Georgia sophomore Brittany MacLean’s statement was received loud and clear.
The Georgia women's swim team jumps in a pool after winning the NCAA women's swimming and diving championships in Minneapolis, Saturday, March 22, 2014.
A week ago at the NCAA swimming and diving championships, MacLean beat four-time Olympic gold medalist Missy Franklin in the 500-yard freestyle, helping lead the Lady Bulldogs to their second consecutive national title and sixth overall.
MacLean’s swim was as much a statement for her team as it was a display of her individual talent.
“People thought that wherever Missy Franklin was going to go (to college), they were going to win a national championship,” Georgia assistant coach Stefanie Williams said. “I tell people, ‘You don’t win a national championship based on one person.’”
At the 2012 London Olympics, Franklin won five medals as a 17-year-old. Soon after, she visited Georgia, Texas and Californiasigning with the Bears.
Cal finished third at Franklin’s first NCAAs while the Bulldogs finished on top with 528 points. Stanford was second.
Georgia had the largest roster at the meet, qualifying 17 swimmers and one diver. The depth advantage paid off.
“We came in with a full roster and no other team, even Cal or Stanford, did,” freshman Olivia Smoliga said.
A three-day meet can be tiring, Smoliga said, as opposed to most conference meets that are five days. A full roster ensures exhaustion will minimized and it provides options for relays.
Williams and senior diver Laura Ryan both said a lot of people doubted Georgia’s ability to win another championship after losing star swimmers Allison Schmitt and Megan Romano to graduation last year. Schmitt won three gold medals at the 2012 Olympics. Romano holds the American record in the 200 freestyle.
“I think this was so special because that meant that every single person stepped up and did their part to win this title,” Ryan said.
Ryan brought home two national titles while competing near her hometown of Elk River, Minn. She placed first in the 1-meter springboard and 3-meter springboard. The senior diver said she personally cherished the team win over the individual win.
“I think it was really cool to win both,” Ryan said, “but I was definitely most proud of the team win.”
In addition to her wins, Ryan took third on the platform, earning her Diver of the Meet honors. MacLean was named Swimmer of the Meet after breaking the NCAA record by 10 seconds in the 1,650 freestyle. In that same race, teammate Amber McDermott came in second. Other top finishers for the Bulldogs included Shannon Vreeland, Melanie Margalis, Hali Flickinger and Maddie Locus.
The team has large shoes to fill next year as seniors Jessica Graber, Margalis, Vreeland and Ryan, among others, depart.
Vreeland helped the United States win a gold medal in the 800 freestyle relay in the 2012 Olympics. Margalis set records for Georgia in the 200 and 400 individual medley. Graber helped Georgia win its 2013 national title with her second place finish in the 200 freestyle relay.
“They’ll be pretty hard to replace,” Williams said, “but we have a phenomenal group of incoming freshmen that I’m sure with the new leadership, they’ll kind of fall into place and it will be business as usual.”
Freshman Rachel Zilinskas said she is confident that the team will not lack leadership next year.
“The amazing thing about this team is that we have so many people who have competed at such high levels,” Zilinskas said, “so any set that you swim in practice, you’re guaranteed to be racing someone really, really good.”
Not surprisingly, the women’s swimming and diving team had an impressive season, capturing its 11th Southeastern Conference championship. The team successfully kept its at-home win streak alive; It hasn’t lost a dual meet in Gabrielsen Natatorium since 1995. This legacy will live on for the next group of swimmers to uphold.
Smoliga is one of the freshman swimmers that hopes to keep the Lady Bulldogs’ tradition alive next year. She said the team will just continue to train the way they have been training.
“It just shows what we’re doing here is working,” Smoliga said. “I think just continuing on this legacy is something that all of us want to do.”
For the upcoming season, Williams said, they will focus on small details to help them win another championship next year. By paying attention to small details such nutrition and strength, they will better themselves individually and as a team. This back-to-back win, the first since 2001, will push them to achieve one more next year.
“It’s pretty impressive to have six national titles and to be back-to-back,” Williams said. “We as a staff couldn’t be prouder of them.”
The Grady Sports Bureau is part of the sports media program at the University of Georgia’s Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication.