Jan. 27, 2017
By Jon Cooper | The Good Word
All good things must come to an end.
On Saturday morning at the McAuley Aquatic Center that good thing will be the run of Georgia Tech’s swimming and diving senior class of 2017.
The class will be honored as part of Senior Day prior to the final dual meet of the season against ACC rival Florida State and Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD). The meet starts at 11 a.m. with Senior Day ceremonies beginning at 10:40.
Saying goodbye is never easy and this will be no exception.
“It’s always bittersweet,” said Yellow Jackets Head Coach Courtney Shealy Hart. “You’ve worked really hard for four, sometimes five years if you’ve redshirted and swimming is a really intense sport. It’s a year-round sport, you don’t get a lot of time off. As it’s kind of coming to an end you want to finish as best as possible. So it’s a very, very special time.”
The Class of ‘17 is a special group of 12 six men and six women — Robert Borowicz, Dan Cohen Solal, Andrea Demick, Omar Eteiba, Camille Felix, Alex Goerzen, Samantha Kase, Maddie Paschal, Chiara Ruiu, Kevin Smith, Ben Southern and Madison Young — and has made a huge impact on the program.
“The past couple of years we’ve been able to change the culture of our team,” said Hart. “We’ve moved up at both the ACC and NCAA level, broken lots of team records and this group is a big part of that. They’ve done a great job for us. It will be very sad to see them leave but they will leave the program in great shape as we continue to move forward.”
The Yellow Jackets enter the final dual meet with both the men and women looking to finish over .500 on the season — there was no result for the Virginia Tech/Kentucky meet which was postponed due to weather, although it did result in the hugely successful snow relay video. They’d like to go out in a blaze of glory and will certainly face a steep challenge in the Seminoles, whose men are ranked 19th in the country, while their women are tied for No. 25, and the Bees, who come in ranked No. 1 in the NAIA polls for the third straight week.
There’s no cakewalk here and this group wouldn’t want it any other way.
“A lot of times for bigger teams, their Senior Days are a win they expect. For us it’s going to be a tough meet and an exciting meet, which I think is better,” said Robert Borowicz, who has Georgia Tech all-time top-10 finishes in the 100 backstroke (eighth, at 48.37), 200 back (sixth, at 1:45.88), and 200 freestyle relay (sixth, at 1:19.72), as well as a ‘15-16 CSCAA Scholar All-American Honorable Mention accolades. “It’s going to be a lot more energetic, a lot more exciting. Everybody’s going to be a lot more focused and that’s kind of how I’d like to have my last dual meet go. So this one’s going to be really competitive.”
“It’s going to be a very good competition. We’re very excited,” added diver Omar Eteiba, a three-time NCAA Zone Diving Championships qualifier, and All ACC-Academic Teamer — he’s hoping for 4-for-4, and a 2015-16 Honorable Mention Scholar All-American honoree. “I think the team is in a very good spot. All of us as teammates are very close, we’re basically extensions of each other, going at one goal, which is to make this program a success. So I would say everyone’s really excited for championship season, also. It’s just overall excitement throughout the team.”
That excitement is as much to give the senior class one last great memory as it is to beat the quality opposition and finish the season strong. It’s a message familiar to Hart, who on her senior day in 2000, won both the 50 (25.09) and 100 freestyle (54.91) as the University of Georgia topped SMU.
“I think the hardest part for me was knowing that I wasn’t going to be part of THAT team anymore, because the team, it was my family. It was my life in Georgia,” said Hart, who went on to twice win gold medals at the 2000 Sydney Olympics. “I kept swimming but I was deeply going to miss that team, that swimming for conference and national championships with my girls and my teammates.”
Hart has made sure this team knows what the seniors will be feeling.
“Right before practice [Thursday], Courtney was giving us a talk before we got in the water,” recalled LaGrange, Ga., native Maddie Paschal, who holds the school record for the 100 back (54.10), a piece of the 200 free relay (1.59.10), 200 medley relay (1:39.92), and 400 medley relay (3:39.92) and is top five in the 200 back (fourth at 1:59.10), while also earning ‘15-16 Honorable Mention CSCAA Scholar All-American accolades and the ‘14-15 Jackets’ Most Improved Award. “One thing she said was we need to send our seniors out in style. So I think the younger swimmers all want to swim well. They know it’s their last dual meet of the season, too, so they want to finish their freshman, sophomore, junior year out well and do that for the seniors as well.”
While Borowicz, a Greenville, S.C., native, has been through three previous Senior Days and understands the “Do it for the seniors” mentality, he’s planning to perform on Saturday with the youngsters in mind.
“It’s a little bit surreal. I still feel like it wasn’t that long ago that I joined this team and all the seniors were kind of guiding me to where I am now,” he said. “Now I’m in a position where I have to play that role and I’m trying to guide the freshmen and the underclassmen towards where I would like to see this team go in the future.”
There will likely be a lot of emotion for the entire group, which has become a second family. That closeness is especially important to Eteiba, whose immediate family will be with him in spirit from Cairo, Egypt, where it’ll be 5:40 p.m. when the Senior Day ceremony begins.
“They won’t be able to attend but with all my teammates here I’m still with my family,” he said, breaking into his signature smile. “I won’t feel like an outsider if I’m standing by myself if my parents are not here. I’m still with my family here, with my teammates.”
While this will be the final dual meet for the senior class — there are ACCs, which will be held at McAuley Feb. 13-16 for the women and Feb. 27-Mar. 2 for the men — they’ll always be considered part of the Georgia Tech swimming and diving family and always welcome back.
Paschal has another reason she expects to be sticking around for at least four more years.
“I love swimming so I don’t think I’ll ever be able to say goodbye to it permanently and next year my younger sister (Allie), is actually going to be a freshman on the swim team here,” she said. “I’ll definitely still be around for the next four years to come back and support her and the other swimmers on the team.”
That feeling of family will resonate throughout McAuley on Saturday. It’s the aura that’s an integral part of the culture Hart has always sought for her teams and which has grown immeasurably under this current class. It’s a major reason why they’ll be missed.
“This group has helped change the culture of our program and we’ve obviously gotten a lot better over the past four years, both in and out of the pool,” she said. “It IS a family and they have been leaders of that family. It’s just been fun to watch them grow and become mature adults and be ready to just kill it in the real world.”