Dec. 4, 2003
By Scott MacDonald,Assistant Director of Sports Information
The Georgia Tech swimming and diving program has had its share of international stars on the men’s side. Recent graduates Shilo Ayalon, a native of Kfar, Hanassi, Israel, and Tomonori Tsuji, a native of Osaka, Japan, became the first Yellow Jackets to garner All-America honors at the NCAA level. Ayalon left Georgia Tech as its most decorated swim athlete, earning All-America honors on three different occasions.
The women’s program had yet to acquire an international recruit, until now. Enter freshman Vesna Stojanovska. Stojanovska hails from Skopje, Macedonia, and becomes the first international competitor for the Yellow Jackets in their three-year history.
“I came to Georgia Tech because I liked the pool, swimmers and coaching staff, along with the good academics,” said Stojanovska. “I wanted to attend a college with strong academics and athletics. That’s why I came to Georgia Tech. Right now I’m studying aerospace engineering.”
Stojanovska is just a tad different from most freshmen in collegiate athletics; she has competed for her native country at the international level. Stojanovska represented Macedonia at the 2000 Olympics at the tender age of 15-years-old. Although she did not win a medal, that dream is far from over.
“It was very scary at first, swimming at the Olympics,” said Stojanovska. “I finished 29th and 31st in the 200 and 400-meter freestyle events and was pleased with that result. I would love to move into the top 20 and eventually win a medal.”
Along with her Olympic aspirations, Stojanovska feels that she can make some ripples throughout the college ranks. And why not? The 18-year-old already owns three school records at Georgia Tech and set two new Georgia Tech Aquatic Center pool records in three weeks of competition.
“I didn’t expect to do so well so early,” said Stojanovska. “The team is helping me a lot because I have someone to race against everyday in practice and that helps me get better. It makes you swim harder and faster in practice.
“My goal is to qualify for NCAA’s and earn All-America honors at the championship meet.”
Stojanovska made her college debut against Atlantic Coast Conference foe NC State on Oct. 25. In her first event, she cruised to victory in the 1000-yard freestyle in record setting fashion with a time of 10:21.52. Up next was the 200 free, and of course, she went onto breaking that school record as well with a time of 1:51.65. In her final event of the afternoon, the 5-10 freshman won the 500 free en route to leading the Rambling Wreck to victory over the Wolfpack. By the end of the meet, Tech fans were even pronouncing her last name correctly, “Sto-YAH-NOV-ska!”
“There’s no doubt that her contribution so far has been tremendous,” said head coach Seth Baron. “She has yet to see the top competition yet, but she is getting better everyday and I believe that she has the potential to become an ACC champion, and maybe even score at NCAAs.”
Topping that type of start might be tough for most freshmen, but Stojanovska is not the typical freshman. Against defending ACC champion, No. 17 Virginia, she captured all three events she swam. Stojanovska broke her two-week old school record in the 200 free with a NCAA ‘B’ cut time of 1:50.39. Next up for the international star was an event she had yet to swim this season, the 200 butterfly. All she did is notch a NCAA ‘B’ qualifying time (2:02.98) and won her final event (500 free) of the afternoon for her sixth straight win of the season.
“Vesna just works hard day in and day out,” said Baron. “She is still learning some things about college swimming but she is obviously doing a nice job so far.”
The next afternoon the Yellow Jacket women took on No. 21 Maryland. This time armed with their latest weapon, Stojanovska. The Skopje, Macedonia, native experienced something she had yet to taste at the college level, defeat. Stojanovska finished second in the 1000 free after breaking yet another new school record in that event (10:15.24). Redemption came soon after with a record-setting victory in the 500 free (4:54.88) and a win in the 200 free (1:51.10).
Most recently, Stojanovska led the Jackets to wins over Purdue and Florida Atlantic on Nov. 14 and 15. The trend of setting new records continued as Stojanovska set pool, and school, records in the 500 free (4:53.76/NCAA ‘B’ cut) and 1000 free (10:11.58). She also tallied wins in the 200 free, 400 individual medley and 200 fly.
“I was pleased with the way I swam this weekend,” said Stojanovska. “I got another NCAA qualifying time and helped the team win two dual meets.”
Stojanovska left her native land for the United States in the fall of 2001 to attend Pine Crest High School in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla. Her parents felt that she would be better off leaving her native country due to the troubling surroundings of War and poor academics.
“Conditions were bad at home and my parents wanted me to get away,” said Stojanovska. “So they contacted Jay Fitzgeraled (Pine Crest H.S. swim coach) and sent him my times. He liked what he saw and helped me receive my Visa. Coach Fitzgeraled was very instrumental in getting me to the United States and furthering my career in academics and athletics.
“There was only one pool in the city I lived in so it was hard to train. The academic programs are not very strong either, so coming over to America was the best thing I could do.”
Being away from home has not been entirely easy for Stojanovska. She only gets to speak with her family once a week and has only been back home on three occasions since coming to the United States in 2001. Still she knows that they are following her career from afar.
“I communicate with my sister, Tijana, once a week via e-mail,” said Stojanovska. “She keeps me up-to-date on stuff back home and I let her know how things are going over here. I hope to one day get her over to the United States so she can enjoy the things that I have since coming over here.”
Stojanovska’s next planned visit back home will be after the 2004 Olympics in Athens, Greece. She will be representing her native country for the second time this summer and hopes to get home for a couple of weeks before school resumes at Georgia Tech. This time at the Olympics, Stojanovska feels she can do much better.
“My times are getting better and better,” said Stojanovska. “So I should be able to finish in the top 20 in the World in the 200 and 400-meter freestyle events, along with possibly the 200-meter butterfly. I have more experience this time around and will not be intimidated.”