By Jeff Shearer
AUBURN, Ala. - Joe Patching is ready. Ready for the packed stands in Knoxville, Tenn. Ready for the world-class competition. Ready to repeat as SEC Champion in the 200 backstroke and individual medley.
“It’s actually probably more intense than NCAAs in that sense, because everyone’s there,” said Patching, a senior from Ascot, England. “You’ve got men and women together competing. A lot of people really thrive in that very competitive environment against probably one of the best swimming conferences in the country.”
Patching leads Auburn’s No. 7 men’s team into the SEC Championships Tuesday through Saturday at Tennessee’s Allan Jones Aquatic Center.
“It’s very daunting walking in,” he said. “Every team’s got their own camaraderie. And everyone’s got their own dynamic. Sometimes you can get lost in observing other teams. At the end of the day, you’ve always just got to remember if you’re having doubts or thoughts about not being confident within yourself from your preparation, you’ve got to remember that you’ve got a team of 40 people behind you. And you can always resort back to them or the coaches.
“When you step onto the block, focusing on just you and your lane,” he said. “There might be some racing tactics that go into it, but really just sticking to what you know.”
Patching’s strategy has paid off with 51 individual titles in four seasons, including 17 this year.
“Last year, I won SECs in the 200 backstroke and 200 IM as individual championships, so I’m obviously going to be looking to defend those,” he said.
“In the 400 IM, I made the podium and I’ll be looking to do the same again. There’s going to be strong competition. And I think in those events we’ve maybe lost one or two people, but at the same time you’ve gained a couple of really fast freshmen. So the field is going to be exactly the same. It’s going to be as close as it was last year.”
Auburn finished second in the SEC last year for the third time in four years. The Tigers have won 18 men’s SEC championships, all in the past 23 seasons.
“I think we’ve got a really good shot, like we do every year with the championship,” Patching said. “It’s going to come down to the same three or four teams. It’s going to be really close. Going as a team, competing as a team, and hopefully coming away with a championship as a team.”
A four-year force in SEC swimming, Patching won 10 individual events as a freshman, and 12 each as a sophomore and junior before his breakout senior season. His adjustment out of the pool was equally smooth.
“Coming from England, coming from a different country to America, I didn’t really know what to expect,” Patching said. “And I walked in not knowing what Auburn is. You experience some of it on your trip. But it’s not until you get here and you’re really a part of the Auburn Family that you realize how special it is.
“You really come as an individual, and from day one I felt part of a team. Over your years, you slowly start to become more and more part of this team. At the end of your four years, like I’m seeing now, this place really feels like home and a family to me.
“It’s an honor and a privilege to have been able to compete for Auburn University for these past four years. I’m hoping to go off and finish it on a really high note.”
— Jeff Shearer (@jeff_shearer) February 13, 2017
Jeff Shearer is a Senior Writer at AuburnTigers.com. Follow him on Twitter: Follow @jeff_shearer