Sept. 30, 2004
With 15 returning letterwinners and a tank full of depth and experience, the Georgia Tech men’s swimming and diving team will try and flow back to the upper echelon of the Atlantic Coast Conference this season.
“I know the expectations are high,” said head coach Seth Baron. “We only graduated three athletes from last year’s squad and return most of our scoring athletes from the 2004 ACC Championships. We have a lot of depth and talent with the new additions to the men’s squad.”
With many of Tech’s scoring athletes back from last year’s ACC meet and the conference championships being held in the Georgia Tech Aquatic Center for the first time in school history, the Yellow Jackets should have a legitamate chance at improving on last season’s performance.
“We have one of the finest, if not the finest, facilities in the country,” said Baron. “Now we get to host the conference championships and I know our athletes are excited about the opportunity to swim in their home pool and get back to where we’ve been in years past.”
The Rambling Wreck swam their way to a second-place finish at the 2002 ACC meet and want to get back to that level at the championship meets. Leading the Jackets heading into the season will be All-American Sam Morgan, senior captain Matt Figh, junior Jason Howard and sophomore diver Tony Burkhardt.
“The list could be endless,” said Baron. “Sam is coming off a great two seasons for us and expect he’ll do the same this year. Matt Figh tied our school record in the 200 free last year and will be one of our top swimmers in the 200 and 500 free. Jason Howard had a phenomenal sophomore season and I believe that this year he is going to have a lot of confidence to produce even better results at the ACC meet.
“Tony had a solid freshman year and with the additions of the three freshmen [Michael Bennett, Peter Doblar, Evan Stowers] he is going to have some stiff competition.”
Depth will be a new look for the Yellow Jackets in the upcoming season. Tech added 10 new faces to the roster, including three divers.
“We have areas that our greatly improved,” said Baron. “Some strictly because of the addition of athletes in those events, like distance events. We graduated Eddy Oliver, who was a great distance athlete, but we add two great distance swimmers in Chris Ewald and Rob Miller. We add Onur Uras [2004 Olympian for Turkey] who can swim the 100 and 200 butterfly, which gives us a bit more versatility because we don’t have to use Matt Figh in the 200 as often as we did last year.
“Diving is much stronger this year because we’ve added three young men that are going to bring some stability and some strong competitiveness.
“We added some sprint freestylers and added a lot of stroke people. We got areas that are better.
“Overall, I think we should see a much improved team this year with added depth and versatility.”
The strength of the Jackets will be depth and versatility, along with a talented group of underclassmen.
“This is a pretty good class,” said Baron. “There is a lot of talent in this class. Ewald was on the USA National Junior Team, was the fastest 800-meter freestyler for 18 and under and has international experience (competing for the U.S. this summer in Australia). His swim club teammate, Rob Miller, also is a good distance swimmer. He had a great senior year and had significant improvements from when we saw him in November till the end of his senior year.
“Onur Uras, who just got back from the Olympics, is going to boaster our butterfly events, along with Jason Bourgeois. Evan Stowers on the diving boards is a very talented young man who’s going to be able to come in and give us a solid one-two punch on the diving boards.
There’s potential across the board, we have some walk-on athletes, who over the course of the year could develop into something spectacular. We saw that with Jason Howard, who was a walk-on two years ago and earned a scholarship, scoring top eight at the ACC Championships. Anything is possible. We’re excited about getting the season underway so we can see who is going to have a break out year. It’s a very strong class, there are three or four strong guys at the top and we have a lot of depth that follows those gentlemen. The class makes our program much stronger and deeper and will provide us with versatility in the dual meets.
“I think the freshmen are not only going to have a great year, but have a strong impact on our program.”
Along with hosting the 2005 Men’s and Women’s ACC Championships, Georgia Tech will host the 2005 NCAA Zone Diving Championships and the 2006 Men’s NCAA Championships.
“I think it’s a testament to our administration here and the commitment our coaching staff has to elevating our program,” said Baron. “We feel like our facility stacks up with any in the country and it’s going to be exciting to host all these prestigious events.”
The one area Tech lacks depth heading into the year will be in the backstroke and sprint breaststroke.
“Our backstroke events are one of our weaknesses,” said Baron. “We have a great swimmer in Jeremy Raines in the backstroke, but we don’t have any substantial depth to back him up. The drop off from our number one and two guys drops off dramatically.
“I think we’re pretty solid in the 200 breaststroke with Alex Williams and Ryan Bishop, but I think we’re a little weak in the 100 breaststroke. We’re pretty strong in the 400 IM with someone like Sam Morgan, Ryan Bishop, Conrad Aach and Jacob Wilson, but we don’t have that kind of depth in the 200 IM.
“So there are a couple places that are weak and hopefully some of the freshmen can come in and make those events stronger.”
A look at Tech event by event:
A quartet of juniors will headline the 50 and 100 freestyle events for the Yellow Jackets. Ryan Riebesell, Teemu Kettunen, Howard and Brian Huff made up the 200 and 400 freestyle relay teams last year and will continue to swim together this season.
“Ryan Riebesell was our fastest 50 freestyler last year and was in a great mix of four guys in the 100 free that all made the consolation finals at the conference championship last year. The 8th street relay, as they like to call themselves, will be back for two more seasons.
“Marc Maier will be an addition to the sprint freestyle events. We moved him out of the middle distance events to the sprint events to take advantage of his athleticism. Hopefully, we’ll see a much improved 50 and 100 freestyle from Marc.”
“We have some people behind those guys that are still developing. Matt McGinley and Jacob Kwasnik have the ability to improve and fight to make our conference team this year. Additionally, Drew Cranford is a freshman with raw talent and we look forward to developing it.”
MIDDLE DISTANCE FREESTYLE
Leading the way for Tech in the 200 free will be Figh and Howard. Figh etched his name in the Tech record book in the 200 last year and Howard finished the season No. 4 on the all-time list in the 200.
“We’ve got some talented athletes in the 200 and 500,” said Baron. “Figh and Howard are training partners and exude a tremendous amount of confidence.”
The Yellow Jackets are deep in the 500 free. Morgan and Figh posted NCAA `B’ cut times in the 500 last year. Also swimming this event will be Howard. The junior walk-on began swimming the 500 last year and should continue to imrpove in the upcoming season.
The two talented distance freshmen swimmers, Ewald and Miller, will also swim the 500 for the Rambling Wreck.
“The 500 free is very strong,” said Baron. “There are five talented athletes that the coaching staff can choose from on a day-to-day basis.”
Morgan garnered All-America honors in the mile at the NCAA Championships and is a two-time NCAA qualifier in the event. Accompanying Morgan in the mile will be highly-touted freshmen Ewald and Miller.
“Morgan will be the frontrunner and provide leadership to the two young guys right behind him, Ewald and Miller. This should be another strong event for us.
“Potentially, Matt Figh could swim the mile this year. He has posted some good times in the 1000 free at dual meets in the past and we’ll try and see what third event will be his strongest.”
The 100 and 200 butterfly will be much stronger with the additions of some talented athletes. The leader for Tech in the 100 fly will be returning swimmer Kettunen. Uras swam in the Athens Olympics and is a very talented 100 fly swimmer. Sophomore Mario Montalvo will also swim the 100 and the 200 fly for Tech.
Freshman Jason Bourgeois, Figh, Ewald and Uras will also swim the 200 fly.
“We have a tremendous amount of versatility in the fly this year,” said Baron. “We will be able to mix and match in dual meets to find the most talented swimmers for ACC’s.”
Raines returns for Tech in the 100 and 200 backstroke events. A 2003 ACC champion in the 100 back, Raines posted top-eight finishes at last year’s ACC Championships in both the 100 and 200.
“As I said earlier, we lack depth in the backstroke,” said Baron. “Conrad Aach and Ryan Bishop helped us out in dual meets last year. We’re going to have to find some athletes that can step up for us in the back.”
Sophomore Ryan Bishop and Alex Williams should lead Tech in the breaststroke. Williams held the top time for the season in the 100 breast and Bishop posted the top time in the 200 breast.
“Alex and Ryan have the ability to score at the conference meet,” said Baron.
“The 200 is a tad bit weaker for us. Alex has been working hard with coach [Stu] Wilson this summer and can become a premier performer for us.”
Showcasing the IM events for Tech will be All-ACC performer Ryan Bishop. Bishop finished third in the 400 IM at the 2004 ACC Championships.
“We have a lot of depth at the 400 IM, but lack depth in the 200 IM,” said Baron. “Bishop, Wilson and Morgan are very talented swimmers. The rest of the group has the potential to be very good, we’ll just have to wait and see.”
The 200 and 400 freestyle relays return the record-setting `8th street’ relay team of Riebesell, Kettunen, Howard and Huff.
“These guys did a great job last year and will be back for the next two years,” said Baron.
The 800 freestyle relay has a chance to get back to the top of the conference this year. With the additions of Ewald and Miller, to accommodate the talents of Morgan, Figh, Huff and Maier, it could provide Tech with the spark its needed.
“We have a chance at having the best 800 free relay team we’ve ever had since I’ve been here,” said Baron. “We finished second at the 2002 ACC meet and the men have taken on the philosophy of getting back to that level.”
The medley relays return everyone from last year’s group and should improve. Raines, Williams, Kettunen and Riebesell made some big strides last year and should create some ripples at the `05 ACC Championships.
“We have three very strong legs of the medley relays and are searching for the final leg to push us over the top,” said Baron. “I think we’re very close.”
Burkhardt returns for his second season after posting top-10 finishes at the ACC meet on the one- and three-meter springboards.
“Tony had a great season last year,” said Baron. “We feel that after a season of working with coach [John] Ames, he will be even better this year.”
Bennett, Doblar and Stowers are all talented rookies and should add stability tp the boards, which it has lacked over the last four seasons.
“We have four young men that can score some valuable points for us,” said Baron. “Tony and Evan are at the top, but Bennett and Doblar are strong divers as well and could push one another throughout the season.”