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#TGW: Getting After Each Other

March 25, 2015

By Matt Winkeljohn | The Good Word

– They don’t wear pads, won’t collide with others nor jockey for position, yet you could say that Georgia Tech’s Andrew Kosic, Nico van Duijn, Ricky Lehner, Youssef Hammoud and Noah Harasz will be in a contact sport the next few days.

When Kosic competes in the 50-meter freestyle, the 100 free and the 100 butterfly at the NCAA Swimming & Diving Championships Thursday-Saturday at the University of Iowa, he’ll work alone. That’s the senior’s basic style.

Yet as he and teammates join forces for the 200 freestyle, 400 freestyle, 800 freestyle and 400 meter relays, a different dynamic will come into play. In relays, chemistry matters in and out of the pool and the Jackets will try to ride theirs to a top 25 national finish for Tech in part by getting in each other’s faces.

Van Duijn is certain to get riled up, and the only freshman in the group, Harasz, said, “I like to get rowdy before a race.”

So, the Jackets – or at least some of them – will get after each other before getting wet. Since arriving from Switzerland as a freshman, van Duijn has been, uh, vocal.

That’s not about to change as he swims his college swan songs, and he plans to pulls others in his psychological wake.

There may or may not be some pushing, back slapping and fist bumping before the Jackets get wet. Definitely, they will be in contact with each other with a form of verbal engagement that might surprise non-swimmers.

Readying oneself for relays, “is a little different person to person,” Van Duijn said. “Andrew is more of a quiet guy. It’s all about knowing what zone [teammates] need to be in to give their best performance and trying to get each other there.

“If you know somebody needs a lot of pressure, then you try to put some pressure on. I’ve seen Noah perform really well when he got very excited to the point where some other people might just crack and not perform well.”

Tech head coach Courtney Shealy Hart knows a bit about relays.

She was a member of two U.S. Olympic gold medal teams in 2000, and the former University of Georgia Bulldog expects some barking from the Jackets.

“We talk about that,” Hart said of swimmers psyching each other up – or leaving them alone – before a race. “Nico has been in a leadership role since his sophomore year. We need to learn our teammates and how they work best.

“Some people, you need to get in their face; they want to be yelled at. Others want to be off with their headphones on before they compete.”

Kosic, who last year was the first Jacket since 2010 to score at NCAAs when he finished 15th in the 50 free (19.42 seconds), and sophomore diver Brad Homza will try to score points for Tech in individual events.

Homza qualified for the one-meter springboard, and Kosic will compete in three events where he set school records four weeks ago in the ACC championships while finishing second, third and fourth in the 100 free (42.45), 50 free (19.23) and 100 fly (46.36), respectively.

While Kosic figures to be more socially engaged before the relay events, he and his teammates have to be all-in with their pool work. There are multiple ways for a relay team to be disqualified, including staying under water too long after a wall turn, taking too many dolphin kicks off a turn, and more.

The big alert is the relay itself.

A swimmer’s feet cannot leave the starting block before the prior teammate touches the wall. The goal is to shave the time between those two events down to a nanosecond. It’s a dicey deal.

“That’s why we practice relay starts so much,” Harasz said. “You have to know who you’re going before and after so that you can time it. The best relay teams can do their starts in pretty much zero seconds.”

Hart said, “It’s a lot of practice. We film it for them sometimes so they can go back and watch. Every day we practice relay starts.”

The Jackets have practiced their relay starts countless times.

There is no physical practice component to prepare for the psychological environment that will be present in Iowa City, Iowa.

With that in mind, van Duijn said that another kind of timing is important. There will be times, and a place, to get jacked up and others to absolutely avoid that.

He and Kosic are seniors, and have done this before. Lehner and Hammoud are juniors, have been around the blocks and are not as excitable as Harasz. The elders, then, will eye the freshman to keep him from peaking too early or often.

“With NCAAs it’s a problem sometimes because it’s such a big meet,” he said. “You show up and see all this fast swimming happening; the world’s best swimmers are there. Some people psyche themselves up too much, and it can accumulate over a period of days.

“The most important part is really the last five minutes before you race because that determines how much adrenaline you’re going to have in your blood. If you’re able to calm down shortly before your race and focus on your task, then you can’t really do much wrong.”

When those times come, Harasz will seek engagement.

“You have to get each other psyched, and supporting your relay team is the biggest part,” he said. “I know I swim a lot faster in a relay just because I know I have those guys cheering me on, and they’re behind me.

“Kosic is a really quiet person. I like to get rowdy. Some people might not show it on the surface, but you can tell they’re getting ready. Nico is very loud; he likes to yell. I like yelling to get myself psyched up. Youssef, Kosic and Ricky are a little more quiet, but they still say stuff.”

This is not simply an early spring trip, or a reward. The Jackets want to bring points back to Atlanta, not participatory notes.

“Sophomore year was first time I made NCAAs. There, we weren’t particularly looking at the scores. We were just happy enough to have made it,” Van Duijn explained. “Right now, we’re going to score. I like to say, `We’re not going to participate, we’re going to compete.’ My approach has changed, my goals are more ambitious.”

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