ATLANTA, GEORGIA — After a bit of a hiatus for this column, we are back in action with a stacked week of action. Yours truly was live at McAuley Aquatic Center this week to cover the ACC Swimming and Diving Championships this week, in addition to McCamish Pavilion for both Women’s Basketball games. Understandably, there will be plenty to talk about with those sports, particularly swimming, as the ACCs are very consequential for the NCAA Championships in the next few weeks, but there is also plenty to talk about with Softball in particular, with six games this week, and this being the first week back for the column since that sport got underway.
Swimming and Diving
Polls - Coaches - M: 22 | W: NR
We are bumping swimming and diving up to top billing this week, given their recent ACC Championships. The event, which is the first of several high-profile collegiate swim meets held on Tech’s campus this spring, took place from Tuesday through Saturday at McAuley Aquatic Center. Of course, being a retired swimmer myself, I could probably spend all night writing 3,000 words on the results from the weekend, but there are other sports to cover, so I will do my best to be concise.
At a high level, Tech’s men and women finished 5th and 10th overall in the conference. Akshay and I went into more detail into the stratification between the various teams in the ACC, but the striking thing about the conference is the strength of the large middle tier of teams. For the first time in several years, the Tech men were able to break through to the top of that mid tier of teams, finishing above familiar rivals like Florida State and North Carolina. This is largely due to the better depth the team has been able to assemble for this year, thanks to the combination of a talented freshman class and a great slate of fifth year COVID seniors.
It is a well-worn trope in this space that the selection process for the NCAA Swimming and Diving Championships is a convoluted and confusing process, but the key to everything is getting a swimmer invited to the meet. Any individual swimmer with an “A” Cut is automatically included in the meet. “B” Cuts are not guaranteed, though any swimmer with an A Cut is allowed to swim in any event they have a B Cut in. For the meet as a whole, there is a cap on the number of total athletes that can compete at the meet, rather than the number of teams. A certain portion are set aside for divers who qualify via Diving Zones meets — notably, Camryn Hidalgo and Ruben Lechuga were both bigs parts of their teams’ scoring outputs this week and set themselves up for great weeks at Zones — but, once A cuts are determined, the total athlete pool is used to even out the number of entries in each event. Thus, it is equally or more important not to consider B cuts alone, but the sub-standard within the B cuts demarcating the times invited to the previous year’s NCAA meet. Athletes invited with this method are also allowed to swim all events that they have a B cut in. Once a team has an athlete invited, any relays with a Qualifying relay standard (A cut equivalent) can be swum, as well as any Provisional cuts. However, teams with only provisional standards are not able to swim relays, so qualifying an individual and a relay is incredibly critical. So, where does that leave Tech?
The excellent news for Tech is that they have at least one individual invite already, via Caio Pumputis’ A cut in the 200 Breaststroke. Not only does this bring his 200 Individual Medley and 100 Breaststroke, but the 200 and 400 Medley Relays, which Tech has the Qualifying standard in, as well. Accordingly, Tech’s Provisional cut relays, the 200 and 800 Freestyle Relays, can be swum as well. Relays are vital for teams since the points for these swims count for double points relative to individual swims. Tech qualified four of their five relays, with the 400 Freestyle Relay not being qualified to swim.
All of this is great to hear, but Tech also will likely bring vastly more depth to the meet than they have in the past. Five other Tech athletes — Mert Kilavus (500 Free, 1650 Free), Berke Saka (200 IM, 100 Back, 200 Back), Kyle Barone (100 Back), Christian Ferraro (100 Fly, 200 Fly), and Batur Ünlü (200 Free) — also notched times within the invitational standards from 2021 in nine events. Each of these athletes just needs one of those events to fall within the invite standard to swim all of their B cut events. Ünlü (500 Free, 100 Free), Ferraro (200 Breast), and Barone (100 Fly) also have a few B cuts between them that would also be valid if they are invited. Eight other Tech men have notched B cuts, though their likelihood of swimming is lower, given that they fall outside the 2021 invitation standard, but the entire contingent of what could be deemed likely NCAA swims consists of a strong spread of 4 relays and 11 to 16 individual swims.
All of this is a long and winding way to say that the Tech men are set up for one of their busiest NCAA meets in a long time. Of course, the actual swims are yet to be determined, along with the diving qualifiers, but it gives one a lot of hope for the next few weeks. Also of note, McKenzie Campbell of the women’s team is also within the invite time window in two events, the 400 IM, 200 Fly, so hopefully she will be swimming at NCAAs, as well. Tech, between the women and the men, also broke six program records last week.
Next up for the Jackets is the Zone Diving meet hosted at Tech starting next Sunday and running into the next week, while the women’s NCAA Championships start March 16th and run through the 19th, while the men will be at McAuley for NCAAs from March 23rd through the 26th.
Overall: 19-8 | Last Week: 2-0
Polls - AP Poll: 16 | Coaches: 18
To put it simply, it was not a great week for the Jackets. Of course, they are still a very well-regarded team, as they have earned every bit of their sterling reputation up to the struggles they have had in recent weeks. Tech came into the week off of two tough road losses and a shaky overtime win against Clemson, and, despite falling into an early hole against Notre Dame, still valiantly fought to force overtime against the top-20 ranked Fighting Irish. However, all of that obscures the fact that if an auspicious number of unusual events were to change just slightly, Tech would have won the game. These included two quarter-ending buzzer beating shots, a shot clock buzzer beater, and two thefts of the ball right under the basket, in addition to the usual “shoulda, woulda, coulda” type griping about things like free throws and shot selection. The point is, even though Tech has had a tough run of things, they were still very much able to fight back into competitive status with a great team.
However, the Miami game was a bit less easily explained. Tech got into an early deficit once more, and, unlike the Notre Dame game, didn’t ever really come close to making things competitive, save for a pair of threes to cut the lead to ten points very late in the fourth quarter. Much like Notre Dame, Miami was able to clog up the middle, but their close-out defense on the perimeter and stifling full court press proved troublesome for Tech, much as it did earlier this year on the road, as well as in years past.
Tech gets four days to rest before a Thursday and Sunday slate of road games at Florida State and Wake Forest to close the regular season.
Overall: 2-3 | Last Week: 1-0
Polls - ITA: 27
Tech has only played one of its two weekend-adjacent matches so far, a 7-0 sweep in Chattanooga, and an excellent example of them righting the ship. The live stats were not functioning for most of the afternoon, so the exact back-and-forth dynamic of the match was unknown, but, overall, Tech didn’t drop a set, and Ava Hrastar won both sets 6-0. The Jackets were still notably without freshman Kylie Bilchev.
Tech returns home to host Mercer today.
Overall: 8-2 | Last Week: 4-2
Mercer - [W] 9-1 (6): In the first game of the week, Tech’s bats came alive, tacking on runs slowly and surely in 1 and 2 run bunches throughout the game. The Jackets ultimately notched 11 hits and hit the run rule limit in the bottom of the sixth when they tacked on two more to end the game early.
Central Arkansas - [L] 7-4: Well, simply put, this is not the ideal result for the opening game of the weekend. The Jackets even had their ace Blake Neleman on the mound, who, through an unfortunate combination of runners on base and a grand slam, saw a 3-1 lead in the top of the fifth turn into a 6-3 deficit. Though Tech traded runs in the bottom of the fifth and top of the sixth, it wasn’t enough to catch Central Arkansas on a relatively quiet day at the plate, though that was no fault of Emma Kauf, who went 4-4.
Southern Illinois - [W] 5-2: Tech bounced right back in the late game Friday, though, as the Jackets had an efficient three run win over the Salukis. Chandler Dennis pitched an efficient 7 innings for the Jackets, giving up just two runs on two hits and three walks, striking out six. Tech had a keen eye at the plate, earning seven walks in six innings, along with five hits. This time, it was Tricia Awald who was superlative at the plate, going three for three.
Southern Illinois - [W] 6-1: Tech opened their Saturday with a 14 hit barrage, with the main reason it wasn’t a run rule game due to them not being strung together efficiently. Neleman was again dominant on the mound, striking out seven and walking three. Mallorie Black was the star at the plate, notching three runs on five hits.
Mississippi State - [L] 11-3 (6): This was certainly Tech’s rockiest game of the year thus far, with another late five run barrage in the fifth inning. The pitching staff took the game by committee, with four pitchers throwing a maximum of two innings, and all yielded several hits. Thus, when combined with limited hitting at the plate made for a tough outing for the Jackets.
Mississippi State - [W] 4-1: It was a pitching duel for most of the early going in the Sunday finale, as Neleman once again took the mound and threw her best performance of the young season. The Jackets’ ace spread three hits and two walks over seven innings of softball, striking out 12 of the 28 batters she faced. At the plate, Tech threatened several times to break the game open, but finally got on the board and steadily added runs the rest of the game as they got into Mississippi State’s bullpen. Tech managed just four hits, but their nine walks made sure the bases were commonly stocked with Jackets.
Polls - Golfstat: 17
It is just a brief update this week for the golf team, who are in Florida breaking in the course that will be used later this year for the ACC Championships. After one day of competition, Tech leads the talented field that consists of essentially the entire ACC, along with no. 6 Arkansas and Alabama, with a score of -3 through 18 holes of the 54 hole event. Tech’s Connor Howe, Christo Lamprecht, and Bartley Forrester are all in the top ten individually, as well.
The Hot Corner:
It’ll be a short and sweet baseball update in the Hot Corner this week, since yours truly was unable to make it to Russ Chandler in person for any of the three games this weekend due to several sports having overlapping schedules and Friday afternoon work, so a combination of live stream, live scores, and the radio broadcast had to suffice. At the end of the weekend, the record shows Tech at 3-0, but the effort to get there was immense. Tech’s pitching certainly was the most cause for question coming into the year, and the season opener certainly demonstrated that after a strong Chance Huff start turned into a ninth inning meltdown. However, a long base hit by Andrew Jenkins with several runners in scoring position and one out in the bottom of the ninth scored two runs to give Tech the lead back, walking off game one. Tech’s second game was an offensive onslaught, as a bevy of home runs overwhelmed Wright State 16-5. In the final game, Tech got off to early 2-0 and 3-2 leads, but a rocky middle inning slate turned that into a deficit. In the eighth inning, prized transfer Chandler Simpson, who was certainly splashy in his debut, turned a one run hole into a two run lead on one well-struck triple. He would score later to put Tech ahead 9-6, and the Jackets closed out from there.
Tech is in action five times this week, with two midweeks, one at Georgia Southern and the other hosting Presbyterian, before hosting Gardner-Webb for a three game set over the weekend.
2/21 - at Syracuse
2/23 - Virginia Tech
2/26 - Notre Dame
2/24 - at Florida State
2/27 - at Wake Forest
2/22 - at Georgia Southern
2/23 - Presbyterian
2/25-27 - Gardner-Webb
2/22 - Furman
2/23 - Georgia State
2/25 - Penn State (DH)
2/26 - ETSU (DH)
2/27 - Jacksonville State (DH)
Ongoing through 2/22 - at Watersound Invitational (Panama City Beach, FL)
2/27-3/1 - at Southern Highlands Collegiate (Las Vegas, NV)
Indoor Track and Field:
2/24-26 - at ACC Championships (Blacksburg, VA)
2/21 - Mercer
2/25 - at Miami
2/27 - at Florida State