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Jackets Making A Splash

March 21, 2002

By Simit Shah – You might think that Seth Baron is a little crazy. The man at the helm of Georgia Tech’s swimming and diving program is beaming like a proud papa in his Edge Center office. He’s talking about the women’s squad, peppering his comments with words like “success,” “surprise” and “wonderful.”

Would you have guessed that the team finished in last place at the conference championships? Well, there’s more to the story, and Baron has plenty of reasons for the praise.

The women’s team just completed its inaugural season, and there were plenty of bright spots despite their ACC finish.

“Quite frankly, they did an excellent job this year,” said Baron. “I told them that we’d concentrate on individual performances this year, and in that respect, we had an excellent year.”

Freshman Cara DeVinny emerged as the team’s brightest star. The Phoenix, Arizona native finished fourth in the 400 individual medley at the ACC Championships, and her time school-record time of 4:16.60 earned her an automatic berth at the NCAA Championships this weekend.

“It was quite a surprise. It was always a goal (to qualify for the NCAA Championships), but I didn’t think I could do it this year,” said DeVinny, who will compete in three events (400 IM, 200 IM and 200 butterfly). “At the beginning of the season, I thought about it but didn’t think I could do it as a freshman.

“I’m excited, but I don’t know what to expect.”

Baron did some research, and according to several experts, this is believed to be the first time that a member of a first-year program has qualified for the NCAA Championships.

“I think her making the NCAA is going to bring a lot of exposure to the program, especially since it’s in its first year,” he said. “I was a little bit surprised she was got the time, but Cara is a very talented athlete. She’s very capable of doing what she did.”

Anna Saum became the first Lady Jacket to earn all-ACC honors with a third-place finish in the 100-meter backstroke. Lisa Hancock finished 11th in the 200-meter butterfly, and her time was fast enough for an NCAA “B” provisional qualifying time.

The future of the women’s program appears bright, especially considering what the men’s team has accomplished since Baron resurrected it five years ago.

The once-dormant program will be sending a school-record three swimmers to the men’s NCAA Championship next weekend in Athens.

Shilo Ayalon will be competing in the 1650 and 500-meter freestyle, as well as the 400-meter IM. James Salazar is swimming in the 200-meter backstroke, and Tomonori Tsuji in the 100 breaststroke.

David Laitala is the first alternate for the meet. All four are juniors.

This comes on the heels of a superb season and a stellar performance at the ACC Championships, where the Yellow Jackets captured second place.

The squad had set their sights all season on second place after finishing a third a year ago. Baron was cautious about the goal, urging the team to focus on solidifying their hold on third.

However, the team surged in January, and Baron began to believe that finishing higher than third was possible.

“In my mind, that was the first time that I thought we’d have a good shot at second place in the ACC,” he said.

The team pushed past North Carolina into the second spot in the conference during a record-setting weekend in College Park.

“We had more individuals that earned all-ACC honors than we ever have before, and that speaks loudly for the success of this season,” said Baron. “We now have more athletes than we’ve ever had qualify for the NCAA Championships.

“It is a huge step for our program.”

The swimmers that will compete in Athens are well-prepared, according to Baron. The level of competition in the ACC this season was high, so the Jackets know what to expect.

As far as the men’s program has come in a few short years, Baron believes the women’s program can make the same strides in less time.

“This season was beyond anyone’s expectations. We finished our dual meet season at 5-6. I thought at the beginning of the season, we could only with three meets.

“I think our women are way head of where the men were at this same point. That doesn’t surprise me, because I thought the recent success of the men’s team would really help elevate it faster.”

That doesn’t sound so crazy.

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