Feb. 11, 2017
By Matt Winkeljohn | The Good Word
It’s obvious at the McAuley Aquatic Center that Georgia Tech is getting ready for the ACC Women’s Swimming & Diving Championships because the 45th-ranked Yellow Jackets are bouncing off walls in and out of the pool.
They’ve dialed way back so as they’re swimming fewer miles with less strokes, there are bonus smiles and lots of jokes.
“Rest is a big component,” said head coach Courtney Shealy Hart. “We’re a year-round sport, and we swim at 6:00 in the morning, so letting them sleep in is huge. It’s amazing what it will do for recovery purposes and energy levels . . . They get more goofy. They certainly have more energy. You definitely see it.”
The ACC women’s meet and men’s diving competition will begin Monday at Tech and run through Thursday.
Conference officials moved the competition from Greensboro after North Carolina’s approval of House Bill 2, the “bathroom bill” which requires individuals use the public restrooms assigned to the gender on their birth certificate.
This is the best time of year for Tech’s water-bound student-athletes, and it’s better still for the Jackets because they don’t have to go anywhere.
Talk about making a great thing greater.
“Oh, yeah, absolutely. If you talk to any one of us you can tell a huge difference from the beginning of the season when we’re grinding all the yardage to now,” testified sophomore freestyle and butterfly specialist Laura Branton.
“Everybody’s got so much energy, everybody wants to stay up so much later because they can’t even sleep, but really we need to sleep.”
The Jackets won’t be snoozing in their own beds for a while.
“Our goal is to get to the hotel and focus on the meet,” Shealy Hart said. “We won’t stay in dorms to help create that environment where it’s not like an everyday meet. This is a championship.”
And so there will be serious talent in the pool that played host to the 1996 Summer Olympics.
The ACC is loaded. Among the women’s squads, six teams are ranked in the top 25 for the women’s Division I CSCAA Poll, with three landing in the top 10: No. 7 NC State, No. 8 Virginia and No. 10 Louisville. No. 18 Duke, No. 23 North Carolina and No. 24 Notre Dame are also ranked in the national top 25 poll.
The men’s ACC Swimming Championship will be at Tech Feb. 27-March 2 with six nationally-ranked programs as well in No. 1 NC State, No. 9 Louisville, No. 12 Virginia, No. 19 Notre Dame, No. 21 Florida State and No. 23 Duke.
McAuley is no stranger to big meets.
Last spring, the NCAA Championships were held on The Flats for the second time (2006), and the ACCs have been there previously in 2005, ’08, ’11 and `15.
Yes, there is something to be said for home-pool advantage.
“There’s some added pressure to swim well in our home pool,” said senior backstroke specialist Maddie Paschal. “There’s sort of an added level of comfort in that too, since we do flip turns here every day, starts here every day, so we know what it feels like to swim fast in this pool.
“The blocks are different in each pool so they have a different feel in level to the water.”
Not every pool is the same, as the marks swimmers use to time turns vary.
“Some pools the lines on the bottom end a little bit earlier or later, and it also depends on the `T’ on the bottom of the pool,” Branton explained. “And it also depends on the depth of the pool because that can change the way you see it.”
It won’t hurt the Jackets to see more familiar faces out of the water, either.
“It’s pretty special. We’re going to have all the guys cheering for us,” said redshirt senior freestyler and individual medley anchor Chiara Ruiu. “We’re still excited in the season, but it’s a different moment because we’re sharpening everything up. We’re trying to get everything perfect.”
Instead of piling up yardage 20 hours a week, the Jackets are fine-tuning.
“We really ramp up our speed and work on the little things even more,” Shealy Hart said. “We spend time on them all year, but we actually spend more time on the starts, the turns, the finishes, relay starts.”
Count senior diver Omar Eteiba among the happiest men to be diving at the conference championship this week, as the ACC Men’s Diving Championships coincides with the women’s swimming and diving championship meet.
A little more than a month ago, he was hospitalized for two days immediately upon his return from home in Cairo, Egypt. Diagnosed as a diabetic when he was 15, he became ill on the 12-hour flight to Atlanta, beset by Diabetic ketoacidosis.
“On the plane, I threw up in these plastic bags and I was thinking maybe I could eat something because I hadn’t eaten the past two days. I ate something very light and threw it up,” he said. “I tried to drink . . . even the water I’d throw up . . . My blood sugars were consistently higher than normal.”
From the airport, Eteiba went on his first ambulance ride, and coaches and Tech officials met him at the hospital. He lost about 10 pounds in a span of days with what he first thought at the end of Christmas break was a stomach bug.
“The athletic trainer was with me and we were coming up with a comeback plan because ACCs were like a month-and-a-half off,” he said. “I was super fatigued two weeks after the hospital.
“You get knocked down, you get back up. I didn’t gain back all the weight that I lost, but about half of it. I feel pretty good now, healthy, diving well.”
The 2017 Atlantic Coast Conference Women’s Swimming & Diving and Men’s Diving Championships begin Monday, Feb. 13, and continue through Thursday, Feb.16, at the McAuley Aquatic Center in Atlanta, Georgia.
There is no charge for admission to the 2017 ACC Swimming & Diving Championships.
All championship information, including a full event schedule and live results, can be found at the official championship website http://theacc.co/SDchamps. Fans can also get updates by following along on Twitter using #ACCMSD, #ACCWSD and @ACCSwimDive.
The ACC Men’s Swimming Championship will be held two weeks later from February 27 through March 2, also at the McAuley Aquatics Center.