Sept. 23, 2013
By Jon Cooper
George Bernard Shaw once said, “Youth is wasted on the young.”
Georgia Tech Swimming & Diving would like to prove otherwise and will get the chance to do so when it hits the pool at the GT Aquatic Center on Saturday morning to open its 2013-14 season against the Saints of Limestone College. The meet begins at 11 a.m.
The Yellow Jackets open the season with 20 freshmen (12 men, eight women) and 15 sophomores (five men, 10 women). That’s 34 swimmers and divers out of 55 on the men’s and women’s roster that either have never swam a lap in a collegiate race or have been at it for one year.
Head Coach Courtney Shealy Hart has done the math. She knows there is no way to give the 61 percent of the team that is underclassmen upperclass experience and only one way to build that experience up. That’s to throw them into the pool. At this point, it’s time to act, not think.
“I think one of the first things we have to overcome is over-analyzation of things,” she said, adding with a laugh, “Being a little naive might be okay at this point.”
So far the kids have gotten the message.
“The freshmen are working hard and they’re going to push our upperclassmen,” she said. “They’re very excited and I’m looking forward to getting the season started.”
The team probably is as well, as Hart’s preseason plan was to compensate for the lack of race competition with fitness.
Employing Navy SEAL training into the preseason — both in and out of the water — this Jackets team is one of the most fit that Hart has put out in her five years as head coach on the Flats.
“The preseason’s gone great. We’ve worked really hard both in and out of the pool,” she said. “We’re really trying to develop the full athlete and taken the preseason to be able to do that. The kids have done a great job.
“They really bought in although the first week was probably a little rough,” she added. “We’re about three weeks into it now and they’ve really gotten into it and kind of use it as a competition and have done a great job. Overall we’re getting a really good effort.”
They hope that effort will pay off Saturday against the Saints, a Division-II program out of Gaffney, S.C. The meet will present an opportunity for Hart and her staff to get a better feel for what they have going forward.
That’s important with Georgia up on Oct. 15 in Athens, then an ACC dual meet against Florida State and North Carolina State in Tallahassee 10 days later.
“To get a meet before Georgia is important,” said Hart. “We can change some things around and see where we want to put people, specifically for the Georgia meet. That will be nice because we’re going to have to, obviously, put our best lineup up against them. This gives us an opportunity, with how many young swimmers we have, to see what events will be best for them.”
While the Yellow Jackets are youthful, there are some experienced swimmers that Hart is counting on not only to get points but set a good example. Tech returns four of the five swimmers that represented the team at last year’s NCAA Championships, including juniors Nico van Duijn (fly), Andrew Kosic (free/fly), Andrew Chetcuti (fly/free) and senior Ryan Salmon (breast). Chetcuti, Kosic and van Duijn competed in the 200 free relay, with Eric Chiu, who has graduated, while Salmon, joined Chiu, Kosic and van Duijn in the 400 medley relay.
The meet bore fruit, as not only did the group gain experience, but Kosic set a school record for the 100 back in his leg of the relay.
Several Jackets also got experience internationally during the off-season, as van Duijn represented Switzerland at the World University Games, Chetcuti competed in the World Championships for Malta, while Salmon competed for the U.S. and sophomores Yuval Safra and Efrat Rotsztejn swam for Israel in the Maccabiah Games.
“Any time you get international exposure and experience it’s great because you’re on a high level,” said Hart, an Olympic Champion, and a recent inductee into the Georgia Aquatic Hall of Fame. “So you learn how to deal with and how to race with that pressure at a high level.”
Safra (distance free) and Rotsztejn (free/IM), as well as senior Anton Lagerqvist, Tech’s top finisher in the breaststroke at the 2013 ACCs, junior Mark Sarman (fly/IM) and sophomore Michael Kenny (distance free/IM), all performed well in last year’s ACCs and will be counted on to contribute.
On the women’s side, big things are expected from redshirt freshman Chiara Ruiu. The freestyle/IM specialist from Oristano, Sardinia, Italy, a bronze-medalist in the 200 at the 2010 Italian National Championship, saw her inaugural season cut short by injury, which forced her to redshirt.
“We get Chiara Ruiu back,” said Hart. “She broke her hip last year. “We’re really looking forward to having her and seeing what she can do.”
Junior Kate Woolbright (distance free/IM) and sophomores Sarah Williford (distance free/back), Frederique Lefebvre (fly/IM), Carla Sweeney (back) and Shannon Lumbra (diving) also will look to build off solid performances at the ACCs.
Hart is optimistic the team will improve with each meet and improve its final standings within the ACC and nationally.
“Every time you have a competition, you have a chance to race, you have a chance to learn how you race the best,” she said. “So for me, a successful season would be moving up in the ACC and taking more participants into NCAAs and actually scoring in the NCAAs. That is what would be success for me on both the women’s and men’s side.”
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