felt really welcomed during the entire recruiting process. It was like they weren’t recruiting a swimmer, but more of an individual to have on the team.”
Curry credited the team’s training regime during the fall and focus on weightlifting with providing a him boost during the team’s four dual meet competitions.
“The starts, the little details we worked on,” Curry said. “There was a lot of detailed, focused training. Everything we did leading up to the SECs, and getting ready for the NCAAs, the details we worked on helped so much.”
By the time LSU participated in the SMU Invitational last Nov. 21-23, Curry posted winning times in the 200-yard freestyle (1:36.08) and 100-yard freestyle (43.38). He duplicated those feats with winning performances more than a month later on Jan. 9 in a home dual meet with Missouri.
“He’s a born competitor, so as he developed and matured more, his competitive nature took over and allowed him to excel against the best competition in the SEC Championships,” LSU assistant swimming coach Steve Mellor said of Curry.
While he had established some of the fastest times in school history and lowered his times in the process, Curry hadn’t truly distinguished himself on a national level to that juncture of the season with the SEC meet scheduled Feb. 18-22 at Auburn.
Not even the 19-year-old Curry was totally prepared for what was about to happen next.
“I felt great going in,” Curry said the SEC meet. “I wasn’t super nervous because I didn’t have any expectations for myself. I was going to go in just to have fun and see what I could do. I didn’t have any expectations like what happened. I was ready. I trusted the training that I did.”
Curry’s record-setting performances covered seven events, three individual and four relays.
While none of the relay units claimed gold, they all set new school marks with the 200-yard freestyle team of Curry, Matt Klotz, Karl Luht and Lewis Clough finishing sixth (1:17.50), the 400-freestyle team of Curry, Clough, Michael Petro and Ben Hooper ninth (2:53.27), the 800-yard freestyle unit of Curry, Luht, Clough and Hooper eight (6:20.51) and 400-yard medley team of Curry, Luht, Petro and Luca Pfyffer fifth (school tying mark of 3:07.02).
Curry was sixth in the 50-yard freestyle (19.39 seconds) and second in the 200-yard freestyle (1:32.43) before closing out the individual portion of the SEC meet with his gold medal-winning effort in the 100-yard freestyle (41.81) which bettered his time of 42.02 from the prelims.
“It’s surreal to me,” Curry said. “It feels really crazy and it’s something I’ve never experienced before. It was exciting for the team. The momentum was crazy going through that meet. It was insane. Finishing after each race and finding out it was a school record was nuts.”
The individual results at the SEC championships for Curry were the second fastest times in the nation, qualifying him for the NCAA championships in all three events.
Because of the COVID-19 health scare and the cancellation of the rest of the season, Curry’s found plenty of motivation in returning for his second season at LSU in a much different frame of mind compared to the start of his career.
“I just kept on taking time off and was around where I was supposed to be going into the SECs,” Curry said. “Everything I did there was unexpected, but it was really exciting to go see what I could do. Now I’ve got some big goals. The (Olympic) Trials are postponed and that’s going to be exciting as well as the NCAAs next year. I’m super excited.”