Jan. 27, 2011
By Jon Cooper
Senior Day is always an emotional day in any sport.
When the Georgia Tech Men’s and Women’s Swimming and Diving teams take to Georgia Tech Aquatic Center tonight to battle Darton College, it will be an especially emotional Senior Day, as 15 swimmers (nine men and six women) take their final laps for Tech.
“This is actually the class that I came in with as an Assistant Coach,” said second-year Head Coach Courtney Shealy Hart. “So I’ve been with these guys all four years. I’ve seen them grow as athletes and as people. So it is bittersweet for me in the fact that they’ve done such great things for Georgia Tech Swimming and Diving but I know they’re going to do great things out in the real world as well.”
It shouldn’t have been a surprise that this class would be special. It came in 24 strong. The way the super-sized class came together and became more of a family than a team.
“It’s been a long four years of a lot of trials and a lot of fun times and some memories that we know we’ll have forever,” said senior freestyler Jeffrey Phillips. “As far as how close we are, I say it a lot that we’re a family. So a lot of them pretty much are my brothers and my sisters because we spend six-plus hours out of the day together. Most of us have classes together.
“So with swimming comes that end of that amount of time that we’re going to spend together and interact with each other,” he continued. “But, again, we still want to embrace the end of swimming because it’s been a tough four years and it’s been a long process overall.”
“Really, it’s kind of almost the beginning of the end of something that all the seniors, we’ve put our whole lives into this,” said co-captain Katherine Locker (butterfly and sprint freestyler). “A lot of us have been doing this since we were six. Yeah, we still have ACCs, but Senior Day is like the first of the last. This is the last morning practice, the last dual meet. So it’s a good time to remember all the good things that have happened and how much fun it has been, even though it has obviously been really hard.”
There certainly was plenty of fun along the way.
Locker recalled a training trip to Florida two years ago that stuck with her and Phillips. There’s even video evidence to back up the story.
“There’s this video one of our coaches took of us during an open-water swim,” Locker recalled. “The only thing you can hear in the background is Jeffery just screaming like a girl. It’s just so funny. It’s funny things like that that come to my mind. It’s really all about the people.”
Phillips neither disputed, nor sought to destroy the evidence of the event.
“That video was the first time I had ever been to the ocean and asked to swim in the ocean,” remembered the Oxford, Mississippi, native. “I’d seen it and played in it, but that day, we were doing an open-water swim and the day before we had seen some dolphins swimming in the ocean with us. I was kind of freaked out about the whole thing. So I stood out as the kid who had never been to the beach to swim. It was funny, but I don’t think I want to do that anymore.”
Hart has her own indelible memory of the co-captains.
“The first time I saw Jeffery, everybody thought he’s a football player or a basketball player but he’s actually a phenomenal swimmer,” she said. “He has brought so much to this team. His attitude has always been great and he is just a great leader for our team.
“The same thing can be said for Katherine Locker, though not the football or basketball player part,” she added with a laugh. “She is a local girl (she’s from Decatur) who always wanted to go to Georgia Tech and she had her dream come true and now she’s been a captain for us and she’s led our women’s team. They both have been not only great, great athletes, but people to work with and people that I’m happy to have in my life.”
The seniors may be saying goodbye to Georgia Tech but will be keeping swimming in their lives. After all this time they simply can’t let it go.
Locker said she’d like to get into college coaching, while Phillips, who is moving to Cincinnati after graduation to begin working with Proctor and Gamble, will continue to hit the pool, at least short term but didn’t rule out coaching down the road.
But that’s down the road. For now, they’ve got unfinished business in tonight’s meet against the Cavaliers, who are based in Albany, Ga.
“I think it’s going to be, just different. It’s like no meet I’ve ever been in before,” said Locker. “I’ve never been in these last dual meet ever, realizing that there are no more, will give me extra adrenaline.”
“It’s still that ‘We’ve done it for so long and it’s actually going to be over’ feeling. So it’s still kind of unreal right now,” added Phillips, “But, with that being said, we are still pretty excited for it.”
Hart hinted that the team may have something of a new look, with an eye to the future.
“Some people will be swimming some different events just to get an idea, kind of where they are, but not necessarily in their events, but to sharpen up,” she said. “It will be the last time we race and then we’ll start into our full taper mode, which is where they completely rest. They actually get to sleep in.
“The thing they’re most excited about is not having to get up at 5:30 in the morning,” she added, with a laugh. “It’s the last chance to race in our home pool before we host ACCs. So we have one more chance to get even better.”