By Jon Cooper | The Good Word
A frequent question college coaches get every year as their season opens is “What kind of senior leadership are you expecting?”
As Georgia Tech swimming and diving prepares to open its 2017-18 season, head coach Courtney Shealy Hart and diving coach John Ames expect to get asked more about the LACK of senior leadership, at least on the diving side.
It’s not a sore subject for Hart or Ames. It fact, it’s pretty much a non-issue.
That’s because neither the men’s nor the women’s diving teams HAVE any seniors.
No seniors does not mean no expectations of leadership, however. So when the team splits up and hits the pool at McAuley Aquatic Center on Friday and Saturday for its annual White vs. Gold Scrimmage, Hart and Ames are expecting to see PLENTY of leadership on display.
“I’m certain we have some good leadership,” said Hart, who begins her ninth season as head coach with the luxury of 10 seniors on the swimming side (five men, five women). “This is a big freshman class and I think they’ll come in and make an immediate impact.”
“I’m not really concerned about not having seniors,” said Ames, who is in his 17th season coaching Tech’s divers. “I think that Matt Casillas, and even as a sophomore, Carly Doi are both very good leaders for the group.”
Casillas is an excellent rallying point for the divers. The junior set career-bests in the 1-meter, 3-meter and platform dives last season, and had team-bests in last year’s NCAA Zone B Diving Championships, finishing in the top 15 in all three -- 12th in men’s platform, 13th in 1-meter and 17th in 3-meter.
Expectations are high for Casillas both in and out of the pool, as he has been anointed the leader of the corps.
“Matt is a part of our leadership council and I think he does a good job by setting an example,” said Hart. “He worked really hard and had a great summer. So I hope that he builds not only on last year but his summer performances and takes the divers under his wing and kind of helps them understand what it means to be a part of this team and what it means to be a part of this institution and really competing at the highest level.”
The Orange, Calif., native won’t have to work too hard to get the ear at least two of the freshmen on the women’s side, as Camryn Hidalgo “Cami” and Paige Gohr were on Casillas’ club team, the Mission Viejo Nadadores, and Doi also knows him from the left coast, as she grew up in San Diego, a little more than 90 miles to the south on I-5.
Casillas is looking forward to reuniting with Gohr and Hidalgo, and resuming with Doi, who dove with the Jackets last year, recording the top 1-meter dive for the women and earning a place at the NCAA Zone B Championships. He loves the California vibe on the team.
“It’s nice to be teammates with (Gohr and Hidalgo) again and kind of see how we all work together,” he said. “It’s like a little piece of familiarity here.”
“It’s nice,” agreed Hidalgo, a former gymnast, who was a three-time CIF Southern Section Division I Diving Champion (2014, ‘15 and ‘16) at Capistrano High School. “You wouldn’t expect a lot of people at Georgia Tech to be from California, all the way across country, but it’s been really nice adjusting knowing that I have people like Matt and Carly and Aidan (Pastel) all from California. It’s a lot of comfort. Also, Paige, who’s a freshman with me, was from my dive team as well.”
While Casillas is excited to see how the comeback with his club teammates goes, he thinks an even bigger factor in 2017 will be the comeback from injury of some last year’s Yellow Jackets.
“I’m looking forward to seeing how this team does because it’s a lot bigger than it has been my first two years and not only are there more people, most of us are healthy,” he said. “My first two years a lot of us were injured or out. So it’s a deeper team with a lot more people and we’ve been training pretty hard, learning new dives so I’m excited to see how those come together for the meet.”
How the roster came together to represent Georgia Tech is an interesting enough story.
For example, there’s an interesting split among the divers on the women’s side, as Doi, Gohr and Hidalgo are all from Southern California, while sophomores Abbey Yates and Jordyn Sak and junior Kayla Williams, the only upperclassman, are from the Metro Atlanta area.
On the men’s side, Casillas not only is the lone Californian in the group -- an interesting fact considering the women’s makeup -- and the one of only two upperclassmen joining fellow junior Nolan Mallet who hails from Jupiter, Fla. Their teammates include talented freshmen Davis Waln, Henry Carman, and Jacob Kreider who come from Atlanta, Madison, Wis., and Arlington, Va.
But Ames believes the men’s quintet have a lot more in common than their geographic disparity might lead on.
“Most of them know each other because diving is kind of a small community and most of them were at the Junior National level competing,” he said. “So really, for all of them, certainly for the ones from California, they might be a little more nervous coming here but I don’t think that we witnessed that this year coming in at all because they already had people they knew here.”
Actually, all these new faces has probably been hardest on Ames.
“The first meet is Oct. 6, against Pittsburgh. I’ve got five freshmen on the team and I’m getting to know them still -- how they liked to be coached, what’s the best way to coach them? Are they visual learners as opposed to other ways? Do they need to feel it? Do they need to visualize it?” he said. “So I’m still getting used to that part of it.
“I’m doing this a little differently than I have in the past where I’m individualizing each workout with the divers. I’m doing a lot of video analysis of things now more than I used to do,” he added. “I’ve got a wide range of talent on the team and so I’m just really excited. As far as where they are, ask me that next week and I’ll give you a little better answer.”
Everyone will have a better answer after this weekend’s intrasquad meet.
“We’ll get to see kind of where everybody is,” said Hart. “We’ll do a race-type environment. We’ll put the touchpads in, we’ll have a starter, we’ll make it as real as possible within our own team to kind of get all those freshmen ready so they’ll know what to expect the next weekend when we host Pitt, which is an ACC school. I think it will be great coming out of the gate. There’s no room for error. We have to come out sharp and I’m excited to see what we can do.”