Seventeen swimmers, and two divers, will strut onto a pool deck in Indianapolis with one goal — to end an eight-year national title drought.
Members of the Georgia swim team take laps during practice at the Gabrielsen Natatorium on March 15 in Athens.
“I think it’s definitely a threat, just walking into the pool and seeing a huge group of girls,” Georgia senior Megan Romano said. “I don’t think we’ve ever taken this many before, so it’ll definitely help us. I think a lot were right on the bubble, so that’s saying something.”
Romano, who will compete in the 50-, 100- and 200-yard freestyle races, is one of 15 Georgia swimmers competing the maximum number of times individually at the NCAA championships at the IU Natatorium and IUPUI Sports Complex beginning today in Indianapolis.
Georgia coach Jack Bauerle said he has emphasized the strength-in-numbers philosophy to his team in the days leading up to the meet. The Lady Bulldogs are bringing the maximum number of swimmers, followed by Minnesota (14), Texas A&M (13), California (12) and Florida (12).
“Sometimes the last three or four people are not the biggest game changers, but also they have the capabilities of being the biggest game changers, too,” he said. “They’re not your number ones or number twos, but if you make the meet you have a chance to score.”
Bauerle, whose women’s squad won its fourth consecutive Southeastern Conference championship this season, said he fully plans to take advantage of having that many athletes qualify for NCAAs.
Much like football, Bauerle said he’s not opposed to making bold moves to change his lineups the best way he sees fit.
“We’re not gonna sit back. We’re gonna be aggressive with it,” he said.
“If it happens, if happens. If not, we’re not. I don’t wanna sit there and say, ‘I wish we would’ve done this.’ So, we’re making all the moves to be on the offensive rather than the defensive. And you can do that even in swimming.”
Senior Allison Schmitt, who brought back five Olympic medals from the London games, is also slated for three races — the 100-, 200- and 500-yard freestyle. Schmitt has not competed at the NCAA championships since 2011, as she took the 2011-12 season off to train for the Olympics.
“I think that in the college atmosphere, it’s a lot more team orientated so it’s definitely a lot different than being at the Olympics,” said Schmitt, who also missed out on being apart of the Lady Bulldogs’ four consecutive conference crowns. “The experience is different, but all in all they’re both team experiences and it’s great to represent your own school.”
Schmitt takes the fastest 200-yard freestyle qualifying time in the country into NCAAs, closely followed by Romano in third. Bauerle said it is that type of competition amongst teammates that allows the program to be successful in the longterm.
“I think the quality, who we have in the pool day-to-day, brings everybody up and then some of the people who are just trying to make NCAA championships, they swim with some of the best people in the world every day,” he said. “And their confidence increases as they go through the season.”
The Lady Bulldogs, who haven’t won an NCAA title since 2005, will be riding the momentum of their performance at the conference championships. Going against teams such as California, a team that has won three of the last four national crowns, Stanford, Texas A&M, Auburn and Southern Cal, Bauerle said that SEC win will provide Georgia with an extra edge.
“The SEC is both the greatest thing and a curse because you have to lay it out there emotionally and physically,” he said. “I think we were somewhat yeoman-like about it. I think we left certainly some emotion there but not an awful lot. But I think we can swim fast (at NCAAs).”
But an eight-year drought is a huge motivation. Rivals Florida and Auburn have each won championships since then.
“What we wanna do here is swim great,” Bauerle said. “Wherever that takes us, that’s good. Can’t make any mistakes at the highest level. You gotta make sure you’re winning close races. But it’s gonna be a heckuva meet.”