#TGW: It's a Family Thing

Nov. 25, 2016

By Matt Winkeljohn | The Good Word

This being the holiday season, Georgia Tech’s swimming and diving teams are no different than you and yours in that they’re celebrating. Their family is bigger, though, and it’s getting hard to keep track of all the reasons to give thanks.

The Yellow Jackets set 12 school records last weekend in the three-day Georgia Tech Invitational, where Tech swam 53 NCAA ‘B’ times and posted six zone diving qualifying marks. The men finished third with 1,036.5 points and the women seventh with 513 in the biggest meet of the year short of the ACC and NCAA Championships.

By mid-week, the men moved up nine spots to a No. 15 national ranking in the College Swimming Coaches of America Association poll, and both teams are tracking upward fast.

“We’re doing a great job. We’ve already broken multiple school records, which we don’t usually do in the fall,” said head coach Courtney Shealy Hart. “We’re getting better every year and I think you can see that.

“We’re doing better this fall than we did last fall, and we hope to build on that as we move toward the championship season.”

For a day or two, the Jackets slowed down and did the holiday thing.

Emerging leaders in sophomore Rodrigo Quadros Correia and redshirt-senior Chiara Ruiu are from Brazil and Italy, respectively, so they joined the families of local teammates or former teammates on Thursday for Thanksgiving as if, you know, they’re blood relatives.

That theme is real.

Thanksgiving is not a holiday where they come from, but they get it and they got it before they arrived on The Flats.

Asked whom among 29 men’s swimmers and divers and 30 women’s student-athletes has emerged into leadership roles, Shealy Hart mentioned several.

Correia and Ruiu were on her list, and their body language was so overt at the McAuley Aquatic Center that a visit was in order. It seems they share certain characteristics best explained by Ruiu.

Growing up in Oristano, Sardinia, nearly every day was like a family holiday for her so she brought a special energy to Georgia Tech.

Beyond the fact that the co-captain set Tech records last weekend in the 100 yard breaststroke (1:01.21), 200 individual medley (2:00.97 and 1:59.88) and 400 medley (3:39.82) and 400 freestyle relays (3:20.03,) Ruiu throws energy like the sun.

That’s contagious, and uplifting for teammates as the Jackets’ familia is bonding to pull all together as one.

“We hug and kiss,” she said with a smile. “I think it’s very important for me, and I just want to show my affection to everybody and I think we have that in common.”

Ruiu has grown into her role after missing her freshman season with a stress fracture in her left leg. As she said, “It didn’t show up before, but I like to think of myself as someone that reads people kind of well so I try to adjust and read what people need and go from there.”

Correia reads quickly, and his enthusiasm showed up at just about the same time he did for the spring semester earlier this year from Belo Horizonte, Brazil.

The backstroker/freestyler set a school record in the 100 backstroke (46.62), and Shealy Hart wasn’t surprised. She’s just as excited that he also throws off so many good vibes.

“Rodrigo . . . he’s a firecracker. He’s very vocal, he’s very excitable and that’s contagious,” the coach explained. “We Skyped him a lot in recruiting, and we saw that he’s always happy, always has an outgoing personality. We could sense that, but he’s taken it to a whole new level since he got here.”

Correia’s description of himself almost makes you want to jump in the pool and do whatever he’s doing.

“I would say it’s not exactly like being a leader. For me, I like to have people happy around me so my goal is to make people happy and then I’ll be happy,” he said. “It’s like my personality to be high energy all the time, and try to make people feel the same even if I’m not that excited or happy.”

The Jackets are tickled as a group.

Junior Moises Loschi of Italy won the 200 yard breaststroke in a school-record time of 1:53.88 last Saturday, when the Jackets set four Tech marks.

Ruiu, sophomore Iris Wang, sophomore Megan Hansen and junior Kaitlin Kitchens set the Tech record in the 400 freestyle relay (3:20.03) to end the meet, while senior Alex Goerzen earlier swam the 200 back in a school-record 1:42.82 and Wang bettered the 100 free mark with a time of 48.91.

Several Jackets will participate Nov. 30-Dec. 3 in the USA Swimming Winter Nationals at the McAuley Aquatic Center, and Tech will have one more competition, Dec. 19 against Cincinnati and Florida Atlantic in Naples, Fla., before breaking for the semester.

The ACCs will be at Georgia Tech next spring, Feb. 13-16 for the women and Feb. 27-March 2 for the men, and the Jackets are angling toward excellence.

“This is by far our biggest competition outside of championship season, home or away,” Shealy Hart said of the GT Invitational. “It’s a three-day meet, and we run the same format as NCAAs. We’ve worked really hard so it’s a good natural break right before Thanksgiving and Christmas to see where we are . . .

“I’m really proud of this team. I feel like this is the first time we’ve all come together and been supportive and competitive. Those have been our two main words this year: be supportive, but be competitive. This group has bought in, and it’s showing.”

A lot of work goes into competitive swimming, and the long winter hours, early mornings and long afternoon sessions are a grind.

The Jackets plan to keep picking each other up.

“If I see someone in the corner with their head down, I try to talk to them,” Correia said. “I like to know what’s going on with them. I can talk to people and understand them easy.

“I try to have something extra or special for them. I joke with them, or tell them something to bring their energy up. I’m from Brazil, and I think it’s kind of different. We’re more affective so I like to give hugs to people to make them feel better.”