ATLANTA (Oct. 6) — This was one recruit the Horns didn’t hook.
Georgia Tech’s swimming & diving team had a record-setting year with 14 school records a year ago, nine of which were individual and five by relay squads. Part of the that success came from a solid freshmen class, which was highlighted by David Laitala, a native of Richardson, Texas.
Laitala broke through with a strong rookie season as he set three individual school records and he helped four different relay teams post school records as well. He swam a 46.48 in the 100 freestyle, a 50.40 in the backstroke, 1:50.18 in the 200 individual medley and helped the 400 and 800 freestyle relays and 200 and 400 medley relays all set new school marks. He leads the Yellow Jackets in their season opener Friday as they host Virginia Tech at 2 p.m., at the Georgia Tech Aquatic Center (2,100) on the Institute’s campus. Georgia Tech was 6-7 in dual meets a year ago, including a 136-107 loss to the Hokies in Blacksburg, Va. Laitala set the 100 backstroke mark in that contest to jump start him toward a big ACC championship meet.
I felt I had a good freshman year, said Laitala. Our team improved as the year went along and individually I am happy with what I achieved. I was able to step up as a leader with my performances and reaching all those school records has reinforced me with a strong confidence in the pool and in the lockerroom. This year, the sophomores as a group need to step up if we are going to continue to keep improving.
Laitala was one of the top recruits for head coach Seth Baron two seasons ago from the City of Richardson Swim Club, from where Baron also recruited two-time school record holder Hank Longmire and David Silver. The trio has become building blocks for the Tech swimming program with three years to go.
Landing Laitala, however is a story in itself. A life-long University of Texas fan, he narrowed his decision down to Georgia Tech and Texas, an all ready nationally-known program. Laitala’s brother, Mike, is an NCAA qualifier for the Longhorns in the sprint freestyle, which made the decision all the more difficult.
Texas actually thought I was a shoo-in to attend there, said Laitala. But I was seriously weighing my options during the recruiting process. What really made my decision was the opportunity to be a big part of the team here at Tech. My time in the 200 individual medley would have been fifth-best at Texas, where as I was fourth best in the ACC. It is fun being a part of the building here at Tech and I want to help take us to the level where Texas is now. One of Baron’s top recruiting keys is to attract to Tech all-around athletes who can swim multiple events. Laitala is a prototype, as he is one of the team’s top athletes who has contributed as a scorer in multiple areas. In last season’s ACC Championship meet, he won the 200 individual medley consolation finals in a school record time of 1:50.18, which would have placed him fourth in the championship finals.
My best event right now is the 200 IM and I want to move up and qualify for the NCAA championship in it, he said. The ACC meet was very nerve racking because you have to give it your all. I achieved my goal time in the 200 IM there and everything fell into place. Hopefully this year, we can continue to improve and qualify a few guys for the NCAAs. We want to move up in the ACC Championship meet, after having finished seventh the last two years. I feel that we are very capable of moving up as we have a very talented freshmen group added to our returning veterans. It is a very exciting time to be in on the building progress here.
A sophomore who is a mechanical engineering major, Laitala is part of a solid student-athlete group that Baron has recruited to Tech.
Academics played a very big part in where I wanted to attend college, said Laitala. I had swam at the Tech Aquatic Center during high school and was very impressed with the facility. It is my favorite along with the facility at the University of Texas. The Institute, the swimming program, the opportunity for me to contribute here and a great city in Atlanta all added up to the right place for me.
As Tech continues to improve and start challenging in the Atlantic Coast Conference race, Laitala will be a very big part of the Jacket success.
I’m not exactly sure what events I will settle on other than the 200 IM, he said. The coaches think my backstroke is pretty good, while I feel my butterfly is really good right now. I’m not really a sprinter so I will concentrate on 200 and 400 distances, but am really focused on obtaining NCAA and Olympic Trial times. Those are my long term goals and hopefully we can start placing multiple swimmers in the NCAA.
One day, I want to be able to look back and know that I was part of the nucleus that started Tech on the road toward being a Top 20 program.