by Jon Cooper | The Good Word
“Championship Season” is the name Georgia Tech swimming & diving coach Courtney Shealy Hart has for the spring season. It’s basically a 77-day sprint that begins on Jan. 6 with a meet in Savannah against Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD), includes meets at South Carolina on Jan. 20 and Jan. 27, a “Senior Day” meet at home against Emory, and sets the stage for ACC and NCAA Championships.
“It truly is championship season,” said Coach Hart. “We’ve got conference championships as well as NCAA Championships. We want to make sure that we’re ready for all of that, not just one or two, but ready for all of it.
“We’ve been concentrating on getting some good work in,” she added. “We’ve been going twice a day and lifting as well just getting that base for ‘Championship Season.’”
Building that base mentally is as important as physically.
The goal for Georgia Tech is to continue building off this fall’s strong showing, in which both the women and men went 3-1 in dual meets then concluded with the Georgia Tech Invitational, where the men finished third, behind only No. 19 Florida State and No. 17 Alabama, while the women were fourth, behind Auburn (12th), Alabama (20th), and Florida State (“Also Receiving Votes”). In that meet, the Jackets broke two school records and saw 31 personal records set.
“It was awesome,” commented Shealy Hart. “All that hard work, kind of getting a little taste of being good but really wanting more.”
That taste and wanting more of it has been a rallying cry during offseason workouts.
“I think having a good fall built confidence and, of course, confidence helps build good performances,” she said. “We’ve talked about what we’ve done but that we’re not done yet. One of the biggest keys for us is, ‘Yes, we had a great fall but we’re not satisfied with that. So we want to keep working hard so we can get better this spring.’”
The Jackets broke in 23 freshmen (14 men, nine women) in the fall and got tremendous production from them. The first-timers didn’t think about getting their feet wet on the collegiate level. They enthusiastically dove right in.
Among the best of the first-year performers was diver Camryn Hidalgo, who was a two-time ACC Diver of the Week and set new program records at both 1-meters (331.35) and 3-meters (353.63) -- improving her scores with each meet -- and put up the school’s second-best score in the platform (270.05). On the men’s side, Caio Pumputis had a tremendous debut season, putting up all-time top-five GT times in the 200 breast (1:53.80, second), 200 IM (1:45.68, second), 400 IM (3:50.36, third), 200 free (1:36.12, fourth), 200 fly (1:49.12, fifth), and a top-10 time in the 100 breast (seventh). Christian Ferraro had top-five finishes in the 200 fly (1:44.48, fifth), was part of the 800 free relay (6:25.58) and top-10 in the 400 medley relay (3:12.82, eighth). Ferraro also has the season’s top time in the 100 fly (47.76), 200 fly (1:44.48), and 800 free relay (6:25.58).
“Caio had a great fall, I don’t think he necessarily surprised us but he certainly did a great job, Christian [Ferraro] as well. Again, not necessarily a big surprise but did a great job,” said Shealy Hart. “On the women’s side, certainly Cami Hidalgo did an awesome job. Again, I wouldn’t say too much of a surprise since she’s a very, very good athlete, but was very consistent for us so that was nice to see.”
Shealy Hart feels the freshmen are only going to get better in their second season of collegiate competition and first “Championship Season.”
“They’d never had the opportunity to race in college and now they have a semester under their belts. They know what we expect and know how the tempo of a meet goes and can get ready to get better,” she said. “I’m really excited and looking forward to the spring.”
Those freshmen got the opportunity to compete alongside and follow the example of tremendous upperclassmen. Junior Iris Wang had a very strong season, setting school records and personal bests in the 50 (22.69), 100 (48.23) and 200 (1:45.67) free and was part of the top-two all-time and three of the top five 200 free relays (1:30.73 and 1:31.44 in the GT Invitational), the top four 400 free relays, the top 800 free relay and top 400 medley relay. On the men’s side, junior Colt Williamson set a school record in the 500 freestyle (4:18.78) -- like Wang, breaking his own mark -- and putting up a top-five in the 200 back (1:43.77, fifth).
Together, upperclassmen and underclassmen worked as one strong unit.
“They pushed each other so that we could get better as a team,” said Shealy Hart. “I think that everybody, as long as they take care of what they need to do and be the best THEY can be then we’ll be the best team that we can be.”
The Jackets will have an opportunity to get in the groove with the three January meets -- dual meets serve a dual purpose.
“I think anytime we can get out and race somebody else it’s a good chance for us to get better and kind of make our final tune-ups and really sharpen our skills,” said Shealy Hart. “I mean we can train as much as we want to but really being ready and race-ready, for that matter, is really important.”
The idea is to be ready for the 2018 Women’s ACC Championships on Feb. 14-17 in Greensboro, N.C. and the 2018 Men’s ACC Championships a week later.
The following meets -- the Bulldog Classic in Athens, on Feb. 24 and 25, the American Short Course Championships in Austin, Texas, on March 1-3, and the TYR Pro Swim Series, held March 1-4, at McAuley Aquatic Center -- will serve as opportunities for those not making the ACC’s and as a chance to qualify for NCAA’s. The women’s NCAA’s will be held in Columbus, Ohio on March 14-17, while the men’s NCAA Championships are in Minneapolis, Minn., on March 21-24.
“We can only take 18 people to ACC’s so some of those meets will be used for non-ACC competitors,” Shealy Hart said. “There are people who may be on the edge of the NCAA bubble that need one more shot. So there’s a little bit extra going on with those meets for us.”
With the end of the semester finals out of the way there’s a little more energy and hop to the team. Shealy Hart is confident that will continue and be beneficial in moving ahead.
“We’re training hard. I’m pretty sure we did really well (on the final exams) but don’t actually have grades in hand yet,” she said. “They’ve worked hard. It’s certainly challenging to go to school but they’ve done the work, they’re a good team, they do a good job with time management between academics and athletics. We’ve always done a pretty good job with that.”