Nov. 6, 2014
By Matt Winkeljohn
The Good Word
Make no mistake, the Georgia Tech men’s and women’s swimming & diving squads know who they’ll compete against Friday, and they’re no more amped to face Georgia than to use the meet as a measuring stick against tough competition.
Both Yellow Jacket squads are having fine fall seasons, and the men have been particularly impressive on the way to a No. 15 national ranking.
The bottom line — even with Tech coach Courtney Shealy Hart having competed famously for the Bulldogs – is that the Jackets are looking forward to measuring themselves against high-quality squads more than squaring off against you-know-who.
Georgia’s women have won the past two NCAA titles and are ranked No. 2 nationally, and the UGA men finished fifth nationally last spring and are ranked No. 4 now.
“They’re our big rival, and they’re a really fast team,” said Tech junior sprint freestyler Erika Staskevicius, “but I think we’re just going out there and race the way we have been. We’re going to try to do our best.
“If you look at it from school to school, Georgia Tech and Georgia is always the big rivalry, but we kind of want to see how we’re going to do at the ACC Championships [next spring], and it’s just another meet.”
Staskevicius and her teammates face a serious challenge in the Lady Bulldogs, who have won six NCAA titles (including two when Coach Hart swam for them from 1996-2000). Georgia returns several student-athletes from a squad the easily won the national title last spring, out-pointing runner-up Stanford 528-402.5.
Multiple potential future Olympians will be in red and black in a 4 p.m. meet that also includes the squad from the Savannah College of Art & Design.
The Tech men, like the women, beat a fine Florida State squad a couple weeks ago and are, likewise, approaching the meet more as a measuring stick than a chance to poke a pest with it.
Senior captains Mark Sarman and Nico van Duijn and the Jackets have put up quite a few impressive times this fall, but they’re not getting all jacked up just yet. The biggest meets, by far, will be the ACC and NCAA Championships next spring.
“They’re obviously a very fast school and they’re our rivals, so we’re going to try to have everyone swim faster than they have all season and put up the best fight we can against a powerhouse like UGA,” said sophomore butterfly-er Ben Southern.
“We all like to beat Georgia … [but] the rivalry is probably not the same like the way people at football games from Georgia Tech don’t like people from Georgia.”
Staskevicius said the Jackets’ goal is to achieve a peak of sorts in a few weeks, in the Georgia Tech Invitational Nov. 20-22.
Shealy Hart echoed the notion that this will an important meet – the last dual/tri of the fall – but not something that will define in a substantial way the feeling of an entire season. It’ll be a step.
“I think it’s a little bit of both, a great rivalry but also they have a great squad,” the coach said. “They’re both important meets, but Georgia’s women are national champions. It’s fun. It will be an exciting meet.
“This year, though, we’re really concentrating on swimming the best we can and not who we’re swimming against.”
Shealy Hart – who led the Bulldogs to NCAA titles in 1999 and 2000, when she was named NCAA Female Swimmer of the Year after winning titles in the 50 and 100 free and 100 back events plus two relay titles – said the fact her alma mater will be in Tech’s pool won’t faze her.
She’s past the point where competing against the Bulldogs felt unique, and competing against UGA won’t feel in any way odd.
“I don’t think so. I’m just a competitor,” she said. “I was a competitor when I was there, and I’m a competitor as a coach. I don’t care who we’re up against. I’m just a competitor through and through.
“I just think it will be special because of the in-state rivalry; it’s a rivalry for all sports.”
Staskevicius does not deny that the air at the GT Aquatic Center will be more charged than for many competitions, but only part of that reason will be because the Bulldogs will be in the house.
The nature of the meet, and the fact that this will be the Jackets’ final tune-up before the GT Invitational, will factor.
“Our focus for the fall is the GT Invite, which is coming up in three weeks,” said Staskevicius, who is likely to swim the 50 and 100 free and a couple relays. “We’re just going to kind of train through this meet and maybe get a little rest before the Invite.
“I think everyone is a lot more engaged in dual meets because they are so short, and everyone is swimming really fast. You’re either warming down, swimming or on the sidelines cheering instead of kind of sitting down and resting and waiting. And we get score updates after every so many events.”
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