Sept. 30, 2004
After three years of existence, the Georgia Tech women’s swimming and diving team posted its first NCAA finish, 33rd, and a second straight sixth-place finish at the ACC Championships. With everybody returning for the Yellow Jackets, Tech will use leadership to continue sending ripples throughout the swimming community.
“The one clear cut difference we’ve seen with our women’s program is it has become more established and has solid leadership,” said head coach Seth Baron. “We now have a group of ladies that are going into the season that have been with us for four years. I know they fully understand our program, the conference and where they were the first year and where they are now. The leadership they have developed is a huge plus for us heading into this year.”
“They cannot receive enough gratitude and recognition from myself and the coaching staff for being the first class and being the ladies that stepped into a brand new program, taking a chance with a new program, and competing at a high level,” said Baron.
Sophomore Vesna Stojanovska swam the 200, 400 freestyle and 200 butterfly events at last year’s NCAA Championships, scoring seven points with a 10th-place finish in the 200 fly. For her effort, the 2004 Olympian garnered All-America honors, becoming the first women’s athlete to accomplish that feat.
“A young program, third year in existence, with an NCAA All-American and scoring at the NCAA Championships sends a signal to prospective student-athletes what we are capable of doing here at Georgia Tech,” said Baron. “It also sends a message to the rest of our team that, `hey, if my teammate can do it, why can’t I?’ The program is just getting better and better every year.
“Our immediate goals are to get into the Top 25 nationally as quickly as we can, to qualify more athletes for the NCAA Championships and move up at the conference championships. With the added depth and experience, our dual meet record should improve as well.
“I’ve always told the girls, don’t let the youthfulness of the program keep you from succeeding. There is no reason that a four-year program can’t have a winning dual meet record, improve at the conference championship and continue to score at the NCAA Championships.”
Adding to a very talented group of swimmers are eight newcomers for the Jackets. Its the second largest class Tech has had since its inaugural season in 2001-02.
“This freshmen class has a lot of potential,” said Baron. “We have a lot of good depth and we believe some of these girls can compete at NCAAs at some point of their careers, if they can in their freshman year, it remains to be seen. What this class does for us is provide depth and stability in our program.
“Ann Battle has done a good job in our distance freestyle events over the last three years, but it has been an area we have lacked depth. We’re now adding two very talented young ladies in Elizabeth Stowe and Amanda Gannon, which can help fill a void we’ve had.
“We’ve added individual medley swimmers in Megan Campbell and Allison Childress to help us with our 200 and 400 IM’s. Katie Wright from Macon, Ga., is going to come in and provide us with more depth in the distance freestyle.
“Not to mention two very talented divers in Sara Ballard and Stephanie England. They both have a chance to elevate the diving program for our women. For the first time since the inception of the prorgam, we have three solid divers. We also have some solid leadership in the diving program with [Laurissa] Prystaj who scored at the ACC Championships.”
Another first for the Tech swimming and diving program will be hosting the ACC Championships and NCAA Zone Diving Championships.
“I’m excited for our senior athletes who are going to be able to have the ACC Championships in their home pool, ” said Baron. “They will be the first group of ladies that will have gone four years through our program and it’s a nice reward to have your last ACC meet in front of the home crowd.
“It’s an advantage because your team is very familiar with the surroundings. The upperclassmen know what is expected of them and have very realistic goals. I know they will swim really well and improve on last year’s performance.”
Leadership and depth will be the stability and foundation for success or failure this season. Along with the eight seniors, Tech returns five juniors and six sophomores, coming off a program-best 282 points at the ACC Championships.
“We had a situation last year where we were only 12.5 points away from fifth place,” said Baron. “We had some obstacles to overcome, losing Lisa Hancock to surgery and Vesna was deathly ill at the conference meet, getting IV’s throughout the competition. With all that, the girls still managed to have a good meet and know that if we stay healthy, it can be even better this year.
“Given that, and the eight new ladies we’ve added to the program, makes us that much stronger and deeper.”
The 2004-05 season will also witness the greatest home schedule in Tech history. The Georgia Tech Aquatic Center will be host to the Georgia Tech Invitational (Nov. 19-21)and six dual meet competitions, along with the ACC Championships (Feb. 16-19, 23-26) and NCAA Zone Diving Championships (March 11-13).
“We have a lot of events at home this year,” said Baron. “A lot of people wanted to come to Georgia Tech because we’re hosting the ACC Championships, NCAA Zone Diving Championships and the 2006 Men’s NCAA Championships. It’s nice to be able to compete at home and in comfortable surroundings.”
With all of its conference scorers returning and a talented freshman class, Tech does not appear to have many weaknesses heading into the upcoming season.
“I really cannot think of many,” said Baron. “The youthfulness of our program is probably the only thing that comes to mind. There will be teams that will probably come in here and say, `they’re only four years old and we should beat them easily’, but that will not be the case. We’re going to surprise a lot of teams.”
A look at Tech event by event:
Wallis and junior Liz Foster headline the sprint freestyle events for the Jackets. Wallis and Foster broke the school records in the 50 and 100 freestyle events at the ACC Championships.
“Moeko Wallis is a school record holder in the 50 free and Liz is the record holder in the 100 free, so we feel really strong at these two events,” said Baron. “Natanya gained a lot of experience in her freshman year and knows what to expect about dual meets and conference. Jaclyn had the best season of her life last year and I think that’s going to give her a lot of confidence heading into her senior year.
MIDDLE DISTANCE FREESTYLE
The middle distance group is one of the deepest events for the Rambling Wreck heading into the season. Leading the way will be Stojanovska, breaking the Tech records in both the 200 and 500 freestyle events.
“Vesna anchors these two events for us, swimming both of them at the NCAA Championships,” said Baron.
Battle finished 22nd in the 500 free and Maguire posted a 23rd-place finish at the ACC Championships. Joining them in the 500 will be Matz.
This should be one of the most significant improvements for Tech in 2004-05. Battle set a new school record in the mile at the ACC meet and Maguire finished 20th at the conference championships.
“Ann and Michelle will lead us in the mile,” said Baron.
Gannon and Stowe will also see action in the mile for the Yellow Jackets.
“Amanda and Elizabeth give us a much more solid base and beef up the distance events for us.”
Stojanovska could swim the 1000 free for Tech in dual meets, along with the four mentioned athletes.
“This year we have some choices in these events, whereas in years past, it’s been Ann and Michelle,” said Baron.
The butterfly events will be deep and very experienced. Stojanovska earned All-America honors in the 200 fly at last year’s NCAA Championships and will lead a host of talented athletes in the 200 fly.
The frontrunner for Tech in the 100 fly will be Foster, after breaking the school record at the 2004 ACC meet.
DeVinney returns after carrying the second fastest times in the 100 and 200 fly last year.
“Liz will lead us in the 100 fly and will be pushed by Meghan DeVinney,” said Baron. “We also have Natanya Harper, Dana West, Jill Vukmanic and Anna Saum. That’s a solid group of girls in the 100 fly.”
Freshman Megan Campbell and Gannon will also swim the butterfly for the Yellow Jackets.
Standing out in the 100 backstroke for the Rambling Wreck will be a pair of seniors in Keys and Tech record holder Saum.
Saum earned All-ACC honors at the 2003 ACC meet, while Keys posted a lifetime-best time in the 100 back at the 2004 ACC meet. They both swam in the consolation finals at the conference championships.
Kracke owns the top marks in the 100 and 200 back for the Yellow Jackets and tallied a NCAA `B’ cut time in the 200 back at last year’s ACC meet.
“Anna and Ashley have been strong backstrokers for us in the past,” said Baron. “I expect them to continue to do very well for us.”
Sophomore Amanda Korell had a solid rookie campaign for Tech and will compete in both the 100 and 200 back this season.
West could also see time in the 100 back for the Jackets.
“Amanda made some nice adjustments last year and Dana West improved throughout her freshman season.”
Heiser has been a steady performer for Tech in the 100 and 200 breaststroke events over the last two seasons. Sophomore Alison Walker posted a school record in the 100 breast at the ACC Championships to give Tech a second top-14 finisher at the conference meet.
Freshman Katie McGraw will add strength and versatility to an event that has lacked it over the years.
“I’m really excited about this event for us this year,” said Baron. Each year we’ve added somebody new and this year we should have three strong competitors in the 100 and 200 breast.”
Tech should be able to mix and match in the IM events this year. Hancock, who lost her junior season due to an injury, should be the leader in the event.
Foster held the top mark in the 200 IM last year and Vukmanic posted a lifetime-best time in the 200 IM at the ACC meet.
Saum and Maguire also return for the Jackets in the IM, along with Matz and Korell.
“We have a good mix of talent here and will have some decisions to make for dual meets to find our best lineup for the conference meet,” said Baron.
The Yellow Jackets broke all the school records in each relay event at the conference meet last year. Keys, Wallis, Harper and DeVinney made up the 200 and 400 freestyle relay teams for Tech.
The 800 free relay team of Stojanovska, Matz, Kracke and DeVinney returns this season.
The record-setting medley relay teams return for another run at the record books this season. With the addition of some talented freshmen and the experience back, Tech should move up at the ACC meet.
“We should continue to improve in the relays,” said Baron. “We broke all five records last year at the ACC meet and I think this year will be more of the same.”
Junior Laurissa Prystaj cracked the top 10 at the ACC meet on both the one- and three-meter diving boards in her sophomore campaign. She will lead two freshmen, Sara Ballard and Stephanie England, in 2004-05.
“We are very solid in diving this year,” said Baron. “The two freshmen compliment a very talented upperclassman in Laurissa.”