Georgia swimmer Shannon Vreeland has competed all over the country and the world and she has the hardware to prove it.
Vreeland will join 17 of her teammates (16 swimmers and one diver) at the NCAA swimming and diving championships, which begin today in Minneapolis, and she‚Äôd like nothing better than to end her collegiate career with another national team title to match the crown the Lady Bulldogs won a year ago.
‚ÄúI would put it right up there at the top,‚Äù Vreeland, who will swim the 100-, 200- and 500-yard freestyle events and several relays, said. ‚ÄúWhen you win your senior year, it‚Äôs special because you get to go out with a bang. It‚Äôs something totally different than winning an individual or a relay, or an international medal or reaching the finals. It feels more special and more personal.‚Äù
Senior Melanie Margalis, who along with Vreeland serves as No. 2 Georgia‚Äôs co-captain, is of a like mind when it comes to discussing the conclusion of her time in Athens.
‚ÄúIt‚Äôs crazy to think I‚Äôm about to be done,‚Äù Margalis, who will swim in the 200, and 400 individual medley, the 200 breaststroke and several relays, said. ‚ÄúI remember my freshman NCAAs like it was yesterday. It would be great to go out on top. We think about how so many people doubted us, and when we won the NCAAs last year, nobody thinks we can do it again or that we‚Äôd be a problem. To win, especially the last time around, would be really nice.‚Äù
Senior associate head coach Harvey Humphries added that he‚Äôd like to see Georgia send Vreeland and Margalis out as NCAA champions one more time.
‚ÄúIt would be amazing for those two, the captains of our team, to walk out with another championship,‚Äù Humphries said. ‚ÄúYou couldn‚Äôt have two swimmers to count on more. If it came down to the last person for the last swim of the meet, either one would jump at the chance to have that spot and we‚Äôd love to have them in that spot.‚Äù
The Lady Bulldogs, whose most recent feat was swimming away with the Southeastern Conference championship (their fifth in a row), should find strength in numbers as they‚Äôll be the only team at the NCAAs with 17 swimmers. Having such great depth has boosted the poise level of the competitors as Georgia could well have individuals and relay teams picking up points in every event.
‚ÄúLast year we had a full roster and this year we‚Äôve got a full roster again,‚Äù sophomore Brittany MacLean, who will swim the 200, 500 and 1,650 freestyle events and the 800 freestyle relay, said. ‚ÄúIt proves how strong of a team we are. I love that our team is so deep ‚Äî we don‚Äôt win off of having four superstars. Every single person is crucial to the team and that‚Äôs really cool. It helps with our confidence because we know if there‚Äôs any gap, we have an opportunity to fill it because there‚Äôs always an opportunity for somebody to step up.‚Äù
‚ÄúIt‚Äôs a great, comforting thought to know you‚Äôve got good numbers going into the meet,‚Äù Humphries added. ‚ÄúObviously, it‚Äôs always pointed out to our athletes that whenever you have a multi-day competition, you can‚Äôt expect everything to go perfectly. But if you‚Äôve got larger numbers, there are more chances for things not to go perfectly but more opportunities to make up for it.‚Äù
This year‚Äôs national championships figure to be a bit different for Georgia ‚Äî which expects to vie with No. 1 California (including Olympic heroine Missy Franklin) and No. 3 Texas A&M ‚Äî as longtime head coach Jack Bauerle won‚Äôt be on the pool deck with his team since being suspended from coaching during competition in early January. Bauerle has been permitted to oversee practice, however, which is where his swimmers say the rubber meets the road.
‚ÄúIt has been kind of weird,‚Äù Vreeland said. ‚ÄúNot having him at SECs was definitely different but he hasn‚Äôt missed a practice and he‚Äôs been really getting after it at practice and he‚Äôs really pushing us hard to make sure we‚Äôre very prepared for when we get there.‚Äù
‚ÄúI don‚Äôt think it affects it,‚Äù MacLean added. ‚ÄúHe‚Äôs been on the pool deck during practice and that‚Äôs the most important part for us as a team. He‚Äôs been able to coach us the same way he‚Äôs always coached us and if he‚Äôs done his job right, we‚Äôre ready on race day anyway. He‚Äôs done a great job of making sure it‚Äôs always been about us, so we‚Äôre looking forward to racing on his behalf and for him. We want to make him proud and I know he‚Äôs excited for us and (is) ready to see us race.‚Äù