Oct. 24, 2001
ATLANTA – Seventeen young ladies in gold and white will swim and dive their way into the Georgia Tech athletic history book this weekend, and it’s difficult to tell who is most excited about it all. Maybe it’s the girls on the team, or it could be the gung-ho coach who probably will get tossed in the pool if the Jackets win.
Rest assured head coach Seth Baron would not object at all to a victory-party dunking because he’s so ecstatic over Tech’s first-ever competition in women’s swimming.
It all comes up Friday and Saturday at Tech’s home-away-from home, the pool on the campus of Emory University which the Jackets are using until their own 1996 Olympic Games Pool facility is enclosed and completely renovated.
The Tech women face their first test ever against a strong Rice University team Friday night at 7 p.m. and then take on both North Florida and Georgia Southern on Saturday afternoon, beginning at 1 p.m.
“I just hope they have fun,” Baron said this week as he looks ahead to the competition. “Our girls understand the historical implications. Their level of expectation is even higher because of that. They go into this weekend with great enthusiasm.”
Baron says the Jackets face two different kind of challenges this weekend. “Rice finished in the nation’s top 25 last year and is very talented,” he said. “On Saturday, we meet teams that are not as experienced and have not attained that kind of success. In fact, this is just the second year North Florida has had a women’s team. Georgia Southern, of course, is a state school and perhaps we can develop a rivalry with them.”
Baron took over the Tech men’s team four years ago and is well ahead of schedule in building a strong program. The men were third in the Atlantic Coast Conference this past season and came in 29th at the NCAA Championships.
Tech director of athletics Dave Braine has had a women’s team in the works for quite some time. “He talked to me about that when I was interviewed for the men’s position,” Baron says. “Dave had very positive insight about women’s swimming. He knew that swimmers typically are good students and would meet the rigorous academic demands at Georgia Tech. He knew, too, that swimmers generally are good citizens.”
The Jacket coach says the addition of women’s swimming definitely enhances the men’s program. “Women and men compete side-by-side at the club level and also the high school level,” he says, “so it is logical that they should do the same here. Our men and women practice together every day and most of their meets will be held at the same sites on the same days.”
Baron serves as head coach of both the men and women and says he has set the same goals for both teams. “Our goals for the women are long-term,” he said. “We want to be in the top three in the ACC while vying for the championship and we want to be a consistent top 25 finisher in the country. Those goals are realistic, but it will not happen overnight. This year, in our women’s program, we will concentrate more on individual performances. We do not have a lot of depth and we have holes that need to be filled in upcoming recruiting years.”
All 17 current squad members are freshmen. Six of them are on scholarship. Baron believes three of the most promising are Cara DeVinny, a 200 and 400 individual medley specialist from Phoenix, Ariz., Anna Saum of Toledo,Ohio, who swims the freestyle, backstroke and butterfly and Amy Sutton, a fine diver from Hoover, Ala.
Other members of the history-making squad are Ann Battle, Alexandria, Va., Jennifer Christenson, Murfreesboro, Tenn., Katie Duffy, Sugarland, Texas, Sara Gilli, Dunwoody, Ga., Lisa Hancock, Pendleton, S.C., Melissa Iverson, Ft. Riley, Kans., Jessica Jopek, Tampa, Fla., Jaclyn Keys, Duluth, Ga., Jenny Lentz, Pisgah Forest, N.C., Michelle Maguire, Conway, Ark., Ashley Skala, Marietta, Ga., Melissa Vander Wood, Lilburn, Ga., Jill Vukmanic, Brookville, Md., and Moeko Wallis, Columbus, Ga.
Tech’s three assistant coaches, all of whom work in recruiting and coaching in both the men’s and women’s programs, are Sharon Krueger, formerly a longtime assistant coach at Syracuse University, Kit Raulerson, who came to Tech from an assistant’s position at the University of Michigan, and the new diving coach, John Ames, who formerly worked as an assistant coach at George Washington University.
The Tech women will run into very tough opposition in the ACC. “Carolina won the championship last season and probably is No. 1,” Baron says. “Virginia looks like the second best team. Then it’s wide open after that with a lot of good teams in the chase.”
The ACC has eight teams competing in both men’s and women’s swimming. Wake Forest is the only conference member that does not have a swimming program.
Baron says the long building process has not been easy. “Anytime you start from scratch, it’s a difficult challenge,” he said. “We did have some plusses. We had the ability to offer athletes a pleasant situation. Georgia Tech, of course, has outstanding academics and the success of the men’s team helps convey to women that they can have similar success.”
Then there’s the No. 1 plus, the beautiful on-campus facility where the swimming competition was staged during the 1996 Olympic Games. Work will start there soon to completely overhaul the facility.
The No. 1 phase will be enclosing the open-air pool. Phase Two will be construction of an entirely new Student Athletic Center on the property. Also, a new Parking Deck will be constructed.
“The construction company is scheduled to take over the facility on the Monday after Thanksgiving,” Baron says. “Current projections are all the work will be completed by September, 2003.”
In the meantime, Tech’s men and women will practice in a pool adjacent to the Olympic Pool and all home competition will be staged in the pool at Emory University.
And now, the countdown has begun. Here comes Georgia Tech’s newest athletic team all charged up for a history-making weekend.
Ready, set, go!