Sept. 27, 2013
Fasten your seat belts folks, swimming and diving season is about to begin.
A six or seven month campaign for first-year head coach Frank Bradley and the Seminoles is underway.
But before the team dives into the thick of things, let's break down the 2013-14 schedule.
The Fall Schedule
This weekend, the Seminoles will head to Gainesville, Fla. for their first meet of the year, the All-Florida Invite. This three-day, prelim and final formatted meet welcomes six teams from the state of Florida.
Although it's very early in the season - the training in the pool is tough and the weights are starting to get heavy, it's a very unlikely time to have a meet of substantial size, but on the other hand it does serve to be an important benchmark for the swimmers and coaches.
"First, it gets them into the training gear right away and we have a big meet, or a pretty sizable meet," Bradley said. "It gives us as coaches a great opportunity to watch and see how things unfold - how they take care of race management, preparation and how they handle themselves under extreme adversity."
With two new coaches and a good-sized freshman class, Bradley hasn't seen what his team is capable of doing. He doesn't know how his Seminoles will handle certain situations, until they're actually in them.
These young men and women in the freshmen class are used to high school duals, or age group meets, where the competition isn't as stiff, unless you're swimming at the national level (and when those meets roll around, you're pretty much fully rested and wearing an expensive "fast" technical suit). Without taper (or a rest), all of these swimmers will be exhausted by the end of the first day as most of them will have swum four or five races, but what's going to be big for Bradley is how they take care of themselves. How they carry the stress and deal with the fatigue when they're on their sixth or seventh race into the weekend.
"For all the freshmen it's a great opportunity to get them in there," Bradley said. "It's going to give us a great chance to evaluate and see where we need to go. I think we're going to nip a lot of things early with this meet, whereas most people won't be able to see until November or December. I think once we're done with it we'll have a lot of questions answered."
Following the All-Florida Invite, the women's team will start dual meet competition with a tri-meet at West Florida with Tulane on Oct. 11, before the men's team joins them in Tuscaloosa, Ala. to face Alabama on Oct. 12.
Within the first two weeks of the dual meet season, the women's team is going to have three more meets than the men's team.
"There's just so many more opportunities for the women's teams now," Bradley said. "Especially within the region. Regionally, there is just way more and it's easier to get these ladies chances to race."
These back-to-back weekend meets are always a grind because there isn't much turnaround (less than 24 hours), not a lot of time to recover and you really have take care of your body. After the meet is over in Pensacola, Fla. (around 5:30 p.m.), the Seminoles will have to board the bus to Tuscaloosa and endure a five hour trip in order to be back in action with Alabama at 12 p.m.
The women will return home on Oct. 18 for the fifth annual `Paint it Pink' match against Florida Gulf Coast.
After those duals, the Seminoles will host conference rivals NC State and Georgia Tech on Oct. 25 to close out the fall dual meet schedule.
"I think there are two phases to the dual meet schedule," Bradley said. "The first semester is more of like a training for competition phase. We're always preparing to go fast, it's not just training to see how much we can do. There's an idea of how to get these guys and girls to go faster. Going through those first couple meets, it's a great time to gear up and get on the blocks (and boards) and get excited and see where we are. If we guide them through the week right, we'll still be getting great work done, but we'll be able to hit that Friday or Saturday where they perform well without giving anything up for it. It's just great race rehearsal."
During these several meets, Bradley and his coaching staff will be looking to shake out a few things before the mid-season invite.
The biggest question that will need answering will be relays. On both the men's and women's side, every relay will have different personnel from a season ago.
"That's another thing, relay combinations." Bradley said. "We're looking to see who gels off each other in a relay scenario. That's critical because all of our relays are new. We have the opportunity to move people around and there's freshmen. If we hit those combinations right, then we'll be very good on relays. We're wondering who's going to be the best lead-off, who does well in the second and third spots and how they feed off each other and sometimes, it's not always your top four swimmers on the relay. You could have an athlete that's just an insane relay swimmer."
Keep in mind that first-year assistant coach Matt McVittie was pretty much the ultimate relay swimmer when he swam for FSU from 1995-1999, racking up six ACC titles and nine All-America honors, all on relays.
Another thing - that questionable third event.
Growing up and before the college days of swimming, most swimmers specialize in one or two events. In swimming, then there are just a few others that can be performed just okay. Divers also have their specialties, either springboard or platform with some able to compete in both.
When Bradley picks the 18 individuals for the ACC team for the end of February, he's going to keep something in mind, `who can score points in three individual events and who will most likely contribute on relays,' mainly because that's how teams win championships.
Most underclassmen are still in search of that third event and sometimes it takes until your senior season to find that right combination. But in dual meets, are where those tests will come.
"Another purpose of dual meets is a lot of these kids have one or two main events, but in college, you need three," Bradley said. "It's a great chance for us to see where these swimmers can go and what that third event could possibly be, because for us to be able to compete nationally, that's just what's going to have to happen if we want to reach our fullest potential."
The Mid-Season Invite
A month later, the Seminoles will change course from previous years and head to the Auburn Invite which runs from Nov. 22-24, and it's going to be one of the best mid-season invites in the country with Auburn and Georgia headlining the meet.
"It's awesome competition," Bradley said. "A meet of this caliber, this is where we want to be. These are the swimmers we want to be racing against in March."
At this meet, swimmers should be posting their fastest times of the season. Whether it's a question of putting a technical suit on, shaving, or resting, all of those decisions will come later in the year, but as of now, this meet is the time to go fast. Hopefully, those swimmers that are at the top and that have made the NCAA meet before, look for them to post times fast enough in order to seal their invitation to the meet in March (Tiffany Oliver, Kaitlyn Dressel, Julia Henkel, Pavel Sankovich, Josh Friedel and Paul Murray).
"Cycle everything the right way, with weights, so we can hit that meet again and use it as another benchmark to see what changes we need to make through the month of December. That's true championship preparation. Is there a lot of training and preparation and recovery, yes, but it's all geared toward how fast can we go in February and March."
After this crucial benchmark, the team will start to shape up and give the coaches a general idea of where the conference team lies.
"I think after this meet, personalities are going to show through," Bradley said. "Who we can count on every time and seeing how they handle the pressure. They're going to be up against some of the best teams in the country and we're interested in who can handle that. If we want to be there, we have to handle it and I think we have guys and ladies that can, but they need to be more exposed in that environment."
After this meet, it's back to training - a straight solid month of just training.
The volume in practice won't go up as much, however the focus will shift towards consistency and the quality of training that's put in. The Seminoles will even take a small vacation down to south Florida (Indian River) in order to get some training in a different setting.
"If everything is done correctly for the November meet, we should be able to bounce out of that and they're just knocking sets out and things are spot on."
For example, say for instance in the beginning of the season, a swimmer could do a set where they're hitting their target times for a couple of reps, or just once or twice a week. This is the time in the year where those target times should be met with consistency and on a daily basis.
"The repetition, the pace and speed work things are just starting to tick a little sharper and cleaner at this time." Bradley said. "The accumulation of work will be there, but that's not the primary focus now, its consistency."
At the start of 2014 calendar year, it's championship season and every little move you make reflects on championship season.
In fact, Coach Bradley even said, "You might as well hang a banner out of the pool deck saying that it's championships season."
The jitters are starting to settle in and the itch for the ACC Championships sits in everyone, even though it's still a month and a half away.
"The volume here will shift and the focus is strictly on racing."
However, there are still dual meets set for the second half of the year. During that slate, the focus has moved toward the theory of race rehearsal because every move you make (in and out of the pool) is geared toward your performance at the end of February.
This year, the Seminoles will head back to Gainesville to face Florida on Jan. 4.
"I don't ever remember Florida being this late, but you throw everything out the window for this meet," Bradley said. "I think it's going to keep the team more accountable over Christmas and I like the change in time because it sets us up perfectly for Championship Season. It's our biggest dual meet of the year."
After the battle with the Gators, the Seminoles will host Florida Atlantic on Jan. 17 before the women welcome Miami on Feb. 1.
"People are still going to be fighting for spots on the conference team," Bradley said. "These meets are still opportunities. It's elevated and as coaches, we've got to be intently watching. We'll have a good idea in the training aspect of what goes on every day, but these chances could make or break someone."
And then there are those relays.
These meets will help those certain four get work off each other.
After these meets, the yardage will start to go down and the weights will become lighter and the taper period will start. By the time the ACC Championships roll around, the goal is to be well rested and feeling strong in the water.
Finally, It's Here
The ACC Championships are scheduled for the women and divers on Feb. 19-22, while men's swimming will follow the next week.
And this year, this meet is loaded. Virginia has been the kings and queens of the conference for almost a decade, but this year Notre Dame and Pitt join in on the action, which should make things a little interesting.
Notre Dame is traditionally a top 25 program and Pitt always has some swimmers (and divers) that could make an impact.
"The whole conference has changed," Bradley said. "There are so many new faces that it's almost bittersweet, but it's awesome. It's going to be fun to see how the ACC changes and no one knows what to expect. On our side, we have to take care of business."
Rested, shaved, suited and booted, these 18 individuals are the best that FSU has to offer.
The four-day meet begins on Wednesday with a pair of relays, while Thursday has three individual events and a relay.
This season, Pat Jeffrey's juggernaut of divers will look to make their marks on both the ACC and NCAA levels. The team hopes to qualify all 10 divers to the NCAA Zone B Diving Championships in order to make the NCAA Championships.
In order to be selected for this meet, one must qualify with a certain score during the course of the season.
Five of Jeffrey's divers have already made the NCAA meet at least once in their careers (Ariel Rittenhouse, Katrina Young, Kelsey Goodman, Tom Neubacher and Mikey Lewark) and are looking to repeat that feat again.
For NCAA's there are 10 spots for women and five for men. These selections are based on performances in each event throughout the week, with each event serving as a different level of importance.
The NCAA Swimming and Diving Championships
By far, this is the most selective meet in the world and one of the pinnacle events of USA Swimming.
Think about it. Thirty of the fastest swimmers and selected divers are competing in one meet. Not even the U.S. Olympic Trials are that picky - you make the cut time, you go. But, in this case, it's the fastest athletes that are getting in.
These athletes are no slack. They're some of the best in the world. In 2013, the women's meet contained 11 Olympians, while the men's meet had about just as many.
If you make it here, you're one of the best in the business and from day one, that's the goal.
The SEC and Pac-12 typically power these meets, in fact the last women's team not affiliated with those two conferences to win an NCAA Championship was Texas back in 1991. In addition, the Longhorns are the only team outside of the SEC or Pac-12 (or Pac-10) to ever win a national title on the women's side.
The men's meet is a little different as Michigan took the title in 2013, but once again the Pac-12 and SEC typically dominate.
Florida State has had only one top 10 finish at the NCAA meet in school history as the Seminoles took ninth back in 1997 at the men's meet, when Bradley and McVittie were on the team.
On Friday, both the men's and women's teams will begin their quest toward championship season.