By Matt Winkeljohn | The Good Word
Most members of the Georgia Tech men’s swimming and diving team have scattered and are spring breaking somewhere warm, but Moises Loschi, Matt Casillas, Caio Pumputis and Christian Ferraro are in the cold in Minnesota and just fine with that.
They’re at the NCAA Championships. As competitors.
As the four Yellow Jackets prepare to go at in nine combined events at the University of Minnesota from Thursday to Saturday in Minneapolis -- where the temperature barely tickled the freezing mark Tuesday -- they remain a team of smaller sorts.
This is not like last week, when Tech junior Iris Wang went solo while scoring in three events at the 2018 NCAA Women’s Swimming and Diving championships in Columbus, Ohio.
The men have familiar company, and for that they’re thankful.
“Oh yeah, for sure. That’s really nice when you have someone to go with you and not just the coach,” said Pumputis, the freshman from Sao Paulo, Brazil, who will swim the 200 and 100 breaststroke and the 200 individual medley.
“We can talk and share the experience. Moises, it’s his third NCAAs, so it’s awesome to talk with someone who’s had the experience already.”
The college swimming and diving postseason is quite different when compared with most other sports, particularly when it comes to the NCAAs. Where teams send 18 student-athletes, or about half the roster, to conference championships, the NCAAs do not invite teams.
There is no subjectivity in picking the field.
A team may win a conference championship, but that doesn’t mean all student-athletes will go to nationals.
It comes down to this: if over the course of the season -- including conference championships -- you swim one of the top times or score highly enough in diving so as to rank among the nation’s best, then you get an individual ticket to the splash dance.
And so these four Jackets boarded a plane and headed north, where it’s not the same.
Loschi, a senior from Venegazzu, Italy, has qualified for the NCAAs three straight years and will compete in the 100 and 200 breaststroke events in his final collegiate outing. He was unable to participate two years ago as a sophomore after drawing appendicitis.
He’d rather more of his teammates were along for the ride, er, swim, and that’s not all that’s unique about this time of the schedule.
The ACCs were just two weeks ago, and swimmers already tapered their training ahead of the conference meet. There wasn’t enough time before NCAAs to build back up strength and stamina and then taper again.
So, Tech’s swimmers have been in a different environment for a couple weeks.
“The preparation is a little different because we’re coming out of ACCs and we’ve already tapered for ACCs so we’ve got to kind of find a way to build back up,” he said. “Most people take some time off after ACCs . . . The team atmosphere is absent in that way. We don’t feel the team atmosphere as much.”
The northern vibe will be a lot different for Casillas.
He qualified for the platform, which works off of a 10-meter rigid plank, in an event that is not regularly contested during the regular season.
The junior from Orange, Calif., is in a way more accustomed to the 1- and 3-meter springboard events, which typically take place while swimming events are contested in an adjacent pool with crowd noise filling the natatoriums all the time.
When he does his thing off the 10-meter platform in Minneapolis, there will be no simultaneous swimming events.
Then again, while competing nearly year-round with his club team, the platform is a central part of his work. So, it’s not like he’s new at this.
“Getting to do that at the end of the season is pretty exciting because we train it year-round but we don’t always get to compete in it,” Casillas said. “It’s definitely a different feeling in these bigger meets. It’s silent and everyone is watching you. In dual meets there’s so much going on in swimming. These big meets are slower and quieter.
“It’s a little bit easier to concentrate because there’s less going on, but it’s also harder almost because it’s hard to make it feel like practice. In dual meets there is so much going on it mimics practice more.”
Ferraro doesn’t have as much to say.
The freshman from Altivole, Italy, will swim in the 200 butterfly, where his time of 1:41.26 ranks 12th nationally this season and was fast enough that he’ll be the lone Jacket to swim in the “A” bracket. That will allow him to compete for a championship. Loschi, Casillas and Pumputis will compete for points and finishes that will rank from 17 onward.
Ferraro will also swim in the “B” bracket of the 100 butterfly and the 200 individual medley.
He’s not quite sure what to expect, although Loschi has given some advice.
“Moises told me that it’s like a big meet, and people cheer a lot loudly,” Ferraro said. “I think it’s going to be fun.”
It’s more fun with friends.