By Sharon Robb

March 12, 2014

South Florida Aquatic Club swimmers will rub elbows with some of the nation’s best when they compete this week in the 2014 Speedo Championship Series Southern Zone South Sectional Championship at Plantation Aquatic Complex.

The four-day meet, which has attracted 451 swimmers and 75 teams, gets under way Thursday with timed finals at 5 p.m. Prelims and finals are Friday through Sunday.

Three-time Jamaican Olympian Alia Atkinson, 25, leads SOFLO’s 12-woman contingent. Others are Kaitlin Armstrong, 17, Kathleen Golding, 13, Kylie Herman, 16, Kelley Heron, 14, Amber Hunter, 18, Maria Lopez, 18, Melissa Marinheiro, 16, Delanie Perez, 13, Jessica Rodriguez, 15, Natasha Testa, 15, and Liz Travieso, 14, and Olivia Katcher, 18.

C.J. Kopecki, 14, coming off an outstanding FGC Junior Olympics, heads the SOFLO’s men’s teams. He will be joined by teammates Endi Babi, 25, Xavier Brown, 19, Ryan Capote, 16, Jordan Colon, 16, Nelson Alejandro Diaz, 17, Esteban Diaz-Velasco, 14, Ervin Marin, 14, Alex Montio, 15, Julien Pinon, 15, Kevin Porto, 14, Jonathan Strod, 15, Bowie Suen, 17, Gustavo Valery, 15, and Alejandro Zambrano, 19.

SOFLO also has twelve relays entered at the “A” and “B” levels.

For SOFLO swimmers, the meet will serve as fine tuning for the upcoming FGC Senior Champions which SOFLO is hosting March 21-23.

The meet has attracted some big names in swimming.

World-class open water swimmer and NCAA champion Emily Brunemann, 27, is seeded first in the 1500-meter freestyle in 16:23.36 and three-time Olympic champion and recently engaged Brooke Bennett, who is making a comeback at age 33, is seeded third in 17:26.42. That will be fun for Marinheiro, seeded second in the distance event in 17:04.87, to swim against.

Brunemann and Bennett are the top two seeds in the 800-meter freestyle.

U.S. national team member Michael Klueh, 26, who just missed making the 2012 Olympic team by one spot, is seeded first in the 800-meter freestyle in 8:01.23 and 1500-meter freestyle in 15:20.90 and will go up against U.S. national open water team member Joey Pedraza, 26, of Azura. Klueh is also top seed in the 200-meter freestyle in 1:47.66 and 400-meter freestyle in 3:48.17.

Last year Klueh made the short course and long course world championship teams and played a role in Team USA winning a gold medal in both 800 freestyle relays. He has told coaches and friends that he is motivated more than ever.

Age group sensation and national age group record holder Michael Andrew, who at 14 has already turned pro, is also in the field, seeded second in the 200-meter individual medley in 2:04.13, fourth in the 100-meter breaststroke in 1:03.83 and third in the 400-meter individual medley in 4:38.15.

Andrew is the youngest male in U.S. Swimming history to sign his first endorsement deal with Speedo just a few months after his 14th birthday.

Olympic and world championship medalist Arkady Vyatchanin, 29, of the New York Athletic Club is among the men’s backstroke field. Olympic silver medalist Amanda Weir, 28, is top seed in the 50-meter freestyle.

In addition to SOFLO, most of the Florida Gold Coast teams are represented. Other top teams entered are Bolles, Clearwater Aquatic Team, Daytona Beach Swimming, Toronto Swim Club and Gainesville Swim Club, featuring Florida Gold Coast swimmer Luke Torres.


What: Speedo Championships Series Southern Zone South Sectional Championships

When: Thursday-Sunday

Schedule: Thursday, 5 p.m. finals; Friday, prelims 9 a.m., finals 5 p.m.; Saturday, prelims 9 a.m., finals 5 p.m.; Sunday, prelims 9 a.m., finals 5 p.m.

Where: Plantation Aquatic Complex, 9151 NW Second Street, Plantation

Admission: $3 per session, $3 heat sheets per session. For information call 954-452-2526.

Sharon Robb can be reached at