by Jon Cooper | The Good Word
No one has to explain to Georgia Tech swimming and diving’s senior class that records are made to be broken.
Breaking school records and packing the program’s top 10 have been what the group has been all about.
On Saturday, the nonet of five women (co-captain Kira de Bruyn, Kaitlin Kitchens, Morgan Lyons, Megan Young, and Megan Hansen, who’s actually a junior graduating in the spring and foregoing her final year of eligibility) and four men (Noah Harasz, Alex Kimpel, Moises Loschi, and Brad Oberg) gets one last shot in the pool at McAuley Aquatic Center when the Yellow Jackets host Emory on Senior Day. The meet begins at 11 a.m.
It’s a special day for head coach Courtney Shealy Hart, who hopes to see one more day of changes to the Tech record books by the seniors who head into Saturday having already combined to set record 20 top-10 performances (12 on the men’s side, eight on the women’s) and set 12 school records (six each by the women and the men) and to get them one more ‘W’ in their final home meet.
“This team culture has changed a lot in four years. You have to give credit to these seniors for helping change that as we get more competitive at the ACC and NCAA level and keep breaking school records,” said Hart, a two-time Olympic gold medalist, three-time national champion and nine-time SEC champion at Georgia. “This group has been a really mature group and kind of stuck together and we’ve had good team chemistry. Each of them has a different role but a special role.
“They're resilient,” she added. “This class has been through a lot of ups and downs and this class has been through a lot of cultural changes for the better. There are obviously growing pains with that. So I think this class has been resilient and you know they are continuing help us grow and help us get better as a team and they’ll certainly leave a legacy for us to continue to build upon. I’m very happy for them and their careers and looking forward to finishing off really strong this weekend and then in the championship season as well. “
Getting past the emotion of Saturday’s meet will be a difficult task for the senior class, which began at 15 back in 2014-15.
“We started out with a lot more people than we’re ending up with so as the group got smaller we kind of got closer,” said backstroker Megan Young. “I think on the girls side a lot of us are really good friends. A lot of us are in the sprint group -- four out of the five of us -- so we’ve definitely bonded in that area.
“I’m super-excited for the meet,” Young added. “Obviously, I’m very sad to be moving on from this team and this is going to be the last chance that the seniors will get to race at our home pool but we’ve seen three years of seniors go through and do their senior meet. This is so exciting to be at this point. It will be nice to close our swimming career.
“There are a lot of emotions going into it because it’s the last meet we have in this pool,” agreed breaststroker Moises Loschi. “When you start, you don’t really think about that the whole college swimming is going to end at a certain point. You don’t really realize it until you get to the last meet. So it’s going to be very emotional for everybody. I’m just going to enjoy my last meet with the Jackets.”
Hart knows there will be emotion but she also knows how she’ll handle it.
“I take each event one at a time like I ask the student-athletes to,” she said. “Certainly there’s some reflection as they’re swimming but as soon as it's over we’re moving on to the next event because there are quite a few events and there are nine graduating this year.”
Saturday’s meet with Emory promises to be a family affair and there will be lots of family and friends, as eight of the nine honorees are from Georgia or the southeast -- all five women’s swimmers are Georgia natives, Harasz and Kimpel are from Florida and Oberg is from South Carolina. Only Loschi, a native of Italy, will not have family coming but he’s happy sharing the event with his teammates, his “second family,” as he refers to them.
That closeness and the experience of having gone through three previous Senior Days will help these seniors.
“I remember everybody was having fun during the meet,” said Loschi. “They were just enjoying their last swim with the team, their last home crowd and they also had all their family and friends that came to watch the meet. I’m just going to take that as a hint and just enjoy it no matter what.”
“We’re trying to NOT think about how emotional it’s going to be until the time comes,” said Young, with a laugh. “I think that instead of being sad about, ‘Your time on this team is done,’ look at it as, ‘You’re growing up and moving on and this is all part of your life.’ Obviously, you can’t swim forever so I’m just going to go try and have fun, not be too sad and just finish on a high note.”
Tempering Young and Loschi’s enthusiasm is that they are not done on Saturday. Both Young, who had a breakthrough season, winning the 100 back both in Savannah against SCAD, where she also was part of the winning 200 medley relay, and at South Carolina and Loschi, who won the 100, 200 breast and 200 medley relay at SCAD, won the 200 medley relay and finished second in the 100 and 200 at South Carolina, will be going to ACC Championships.
“I sure hope I can keep it up,” said Young. “I’m hoping I can stay confident in my training and not get super-anxious when the time comes to perform. I’m just going to go see what I can do and hopefully it’s a good result.”
“It’s very important,” agreed Loschi, who is looking to make it to the NCAA’s for the third-straight year and called last year’s third-place finish at last year’s ACC’s -- held in McAuley -- in the 4x100 relay, as the most memorable race of his career. “First of all, to maybe lower (the 200 breaststroke) record, to keep it as long as possible so maybe other generations of swimmers coming here will be like, ‘Who was Moises? Who was that guy?’ It would be nice for them to see what I did, what I worked for. The same thing for ACC’s. The ACC record is just a little faster than that. So it would be nice to get that one.”
Hart expects her team to see through all the emotion and be ready to compete against Emory.
They’ll need to be ready for the Eagles. Their men’s program has won 19 UAA Championships, is the 2016-17 National Champions, has 14 top-three national finishes, and has seen 21 individual National Champions, nine relay National Champions, and produced 100 individual all-Americans. The women have won eight straight national championships, have 10 national championships overall, have produced 32 individual national champions, 24 relay national champions, and 127 individual All-Americans.
“I think there’s a balance to that. You want to make sure they’re excited and they’re ready to go,” said Hart. “Emory is no easy team. They’re a great team so we never overlook Emory. But certainly we want to recognize our seniors and have them go out on top.”