Coming off of a season-finale 14 school records and two NCAA Championship B-standard times in the 1999 ACC Swimming & Diving Championship meet, Tech head coach Seth Baron knows this is only the beginning of a successful run for the Yellow Jackets. So much so, he is looking for his charges to break those newly-set school records in the 1999-2000 campaign, as the team continues its pursuit of climbing in the ACC standings.
“After finishing seventh in the ACC Championship meet for two straight years, the next step is to move up to sixth and possibly even fifth,” said head coach Seth Baron, who is entering his third year on the Flats. “To accomplish our goal of moving up in the standings, we have to continue working on swimming faster times, which means breaking all the school records we just set. The key will be how hard and far our athletes push themselves, because their work will dictate our success. We return a solid nucleus of returnees and have recruited some potential freshmen who can contribute right away. The potential of this team should be unlimited.”
The Jackets set nine individual and five relay school records at the ACC Championship meet, which was held at the University of Maryland. Eight of the nine individual marks were set by freshman, and the squad registered 192.5 points, which was the second-highest total in school history for the meet. Tech improved in the ACC Championship by 36 points from the season before and the men’s 800 free relay team placed sixth for its highest placement in a championship final.
One of the team’s top building blocks will be its first-ever ACC regular season dual-meet victory, which came in a 149-82 win at Duke last season. The Jackets ended the 6-7 overall in dual meets, and will look to push for a winning mark in the ’99-00 campaign.
“We have a very good mix of opponents this year,” said Baron. “We have added three new opponents this season in Florida State, NC State and the Air Force Academy. There are still opponents who we have swam while I have been here that we have not beaten. We are looking forward to a very competitive dual meet season. How successful our team can be depends on our athletes.”
Sprint Freestyle (50-100)
Tech will look toward a young core of athletes who will bring talent but youth to the 50 and 100 freestyle events. Key performers in these events will be freshmen Ross Dye (Marietta, Ga.), Josh Hersko (Marietta, Ga.) and Jorge Oliver (Jacksonville, Fla.).
“This is the one key area that we were not very successful in last season,” said Baron. “We have the ability to be very good here but at the same time will be very young. This could be a very exciting group as they develop.”
Middle Distance Freestyle (200-500)
The Jackets return depth and experience to the middle freestyle distances and will look to be top point scorers.
Headlining the group will be sophomore Hank Longmire (Longview, Texas), who set the school record in the 500 free last year at the ACC Championship meet. Also looking to contribute will be sophomores David Laitala (Richardson, Texas), Leo Salinas (Monterrey, Mexico), David Silver (Richardson, Texas) and Brady Skaggs (Jacksonville, Fla.). Freshmen who could contribute are Shilo Ayalon (Kfar Hanassi, Isreal), Mark Campbell (Jonesboro, Ga.), Josh Hersko (Marietta, Ga.) and James Salazar (Huntsville, Ala.). Laitala and Silver have excelled in the 200 free, while Skaggs and Salinas will bolster the 500 free.
“We have a number of athletes who will make these two distances strong events for us,” said Baron. “The fact that these athletes are multi-versatile and can swim other strokes and relays will make us even better.”
Distance Freestyle (1,000-1,650)
An area Tech will be looking to improve upon in the coming campaign, the Jackets will place solid athletes in these events in Salinas, Salazar, Skaggs, Ayalon and Matt Wolczynski (Valrico, Fla.). Salinas came on late in the year for the Jackets, as he set the school records in both events during the 1,650 free at the ACC Championship meet. Ayalon could also make an impact in this event for Tech after placing ninth in the 1,500 meter free at the European Junior Championships.
“With our returnees and incoming freshmen, we are looking for a lot of improvement in these events,” said Baron. “This group of swimmers are a potentially strong group for us.”
Tech should be solid in the backstroke events with Laitala leading this group. A year ago, he set the school record in the 100 back while leading off the 400 medley relay at the ACC Championship meet. Sophomore Carl Nylander (Tucker, Ga.) will be a strong contributor in the 200 back and a freshmen group of Salazar and Scott Lenyk (Suwanee, Ga.) will also lend scoring potential.
“This could be a strong group for us,” said Baron. “Laitala and Nylander bring experience, while a new group of incoming freshmen will really bolster the depth.”
The breaststroke will be Tech’s youngest event, as all swimmers in this stroke will be freshmen except for Nylander. Joining him will be a talented incoming group led by Tomonori Tsuji (Osaka, Japan) and Travis McQuinn (Cypress, Texas), as well as Dye and Robbie Foster (Frankfort, Ky.). Tsuji, McQuinn and Foster all bring U.S. Junior National experience and have been top 16 finishers in their respective regionals.
“We are adding a new element of youth and excitement to the existing returnees,” said Baron. “This stroke could be a very successful one for us at the ACC Championship meet after they gain a year’s worth of experience.” Butterfly
This event could become a successful one for the Jackets, as it is one of the team’s most experienced strokes. Leading the way will be Laitala and junior James Nozar (Charlotte, N.C.), who scored in the ACC Championship meet in 100 fly as a freshman. After a sub-par year in ’98-99, he will be looking to return a successful level in ’99-00. Another experience Jacket will be sophomore Charles Gersbach (Tabernacle, N.J.), who came on in the 200 fly and placed in the ACC Championship consolation finals. John Fennessy (Americus, Ga.) and Skaggs could also contribute to this group, which would make it a deep event for Tech.
“This group could be a potentially strong scoring unit in the ACC Championship meet,” said Baron. “We return experience and depth, which we want to develop with all our strokes.”
Freshman Ben Dannemann (Tucker, Ga.) will be Tech’s lone diver for the ’99-00 season. He placed fifth in the Georgia High School State Championship meet last year and was the Dekalb County 1-meter champion. He will take over after the Jackets lost NCAA Zone Diving Championship qualifiers Kevin Brooks and Mark Baldwin.
“We will depend on Ben and give him all the support we can to develop and help us,” said Baron.
Tech showed great improvement in its relays a year ago and had its best finish in the ACC Championship meet with a sixth place in the 800 freestyle relay.
The Jackets will be able to call upon numerous athletes to comprise its medley relay squads. Laitala, Nozar and Oliver will contribute in the sprint backstrokes; Tsuji, Dye, Foster and McQuinn in the breaststrokes; Dye, Hersko and Oliver in the sprint freestyles; and Laitala, Nozar and Gersbach to anchor the butterfly.
“We now have depth to choose from to make up our squads,” said Baron. “We should be able to mix and match combinations to find our top teams.”
Tech returns experience and depth to improve its freestyle relay teams. A young group of Laitala, Dye, Hersko and Oliver will help anchor the 200 and 400 relay teams. The 800 relay team will use Ayalon, Longmire, Salinas and Silver to anchor the group and improve upon last year’s sixth-place finish in the ACC Championship finals.