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2002-03 Men's Swimming and Diving Outlook

Oct. 24, 2002

Following the 2000-01 season, Georgia Tech swimming and diving head coach Seth Baron talked about the Jackets’ improving their stronghold on the third-place spot at the Men’s Atlantic Coast Conference Championships.

However, Tech one-upped its coach’s expectations in 2001-02 by leaping perennial power North Carolina at the ACC meet to finish second behind four-time defending champion Virginia. The Jackets also tied for 27th place at the NCAA Championships. Both finishes were program bests. Entering this season, Tech hopes to repeat its success of the last two seasons, while continuing to improve its standing on the national scene.

“The goals remain the same,” said Baron. “We want to get into the top 25 at the NCAA Championships as quickly as we can. We are extremely close. We’d like to solidify our second place position in the conference. At the same time, we’d like to start chipping away at Virginia’s dominance on the men’s side. We’re now in a position where we can start chipping away and hopefully in a couple of years we can have a legitimate shot at winning the conference title.”

The 2002-03 edition of the Jackets features three NCAA qualifiers and a quartet of returning All-ACC performers from a year ago: swimmers Shilo Ayalon, Josh Hersko and James Salazar, as well as diver Paul McCarty.

Despite the strong group of returnees, Tech will also have to replace several key parts of the team, including David Laitala, the 2002 ACC champion in the 100 butterfly.

“We did graduate six individuals last year, so we’re going to have to step it up with our current team members and incoming freshmen to make up for the people that we did graduate,” Baron said.

The addition of 11 outstanding newcomers will help ease the loss of last year’s seniors, while helping to build the future of the Yellow Jacket men’s team.

According to Baron, the sprint free area will be much-improved for the Jackets in 2002-03. Leading the group will be senior Josh Hersko, the school record holder in the 50 and 100 free.

Hersko garnered All-ACC honors a year ago, as he placed second at the conference meet in the 100 free, an event in which he posted a NCAA “B” cut.

Adding veteran depth to the sprints will be senior Jorge Oliver and sophomore Jeremy Raines. Oliver ranks among the program’s top five in the 50 and 100 free, while Raines owns Tech’s fourth-fastest mark in the 50.

Freshmen Ryan Riebesell, Brian Huff, Eric Quillen, Teemu Kettunen and Brian Browning will also be able to contribute immediately in this area.

“We’ve got five incoming freshmen that can have an impact and add some much-needed depth in the sprint freestyle area,” Baron said. “I’m excited because it has been an area that has been weak for us over the last couple of years, and we now have the tools and individuals in house to make those strong events for us.”

Led by junior Itai Eden, sophomore Matt Figh and senior Shilo Ayalon, middle distance freestyle has been one of Tech’s strong points of late.

Eden and Figh both reached the finals of the 200 free at the ACC Championships and met the NCAA “B” qualifying standard in that event. Josh Hersko will also contribute in the 200 free but will mainly focus on the sprint events. He holds the school record in the event, which he set in 2001.

Ayalon leads the way in the 500. He set the school record in a second-place finish at the conference championships and also competed in the event at the NCAA Championships.

Junior Eduardo Oliver, who ranks as the program’s fifth-fastest all-time competitor, adds key depth behind Ayalon in the 500. “He definitely took a huge step in the right direction last year,” said Baron.

Newcomers Ofir Sorias, Yonatan Cohen and Eric Quillen will contribute in the 200, while Sam Morgan is expected to perform well in the 500.

Shilo Ayalon and Eduardo Oliver will be the focal points of the Jackets’ distance freestyle events, according to Baron.

Ayalon ranks among the world’s best distance swimmers, as placed eighth in the 1650 free at the 2002 NCAA Championships and reached the finals in the 1500-meter free at the 2002 European Swimming Championships in Berlin.

“Shilo’s top-eight finish at the European Championships this summer in Berlin had a huge impact for his mental preparation going in to his senior year and his overall confidence and abilities,” Baron said. “But I also really think that it’s going to be a great motivator for our team and it is going to show the swimming community that we are capable of producing at a very high level.”

Oliver also had a great 2002, as he posted the program’s third-fastest mark and also clocked a NCAA “B” cut in the 1650.

Freshman Sam Morgan will also contribute in this area. “We’re really excited about Sam’s capabilities in the 1000 free for dual meets and the 1650 free for championship meets,” Baron said. “We’re going be able to put Sam into that mix with Shilo and Eddy and help really keep the distance freestyle area a strong suit for us.”

Senior James Salazar, who earned All-ACC honors and reached the NCAA Championships in the 200 back, returns as the “cornerstone” of Tech’s backstroke events. He owns the school record in the 200 back and ranks second all-time in the 100.

Jeremy Raines is not far behind in the 100, ranking third on the all-time list, while Matt Figh and Jorge Oliver will contribute in the 200 back. Both stand among the five fastest in Tech history in that event.

Brian Browning, a talented freshman, adds depth in the 100 back.

Tech lacks a bit of depth in the breaststroke events, but more than makes up for it in quality with seniors Tomonori Tsuji and Robbie Foster.

Tsuji has qualified for the NCAA Championships in each of the last two seasons, earning honorable mention All-America honors in the 200 breast in 2001. Foster reached the finals of the ACC Championships in the 100 and 200 breast and also placed eighth in the 100-meter breast at the 2002 Phillips 66 U.S. Swimming Spring National Championships.

“Realistically, I can see both Tommy and Robbie qualifying for the NCAA Championships this season,” Baron said.

Freshman Yonatan Cohen may see some time in the 100 breast, but Tsuji and Foster will carry most the of the load for the Jackets in this area.

“We took a little bit of a hit in the butterfly with David Laitala’s graduation,” Baron said of his 2001-02 senior co-captain who earned All-ACC honors for three consecutive seasons and claimed the league title in the 100 fly in 2002. “We’re returning Jorge Oliver in the 100 fly, as well as Itai Eden, James Salazar and Matt Figh in the 200 butterfly.”

Oliver should prove valuable in the 100 fly, as he ranks as the program’s second-fastest competitor.

Baron also sees some of the newcomers contributing in the shorter fly races. “We add Teemu Kettunen, who is very solid in the 100 butterfly. We’re looking to him to possibly step up and replace David Laitala.”

Depth should come from freshmen Jacob Wilson and Eric Quillen, who both swim a solid 100 fly. In the 200 fly, Eden, who reached the finals at the ACC Championships, leads the way. He is followed by Salazar, who ranks among Tech’s all-time top five, and Figh, who should add needed depth.

Discussion of Tech’s individual medley performers must start with Shilo Ayalon, who placed second at the ACC Championships and reached the NCAAs in the 400 IM a year ago. He is also the school record holder.

“The 400 IM is definitely going to be stronger for us than the 200 IM, but we still are very pleased with what we have there,” Baron said. “Yonatan Cohen coming in as a freshman will have an impact in the 200, as will Jacob Wilson.”

Jorge Oliver will also add depth in the 200 IM.

As far as the 400 IM, newcomers Wilson and Sam Morgan will have a chance to make an impact. “Add those guys behind Shilo and we’ll be pretty solid in the IMs,” said Baron. “It’s an area that may not be as strong as in the past but it’s still going to be pretty successful for us.”

After posting school records in all five relays a year ago, Tech returns most of its key relay performers for the 2002-03 season.

As was the case last season, the Jackets strongest relays should be the 400 medley and 800 freestyle events. Tech fielded a team for both at the NCAA Championships.

“We were fortunate to be able to swim a 400 medley and 800 free relay the NCAA Championships last year,” Baron said. “We no doubt want to repeat that, but we also want to be able to get those events to score and we’d like to get some additional relays to the NCAA Championships.”

Returning from last season’s 800 free team, which placed second at ACCs, are Josh Hersko, Shilo Ayalon and Matt Figh. “I think if everything goes right our 800 free relay might have a legitimate shot at winning the conference title,” Baron said.

In addition to success in the 800 free relay, Baron expects to see improved performances in the shorter free relays. “We’re going to have some more depth in the sprint freestyle areas, which is going to allow us to be more selective for our 200 and 400 freestyle relays,” said Baron.

In the medley relays, the Jackets will have to replace David Laitala, who swam the butterfly leg on both the 200 and 400 events. Baron sees freshman Teemu Kettunen as a prime candidate to fill that role.

Under the tutelage of diving coach John Ames, the Tech men’s divers should experience one of the top seasons in program history in 2002-03.

“Paul McCarty, who is coming off an All-ACC performance a year ago, is obviously the cornerstone of our men’s diving program,” Baron said.

McCarty placed third at the conference meet on the one-meter board and qualified for the NCAA Zone Championships in both the one and three-meter events.

Freshman Matt Anderson will add key depth in the diving events, as he placed 14th on the one-meter and 16th on the three-meter board at the Junior Zone Championships. “Matt can come in and help us at dual meets and is a possible scorer at the ACC Championships,” said Baron.

“We’re really excited about the depth in that portion of the program,” said Baron. “It should one of the best years for diving that we’ve ever had at Georgia Tech.”


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