The pool deck is deserted except for the maintenance man making his final lap around the Gabrielsen Natatorium. The teal water rocks gently against the red and white candy cane-striped lanes. The only sound comes from the air conditioning unit echoing through the pool. Come late March, there will be a whole new group of sounds, including hundreds of screaming fans.
Jillian Barczyk, a freshman from Lafayette, Louisiana, can remember the days she would watch the women’s swimming and diving NCAA Championships during middle and high school in class. While she has never been to one, she says the feeling is unimaginable knowing what awaits at the end of her regular season.
“My freshmen year, having it here on our home turf, when all of our fans will be here, I don’t even have the words to describe my emotions for it,” Barczyk said.
The NCAA Division 1 Women’s Swim and Dive Championship is the most prestigious event of the season. This year, Athens has the honor of hosting it. For an NCAA Championship, the fastest swimmers from all over the country travel to one place and compete.
With hundreds of people to host, Georgia works with departments across campus in order to make sure the four days run smoothly, including parking, tickets, housing, Ramsey facilities, even the Athens Convention and Visitors Bureau.
Christie Purks, the assistant athletic director with event management at Georgia will serve as the championship director for the spring event. A veteran to planning events as large scale as this, Purks has coordinated multiple championships.
“The preparation for an NCAA Championship begins several years out from the event with the submission of a bid to the NCAA,” Purks said.
Purk’s duties will include monthly meetings with the athletic departments personnel and Ramsey center staff. She also takes on the roll of heading the facility upgrades. A few of the upgrades include making TV camera platforms, securing extra bleachers for the pool deck, and adding signage around the Ramsey Center.
In addition to her meetings around Athens, Purks will also have monthly phone calls with the NCAA and NCAA committee members. This committee is composed of two diving coaches, and four swim coaches. If chosen to serve on the committee, they’re inherently selected for four years.
Former Georgia dive coach and NCAA committee member Dan Laak has been involved with planning the NCAA Championship for years.
“I think the event staff and everyone that is involved do a fantastic job,” said Laak. And that’s why the NCAA keeps coming back to Georgia to host events. That’s because they have it down to a science.”
The last time the NCAA championship was held in Athens dates back to 1999. Courtney Hart, who won individual national titles in the 50 free, 100 free and the 100 back in 1999 for Georgia, is now head coach at Georgia Tech. Hart can attest that it truly was a “dream come true.”
“It was an amazing experience,” she said. “Not only to be an individual champion, but more importantly a team champion. The crowd was also awesome. They were loud and truly made the experience feel like a home pool advantage.”While the preparation and planning begins a year in advance for the event, the swimmers themselves are also already training and working towards their own personal goals of making it to the championship.
Head swim coach Jack Baurele, who just finished his 41st season as head women’s coach last spring, said that the NCAA Championship is always in the back of the swimmers minds. Thanksgiving and Christmas can be a time when the athletes want to slack off, but knowing the “highest pinnacle” of a swimming event is only a few months away keeps them going strong.
“It serves as a motivational force for everyone,” Baurele said.
So while the Gabrielsen Natatorium waits patiently for the fastest swimmers in the country to arrive, all hands are on deck planning a championship that Georgia, Athens, the swim and dive team and community will be proud of.
“We just want to do it the Georgia way,” Laak said.
Georgia will compete against rival Florida this upcoming week in Gainesville on Oct. 31 at 6 p.m. CT. They will have their series of home meets against Texas A&M on Jan. 11. The following two weeks will also be on home territory competing against Tennessee on Jan. 25, and Emory on Feb. 1.
Jessica Thornton is a junior majoring in journalism in the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Georgia.
Show Comments (0)