TGW: RisinGTide

Feb. 24, 2016

By Jon Cooper | The Good Word

The Georgia Tech men’s swimming team has a hard act to follow when it hits the pool of the Greensboro Aquatic Center in Greensboro, N.C., Wednesday afternoon for the ACC Championships and it has nothing to do with the rest of the powerful ACC field.

Their work will be cut out simply in matching the kind of show put on by the Georgia Tech women’s swimming and the men’s and women’s diving teams last weekend.

Women’s swimming and diving set 11 school records, while men’s diving featured junior Brad Homza, who made history by winning the Platform, setting a school-record with his 436.25 score and earning Most Valuable Diver honors from the league’s coaches.

While the bar is set pretty high, the men’s swimmers aren’t backing down from the challenge. They’re fired up and determined to pick up where their teammates left off.

“The women did a phenomenal job last week and the men’s diving did a phenomenal, phenomenal job,” said senior Yuval Safra, who will compete in the 500 and 1,650 freestyle and 200 backstroke. “That definitely gives us drive, putting us, right now, in second place. They totally held up their end. They put us in such a good position to compete against these big schools. Hopefully we can carry their momentum up. It definitely got all the guys pumped, especially Brad winning Platform. That was a big boost for us and we’re excited.”

Personally, Safra’s excitement is two-fold. He’s looking to build on last year’s ACCs, where he finished seventh in the 500, clocking in at 4:21.48, a personal best and the second-fastest time in school history, ninth in the 1,650 at 15:09.72, the third-best time in school history, and 15th — tops among all Jackets — in the 200 back, with a 1:44.30, and also go out with a bang in his final ACC Championships.

“It’s exciting and sad at the same time,” he said, with a laugh. “It’s the last one, so just try and make the best of it.”

“There are a bunch of really, really good swimmers here from a bunch of schools, a bunch of good guys to race,” he added. “NC State has a bunch of really good swimmers as well as UNC, Virginia Tech, Louisville, really all of them. Across the board there are so many good swimmers and the ACC is getting faster each year. So just keep up with those guys and hopefully finish on top. I want to lower my times, hopefully get some school records. That’s what the main focus is for this meet.”

The men’s team was focused on last week’s meet — keeping up online — and this week was energized by their teammates’ performance as they prepared for their turn in Greensboro.

“It was a bunch of guys having fun. There was so much positive energy all around,” Safra said. “After practice we hung around, took some underwater pictures. We were just super-excited. We’re really excited about ACCs. There’s just positive family energy. We consider ourselves brothers. So we kind of bonded over this week and hopefully it will transfer into the pool. It will be a big step up for us.”

The next step would be the NCAAs, which will be held in their home pool at the McAuley Aquatic Center.

Eight Jackets have already qualified for NCAA B cuts, including seniors Safra, Youssef Hammoud (50 free, 100 free, 200 free, 100 back), and Ricky Lehner (100 breast), junior Ben Southern(100 fly, 200 fly) and sophomores Noah Harasz (50 free, 100 free), Moises Loschi (500 free, 100 breast, 200 breast, 400 IM), Alex Kimpel (100 breast, 200 breast), and sophomore Brad Oberg (200 fly). They’d like to add to that number.

Safra feels the team is mentally ready — appreciating the gravity of the meet but also appreciating and the moment.

“Just relax and not stress too much about it so you don’t psyche yourself out. Just enjoy everything that’s going on around you,” he said. “We all want to swim fast, we’re all behind each other. We’re trying to make the most of it. It’s a big thing. The NCAAs is at Georgia Tech this year so a lot of us want to make it, swim in our home pool in the NCAAs. It just motivates us and pushes us even further.”

Georgia Tech fans can get live results from the meet at theacc.co/SDlivestats and follow Thursday, Friday and Saturday’s finals, which will be streamed on ESPN3.

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