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October 18, 2010

H2Okies add top recruit with Christiansburg Aquatic Center

By: Matt Kovatch

New swimming and diving facility to aid Tech's chances in upcoming season

Usually when scouting out a team’s chances in a preseason preview, it is common to point to newcomers who will make an impact – a hotshot new freshman or a valuable transfer from another school – as harbingers of success. However, in the case of the 2010-11 Virginia Tech men’s and women’s swimming and diving teams, the most influential new member of the squad isn’t a person, but rather a building – the state-of-the-art Christiansburg Aquatic Center (CAC) that the Hokies now call home.

A joint venture between the town of Christiansburg and Virginia Tech, the CAC officially opened its doors to the community in July and it will serve as the host of the Hokies’ home meets following decades spent at War Memorial Pool on the Tech campus. It’s a project that was years in the making, and its completion has been greeted with open arms and rave reviews.

“Moving to the CAC has been incredible,” Virginia Tech head coach Ned Skinner said. “The team has met it with full support. It is a beautiful facility that was done in a first-class manner, and we have completely elevated the way we are training our swimmers and divers.”

The one and only downside to the new pool is shuttling Tech’s approximately 60 student-athletes the five miles from campus to the facility every day – a task being aided by a fleet of vans. But once the Hokies get there, they benefit in three major ways.

For one, there’s the ‘wow’ factor. It’s hard not to notice the mammoth scoreboard and video board that adorn the wall adjacent to the plethora of diving boards and platforms.

“It’s pretty impressive,” Skinner said of the combo, the money for which was donated by a fundraising group called the Hackin’ Hokies, Too. “It’s probably one of only 10 in the nation. You can put the swimmer’s name, split, time and place on one board, and then you have this other board – basically a television screen – that you can run instant replays on.”

The lighting and windows create a bright and welcoming environment for the nearly 1,000 spectators that the balcony seating can hold, an element that ties into the second reason for the building’s creation – the general practicality of it all. It was simply time for a new facility.

“No disrespect to War Memorial,” Skinner said. “It was a great ‘home-field advantage’ for us. But the problem was that we could only cram about 300 people in there. Plus it was hot, it was stuffy and it had that old-pool smell. Modern-day technology in major swimming facilities can manage the airflow, so you walk into our pool now and it’s a comfortable temperature. The air flows throughout the building such that, even when you’re swimming hard, you’re still able to breathe as if you’re outdoors.”

And that, in turn, connects to the main advantage of the CAC, the ease in which it allows the swimmers and divers to hone their craft and become better at what they do. That’s possible not just because of the better air quality and the amenities available, such as a therapy pool, weight-training areas and cardio rooms, but also the possibilities it allows for the Hokies during their practices.

The CAC features a full-size, 50-meter Olympic-style pool, which is double the length of the pool at War Memorial. Though all collegiate competitions take place in 25-yard lanes – that distance is achieved by properly positioning the pair of 6-foot bulkheads – the long-course option allows the swimmers to work on their endurance.

“For the first three practices every week, we go long-course because it lengthens out your stroke and it’s good for creating base conditioning,” Skinner said. “It’s also key in training for national and international competitions. But when we move the bulkheads, we have access to 17 25-yard lanes, plus the diving well. We can have the entire team – swimmers and divers, men and women – training at the same time. That was virtually impossible before we had this pool.”

That has allowed for the Hokies – particularly the divers – to be more efficient with their time. Because they have access to a full range of platforms at one, three, five, seven and 10 meters, the divers can safely and properly work their way up in height. War Memorial’s highest platform was five meters, so diving coach Ron Piemonte and his squad had to wait for 10-meter practice when they drove to a facility in Charlotte once every two months.

All of this has given the Hokies a better opportunity to succeed, and it won’t be long until they get the chance to show how much it’s paid off. With the new season beginning on Oct. 16, Tech begins its path toward improving upon an impressive campaign last year.

The women finished 24th at the NCAA Championships last season, while the youthful men scored their most amount of points ever at the ACC Championships, topping 400 for the first time and placing fourth. Skinner is excited about both sides as the new schedule approaches.

“The women are poised for another great year, both at the ACCs and the NCAAs,” he said. “We pride ourselves on being in the upper echelon of our conference and we want to maintain that accolade. We have balance in all of our events, which is always so important, and we don’t see major holes in our lineup.

“The men are on the verge of greatness. We virtually return 90 percent of our points from the ACCs and we add, what on paper, is a fantastic recruiting class. If you look at points scored by freshmen and sophomores from all teams in our conference last year, Virginia Tech is among the tops in that category.”

Here’s a closer look at some of the Hokies to keep an eye on this season:


Erika Hajnal earned All-America honors a year ago, and now that she’s able to train at a better facility in the Christiansburg Aquatic Center, she could be even more dominant this season.

Erika Hajnal – The Hokies’ NCAA hopes begin with Hajnal. She’s participated in multiple events at the season’s biggest meet during each of her first two seasons, most recently earning All-America status in the 400 individual medley as a sophomore. She also dominates in the freestyle, having won both the 500 and the 1,650 events at the 2010 ACC Championships.

Katarina Filova – A freestyle sprinter, Filova competed in four events at the NCAA Championships during her rookie season last year and will look to do so again as a sophomore. She earned honorable mention All-America status as an individual by finishing 16th in the 200, and also as a member of the 10th-place 800 freestyle relay team.

Lauren Ritter – Now a senior co-captain, Ritter will look to improve upon a junior season in which she qualified for the NCAA Championships in three distance freestyle events. She was also a member of the 10th-place 800 freestyle relay team in 2010.

Emily Ferguson – Ferguson is a freestyle sprinter who is poised to break through in her junior season. Though she contributed mostly in relays last year, she gained valuable experience at the U.S. nationals in July.

Sarah Milton – Milton returns for her senior season as the captain of the diving squad. Expect her to improve upon a junior effort in which she took fourth in the platform and eighth in the 3-meter at the NCAA Zone A Championships.


Greg Mahon – Mahon was a highly touted freshman who lived up to the hype last year, taking bronze in the 100 butterfly at the ACC Championships and posting top-10 finishes in four other events. He continues to look strong as he enters his second season.

Logan Shinholser – Another sophomore who burst onto the scene as a freshman, Shinholser returns to lead a talented diving troupe. He specializes in the platform, having broken the school record during a silver medal showing at the 2010 ACC Championships before taking first at the NCAA Zone A Championships.

Ryan Hawkins – Hawkins, a freshman, joins Shinholser and the divers and will serve as a replacement to the graduated Mikey McDonald. Hawkins was one of the top diving recruits in the country and participated at the U.S. nationals this past summer.

Charlie Higgins – Higgins begins his junior year as a back-to-back NCAA Championship participant. The school record holder in both the 100 and 200 backstroke, Higgins will continue to be a major player for the Hokies.

Tom Sheranek – A 6-foot-7 sophomore, Sheranek is coming off of a magnificent summer in which he qualified for the U.S. Olympic trials in both the 100 and 200 backstroke. He placed fourth in the 200 at the ACC Championships as a freshman.