Feb. 25, 2017
By Jon Cooper | The Good Word
About the last thing any coach wants to hear heading into a major championship is, ‘We’re happy to be here.’
Yet, that’s exactly what the Georgia Tech men’s swimming team was saying heading into Monday’s ACC Championships at McAuley Aquatic Center. The meet kicks off Monday with a single session at 4 p.m., followed by morning and evening sessions Tuesday through Thursday.
It’s not that they didn’t expect to take part or are intimidated by the competition. It’s just that they weren’t supposed to be competing at McAuley. The championships were supposed to be in Greensboro, N.C., but were moved by the ACC.
“It’s really nice,” said senior tri-captain Ben Southern. “I love our pool and I’m used to it. I’m used to the blocks, it’s a very familiar setting. We get to have our own team room, our own locker room, which definitely is an advantage over having to meet somewhere else. I’m really happy my final ACCs will be here in my own pool. I wouldn’t rather swim in any other pool than this one.”
“I swim in this pool every day, so I know each tile. Swimmers count the tiles at the bottom of the pool. I know each tile of this pool so that’s definitely an advantage,” agreed sophomore tri-captain Rodrigo Quadros Correia. “The turns, the starts, the box, this is what I’m used to every day. We have the team room, we have all the facilities here, if you need something, if you want to get out of a little bit of the atmosphere of the meet and just come here to the team room and relax, we have that.”
Coach Courtney Shealy Hart took staying at home with mixed emotions, pointing to last week’s Women’s ACC Championships, also held at McAuley.
“I think there are definitely pros and cons. We had some people asking if they should go to class last week even though we’re in the middle of ACC Championships because you’re at a very strong academic institution,” she said, adding with a laugh, “I’m like, ‘No! Sunday through Thursday, it’s just swimming. It’s an excused absence. It’s just swimming.’ So that is a little bit of a disadvantage not traveling. But it’s great in that it’s our home pool, we know the starts, we know the turns, we know the finishes, we have a lot of support here within our athletic association behind us.”
One advantage to which everyone can agree is the carryover from last week, both emotionally and statistically.
Emotionally, the men are looking to build on the momentum of the strong performance by the women’s team, which set 17 school records and finished 10th with 391 points — both up from last year.
“I think it’s always good when the women go before you and have a great meet because then it gives our men some confidence in the work we’ve done,” said Hart. “I’m certainly looking forward to watching them be just as competitive.”
“The women have really come a long way in the past few years and so I think the guys want to make sure that we improve alongside them, make jumps just as big as they do,” said Southern. “Really compete to try to be one of the top teams in the ACC.”
The men will start in eighth with 67 points, courtesy of the diving team, which competed during the Women’s ACCs, highlighted by sophomore Matt Casillas, who finished 16th on the platform.
Going in with points on the board is a big deal.
“Our divers got some points for us so to be on the board and already be competitive and be in the race is important,” said Hart. “We’re really excited about that.”
Hart will lean on her trio of captains, Correia, Southern and junior Moises Loschi, but expects solid performances up and down the roster.
“Some of our consistent leaders have been Rodrigo, Moises and Ben. That’s one of the reasons I think their teammates named them captains and they’ve done a great job for us all year with that,” she said. “But this is going to be a full team effort. Every single one of our guys needs to score in multiple events. That’s how we’re going to get better. Last year almost everybody scored. This year we want all of our guys scoring and in multiple events.”
Correia will try to repeat last year’s ACCs, when he competed in six different events (50, 100 and 200 free, 100 and 200 back and 200 individual medley), and five relays (200, 400 and 800 free and 200 and 400 medley) — setting career-bests in the 100 free and 200 IM. Southern also has had great success in past ACC Tournaments, competing for three years in the 500 free, 100 and 200 fly, for two years in the 200 medley relay, and last year adding the 200 breast and 200 IM.
Southern is further fueled by this being his final home meet and last meet of his college career.
“I’ve been swimming for so long and the last championship meet coming up, I try NOT to think about it, actually, because it makes me sad,” he said. “But I really want to go out with a bang and have a good last meet. This one really means a lot to me.”
There should be plenty of emotion at the meet — albeit a little more restrained than last week’s Women’s ACCs, when several men’s swimmers got a little too involved in cheering for their teammates and had to be reprimanded and directed from the deck into the stands.
“When diving is going on we have to be careful with that just not to disrupt the divers if they’re in the middle of a dive. You want to make sure that they’re safe,” Hart explained. “I think our guys got really excited and, obviously, being here, they wanted to be on the pool deck. Other teams saw that as an advantage for Georgia Tech so they asked the men’s team to stay up in the stands and cheer. They were very respectful and moved right up there. You live and you learn. We learned last week. So the women will be here to support the men. They’ll be loud up in the stands.”
The men hope to give the women a lot to cheer about as they’ll try to improve their ACC Championships finish for the fourth straight year — Tech finished seventh in 2014, sixth in 2015, and fifth last season.
“[The culture]’s changed a lot,” said Southern. “The personalities have really changed from when I was a freshman. We’re definitely a lot faster and a lot deeper than in previous years. But that’s definitely necessary. The whole sport of swimming seems to be headed in that direction. If we continue along the trajectory we’re headed then we’re going to see some great things in future seasons.”
Hart points to Southern’s leadership as a key contribution to the turnaround.
“He’s very consistent, a very hard worker,” she said. “I think one of Ben’s biggest attributes as a leader is he leads by example. He works hard every single day, and every single set and he holds people accountable to that because he, himself, is doing it. I think that the guys really like that about Ben because they want to work hard for each other.”
Correia would like to help keep things going in the right direction. He admits he’s much more comfortable this year than last, his first going from swimming yards vs. meters. He also has especially embraced being a captain.
“I would say I’m way better in my turns, finishes and all the small details that swimming yards requires,” he said. “My mental preparation is also way better. This is my first year as a captain. I feel like the responsibility was good to me because I understand how to get rid of all my problems so I could help people. Helping other people has made me a better person. I’m better off in my mind and better off in the pool as a consequence.”
All signs point to a big week for the Jackets, starting Monday.
“The team energy this year is SO good, the energy during practice all during preparation has just been so amazing,” said Correia. “So I’m pretty excited for ACCs. Let’s see what happens.”