CHICAGO, ILLINOIS - This summer, as we did last summer, Yellow Jacket Roundup will be taking a ten-week hiatus as the summer sports break splits spring from fall and the academic year begins anew. The slow trek back to Atlanta continues, but, much like the fresh sports calendar, I won’t be back until the semester kicks off. I really thought about making that a swimming pun, because, surprise, surprise, that’s the topic of the week. But here we are.
When We Last Saw ‘Em:
Just five days before the season started last October, the Jackets picked up a seventh member of the coaching staff, assistant coach Michael Norment. His connections were touted at the time, theorizing that this could help in recruiting, especially locally. Georgia may not be the very best state for swimming recruiting, but it is certainly talented, and a lot of that talent heads 72 miles out of town to Athens. The bad news is that, even in the yet-to-graduate-high school 2020 class, there’s top 5 nationwide talent in Dacula, and he’s still headed to the school out East. This highlights my point number one. But no matter. Let’s talk last year.
Tech led the season with a definitive statement - the men walked into Tallahassee and beat Florida State. This is a team that struggles to crack the top 10 at ACCs some years, heading to one of the conference’s historically strong outposts and taking a win. The women joined in on the fun for leg two of the triangle meet (three teams, one pool), with the Jackets sweeping Pittsburgh, as well.
The season rolled on with the home opener the weekend of October 19th and 20th, with sort-of quadrangle and triangle meets on back to back days. Florida Gulf Coast and Miami, with just women’s teams, as well as men and women from the Savannah College of Art and Design - yes, an NAIA team - on Friday and Miami hanging around to join the men and women from Notre Dame the next day. This highlights point two.
The next full-squad meet was the Georgia Tech Invitational, which had a different lineup than usual, but it brought a bunch of solid competition to the Flats. The men got third, which was solid. The women getting eighth was less great. They followed it up with another invite at Florida Atlantic, which is always a little odd, but came at the end of winter training like usual, and it’s good to get in some more casual racing.
The Auburn meet, see point two again, came right on the heels of winter break, which was already a bad omen. Coming into an away meet as an underdog off of some of the most grueling training any swimmer ever does is always difficult. But the Jackets certainly met their match out on the Plains. Tech followed it up with another SEC competitor, this time South Carolina. The Gamecocks and the Jackets had a nice little duel on the men’s side, with Tech narrowly edging the guys from Columbia. The women, though, weren’t so lucky. This is probably point three.
The final regular season meet saw Tech sweep a solid team, for the Summit League, when Denver came to town. The ACC championship meet wasn’t quite as kind to Tech. That’s where I’ll leave that.
Then, at nationals, the men were able to take 24th in the country, a respectable finish, on the swims of a couple of their best swimmers. Caio Pumputis was absolutely tremendous, locking down several A Final finishes and All-American honors. He could very likely be the best swimmer Tech has ever had, if he keeps this up the rest of his time on the Flats. Based on him alone, Tech will make noise of some kind at NCAAs the next two years. However, he might need some help without Rodrigo Correia, especially in the relay department. The cupboard isn’t bare, but the Jackets need someone to step up, much like the women’s cross country team, to hold serve on their solid finish at NCAAs for another year.
So what are these three points? Simply put, they’re the three biggest sticking points with swimming and diving as it stands today:
1) Recruiting should be stronger. We have the nicest facilities in the country, and swimmers are a notoriously scholarly group of athletes. Granted these aren’t D1 athletes, but the fact that the club swim team is strong shows kids will pick education over other varsity swimming options, though them snubbing places VPISU and Lehigh is much, much less common than avoiding what would’ve been a D2 or D3 career. But there’s still a truth to it.
2) The scheduling is inexplicably odd. The Tech men swim well, and, depending on the time of year, peak at a top-20 team in the nation, but adding a top-25 Notre Dame team to only the second day of a weekend meet, meaning they’ll be fresh, is a self-inflicted wound. Add to that day one being an exercise in demolition - swimming varsity D1 athletes, no matter if they’re Caio Pumputis or whoever the worst person on the team is - against a team that would probably lose to the Georgia Tech Swim Club is probably not a good use of a Friday afternoon at the facility that hosted the 1996 Olympics. Why double up on dual meets when there’s plenty of weekends to schedule them? Also, though I’m always a fan of more sports playing Auburn, taking the school in Athens off the schedule - yes, they almost always beat us - is too high a price to pay to get more excellent competition into the regular season. Only seeing three or four ACC teams in the regular season is a little odd, too. I’m not sure how much of that is conference regulations being weird or scheduling being akin to the wild west, but it’s definitely puzzling.
3) The gulf between the men’s and women’s teams. If the men get top 25 in the country, how are the women not really in that conversation? They share a program, staff, and facility, after all.
I guess the question is - what direction do they go from here? If they take a step forward, be it through results, or by seeing some recruiting wins, that’s great. If not, then, well, what’s going to break the status quo we’ve seen the past few years? Something is going to have to give at some point.
No official roster release, but there’s a couple of verbals listed on CollegeSwimming.com, so we’ll go with that. The number breakdown is (Power Index, state rank/overall rank). Power Index is probably a flawed stat, based on my own experience with it, but, having never seen any of them swim, it’s the best we have to base from. Of note, Katie Ledecky was considered a 1.00 in the CS power index, so, the point is, a low number is better.
Jackson Harvin (12.27, 11/288)
Daniel Kertesz (5.94, na/101)
Abby Cohen (21.61, 14/654)
Brooke Switzer (11.16, 7/253)
Krysten Davis (15.22, 20/326)
McKenzie Campbell (12.81, 12/239)
Dylan Scott (9.43, 5/195)
Matt Casillas - Diving
Rodrigo Correia - Back, Free
Nolan Mallet - Diving
Joseph Portillo - Breast, IM
Colt Williamson - Back, Mid/Distance Free, IM
Lila Best - Back, Free, Fly
Laura Branton - Free, Fly
Sara Gilbert - Sprint Free, Back
Florina Ilie - Breast
Iris Wang - Sprint Free
Various and Sundry:
- We lose a fair bit. One of the top two women, Iris Wang, is gone, as is our top male diver and one of the key parts of Tech’s mens NCAAs team, Rodrigo Correia.
- I LOVE the Big Ten/ACC Challenge - it’s great to get more swims in against elite competition. My only question is when will Tech be allowed to host it? Our venue would be perfect for it.
- Caio Pumputuis and others have gone global this summer, with Caio making an appearance in FINA Worlds and others active on the summer meet circuit.
- Speaking of Pumputis, he is by far the biggest part of this team. What would they look like without him? That’s coming up sooner than we care to think. How much of this top 25 performance is going to be sustainable and how much of it is just one really, really, really talented athlete?
- Seeing the GTSC National Champions banners made me realize just how barren most of the pool is. A lot of schools will hang a banner for each other school in the conference, partially seen here in the old Thrillerdome, which would look cool in both McCamish and McAuley. A slide on the jumbotron that notes the men’s top 24 finish just doesn’t cut it. Also, top-25 finishes, like NCAA tournament appearances in basketball, conference championships, and other accomplishments are usually hung in the rafters as well.
Or, if money is no object, knock out the west facing wall and replace it with a giant stained glass Buzz and Olympic rings. I have been informed that would be egregiously expensive, so let’s stick to banners.
- There’s more random comments, but we’ll look into these as the season rolls on.
Future Schedule Highlights:
Unknown so far. We’ll touch on that in the future, too. Auburn vs. Tech duel meet will almost certainly reappear, as will the Georgia Tech Invitational. Other than that, even more than most sports, this is a mystery, thanks to a nonstandard conference schedule.
Hold (M)/Sell (W):
The men return a lot of pieces, but can they find that depth to stay in the mix for another run at NCAAs next year? As for the women, there’s too many unknowns and not enough depth. That’s basically what I wrote for cross country last week, but reversed. And it’s true.
June 10th - Track and Field June 17th - Men’s Golf June 24th - Women’s Tennis July 1st - Men’s Tennis July 8th - Softball July 15th - State of the Program July 22nd - Women’s Basketball July 29th - Cross Country August 5th - Swimming and Diving
August 12th - Volleyball
If you have any insight you’d like to share on this, or any other program at Tech, leave a comment below. There’s only one week over summer preview left until we kick off the season with a special preseason Yellow Jacket Roundup. Join us next week for a look at volleyball.