GEORGIA WINS NCAA GOLF TITLE BY 3 SHOTS OVER OKLAHOMA STATE. Ryuji Imada (front, second from left) is runnerup in individual competition.
GEORGIA WINS NCAA SWIMMING TITLE OVER STANFORD (504.5 to 441). Holding a slight lead going into final night of competition, Lady Swim Dogs win three of the first four eventsand that's all she wrote.
Georgia won a school record four NCAA championships in 1998-99, but imitators should be forewarned: As a formula for success, this one will be hard to follow.
B Y - K E N T - H A N N O N
GEORGIA WINS NCAA TENNIS TITLE, BEATING UCLA 4-3 (L-R). Coach Manuel Diaz hoists team trophy with help from co-captains Talito Corrales and Hisham Hemeda.
GEORGIA WINS NCAA GYMNASTICS TITLE, DEFEATING MICHIGAN 196.850 to 196.550. Karin Lichey and Jenni Beathard show off the trophy as Gym Dogs go unbeaten for second year in a row.
Bauerle (above, center) waited 20 years for a title, and couldn't have done it without world champion breaststroker Kristy Kowal (below).
After scare that coach might leave, swimmers rule at NCAAs in Athens
t's nearly midnight and Jack Bauerle has been camped out at his poolside office for several nights now. His mind's racing, his stomach's churningand he feels guilty for even thinking what he's thinking. The University of Florida has made the former Bulldog swim captain a lucrative financial offer to leave his alma mater after 20 years as head coach and come to Gainesville, and Bauerlethe winningest swim coach in SEC historyfeels he owes it to himself to consider the offer.
Bauerle has accomplished the unthinkable at Georgia. Competing until 1996 in a dilapidated swimming facility constructed by the military during World War II, the men's and women's teams have become national powers thanks to Bauerle's ability to recruit, teach, andabove allinspire. The UGA women have won three consecutive SEC titles since Gabrielsen Natatorium opened, but prior to '96 Bauerle convinced a lot of swimmers and divers to come to Georgia without ever showing them where they would splash down.
"Stegeman pool was a fast pool, and I have a lot of good memories thereas a swimmer and a coach," says Bauerle. "But it was so old and run down that it really got to be a problem in recruiting. I remember saying to lots of recruits as we drove them to the airport, "Aw, gee, we forgot to leave enough time to show you the pool."
Bauerle did such a good job of underplaying the importance of having a deluxe pool that a wonderful thing happened. Bit by bit, the UGA men and women crept into the top 20, then top 10, and, in the case of the women, top 5.
And then another wonderful thing happened: Bauerle got a deluxe pool of Olympic proportions. Gabrielsen Natatorium is so state-of-the-art that Georgia will host the 1999 Women's NCAA Swimming and Diving Championships in May. And so, on this night, as Bauerle sifts through piles of phone messages from friends and colleagues urging him not to jump ship for Gainesville, he must decide whether he can stand to be the enemynot the hostcome NCAA time.
Frank Capra would appreciate his predicament. Remember the scene from "It's A Wonderful Life" where Mr. Potter makes a tempting financial offer to try to pry George Bailey away from the savings and loan? George nearly accepts ituntil he realizes who he would be working for.
In real life, Florida isn't a despicable placeparticularly when the coaching offer has been extended to Bauerle by UF's associate athletic director Greg McGarity, who went to Georgia, worked for the UGA athletic department, and is liked by everyone at Georgia. But in the athletic rivalry sense, Florida is even more despicable than Mr. Pottera conclusion Bauerle arrives at in the wee hours of the morning.
"In the end," he says, "it came down to the fact that we had spent our whole lives trying to beat Florida. Now, when we are beating them, why would I want to go help them?"
On Thursday afternoon, April 9, Bauerle tells his squad he's staying at Georgia. "When I came here in 1970, I was the only guy on the team from north of the Mason-Dixon line," says Bauerle, who hails from Philadelphia. "But after 30 years, I belong to this university and this team. The associations I've had here
The best part of hosting an NCAA championship is that during the competition you're the center of your sporting universe. Georgia is the semi-permanent site of the NCAA men's tennis tournament, and over the years UGA has hosted women's national championships in tennis, golf, and gymnastics. But this is the first time UGA has hosted the Women's NCAA Swimming and Diving Championships, which have a definite family aspect. Most teams' fan contingents are led by that indomitable, stopwatch-carrying breed: the swim parent. They sport school colors, wave pennants, and wear special t-shirts exhorting their athletes to victory. They make a lot of noise, too.
"My parents and relatives from Pennsylvania have a big block of tickets reserved near the finish line," says UGA's two-time world champion Kristy Kowal, who must continue her dominance in the breaststroke if the Lady Dogsranked No. 1 in the countryare to win their first NCAA title.
As the third and final evening of competition begins, Kowal & Co. lead defending champion Stanford by a scant 11.5 points. Georgia has built its lead on numbers, not winners. Over two days of competition, only Kowal has won an event, repeating as NCAA champion in the 100 breaststroke. But Georgia has qualified more swimmers for final heats, and that's paying dividends on the scoreboard.
As the gun sounds at the start of the first event, the 1650 freestyle, the meet is still wide open. But senior Julie Varozza, who missed half the season with mono, pulls away to win in 15:59.66. That's a signal to Bauerle that the night belongs to Georgia. After four events, the Swim Dogs have won three, including Kowal's victory in the 200 breaststroke (she broke her own NCAA record and set a new American mark) and Keegan Walkley's grudge battle against Stanford's defending NCAA champ Misty Hyman in the 200 backstroke.
"I wanted revenge," Walkley says after the race. "She touched me out by a tenth of a second last year."
What a difference a year can make. When this evening ends, the Gabrielsen Natatorium scoreboard shows Georgia on top with 504.5 points and Stanford a distant second at 441. Stanford's total would have been good enough to win a year ago in Minneapolis, but not in Athens.
"I had us winning by five points," says assistant coach Harvey Humphries. "I guess I wouldn't be a very good bookie."
Instead of waiting to be thrown in the pool, Bauerle jumps in and paddles around with his team like a kid in an inner-tube flotilla at summer camp.
"There were times when we were so far away from what we saw tonight," he says later, still soaked and beginning to shiver, both from the cold and the excitement. "We used to look at teams like Florida, Stanford, and Texas and think, 'Wow, that must be unbelievable.' Now they're looking at us. I'm happiest for the kids. Did you see their faces as they waited for the awards ceremony to begin? I've seen them happy before, but never like thatthey were glowing!"
Yoculan (top photo) says her team can withstand more adversity now because she feeds off their energy instead of vice versa. All-American Suzanne Sears (below) helped win the team title with a 9.825 on floor.
Battered and booed, Gym Dogs repeat as undefeated champs
uzanne Yoculan has dreamed of seeing her Gym Dogs repeat as NCAA champions since 1987, when they won their first NCAA title and broke Utah's stranglehold on college gymnastics. Georgia added a second NCAA title in '89, but was unable to repeat either time. The Gym Dogs won again in '93. And now, as Leah Brown leads off on beam after three events of the '94 national meet, the Gym Dogs enjoy a comfortable margin over host Utah; realistically, all they need to do to repeat as NCAA champions is hit five of six routines.
"My first mistake was having a freshman lead off in that situation," says Yoculan, whose heart sinks as Brown, a future All-American on beam, falls off the apparatus. Her score can be discarded, but all five of her teammates must hit their routines for Georgia's lead to hold up. The next three gymnasts all perform well, a credit to their powers of concentration because over on the sidelines junior Agina Simpkins, slated to go fifth on beam, is cramping so badly she can't even walk.
"It was a major distraction," says Yoculan, who is about to use a sub when Simpkins comes to her and says, "I can go." Yoculan's gut instinct tells her to trust her All-American.
The decision appears to be a wise one, as Simpkins moves expertly up and down the bar with no trace of painuntil just before her dismount. While bal-ancing on one leg to perform a simple scale, Simpkins cramps up again and falls. Call it bad luck, but the damage is done. Georgia finishes third behind Utah and Alabama.
The missed opportunity is magnified when Georgiawhich has the best talent in the country year in and year out goes three more years without a title. In '95 and '97, they beat themselves. "We should have won in '95 in Athens," says Yoculan. "We came in undefeated and ranked No. 1, but we drew beam as our first eventthe toughest way to begin. Two girls fell on beam and two on bars. We finished fifth."
"But '97 was the absolute worst," says Yoculan. "Coach Dooley chartered a plane and took a lot of fans down to Gainesville. We drew beam again on the first rotationand three girls fell. That's when the media really killed us with choke, choke, choke. But they were right. We did choke."
This setting holds unpleasant memories for Georgia, whichafter going 35-0 and winning the '98 NCAA championshipis attempting to become the first college gymnastics team in history to put together back-to-back undefeated seasons. But this is also where Leah Brown and Agina Simpkins crashed on beam in '94, and the Utah fans haven't forgotten that as they greet Georgia with boos during Thursday night's march-in.
It's now Friday nightfinals nightand Georgia leads UCLA by a slim margin of .175 as the team moves to its third event of the evening: beam.
Leading off is Amanda Curry, who, more than any other gymnast on the team, has been unfazed by Sam Muhleman's recent brush with tragedy. In a workout prior to the SEC championships, Muhlemana first team All-American in three eventsinjured her neck while practicing the same vault that China's Sang Lin was doing at the 1997 Goodwill Games when she crashed and suffered almost complete paralysis. Fortunately, Muhleman suffered no paralysis. But the senior from Kettering, Ohio, is wearing a neck brace here in Utahand her college gymnastics career is over.
Suzanne Yoculan's first reaction when Muhleman got hurt was, "Well, that does it." Meaning no back-to-back again this time. But Curry's mantra"We're gonna win!"has never wavered, and the gutsy sophomore does her part with a 9.875 leading off on beam. Pressed into the lineup because of Muhleman's injury, freshman Emily Chell has competed in only one meet all year. No problem. She posts a 9.875, then Stacey Galloway a 9.875, and Kristi Lichey a 9.85. But history appears to be repeating itself when Karin Lichey, the '99 Honda Award winner, falls. Last up is Jenni Beathardwho fell on beam in '97 but made the '98 NCAA title possible with a strong routine when Georgia couldn't afford a second fall on beam. Beathard is solid again tonight. She scores 9.8, which allows Georgia to throw out Karin Lichey's 9.4.
The Utah fans cheer as Caroline Harris steps out of bounds, scoring 9.55 to begin Georgia's last rotation on floor. Michigan now leads. The tension is too great for Karin Lichey, who is last up for Georgia. "I had no clue what was going on," she says. "I was sitting in the bathroom the whole time." When she emerges to do her floor routine, Lichey has no idea about Harris' problem or that Michigan has smoked it on bars or that the entire season rests on her shoulders.
"How'd we do?" she asks. "Great! Have fun!" says assistant coach Jay Clarke.
Lichey follows instructions. She sticks her landing, the judges flash "9.95"and Georgia (32-0) has finally conquered the no-repeat monster. Reflecting on the difference between Gym Dog teams at full strength that found a way to lose versus the '99 team, which lost four gymnasts to injury and still won it all, Yoculan says she's changed her coaching styleand left more of the outcome up to her athletes.
"Earlier in my career, I felt like my team was a reflection of me," she says. "If they didn't win, it meant I wasn't doing my job. But as we've won championships and I've accomplished my personal goals, I now coach for them to winnot me. The girls used to feed off me. Now I feed off them."
Travis Parrott jumps for joy as he and partner Michael Lang help win the doubles point for UGA in finals vs. UCLA. Below, Diaz talks strategy with Hemeda, who was 8-3 in singles and doubles in the team tourney.
Dogs stare down defeat three times on way to Diaz's first title
terrible thing is about to happen to Hisham Hemeda. Leading 4-1 in the third set against Stanford's undefeated fifth-year senior Ricky Becker, Hemeda, a freshman from Egypt, is on the verge of pulling the upset of the year. UCLA is ranked No. 1, but everyone considers defending champion Stanford the team to beat at the '96 NCAA tennis tournament in Athens. And Hemeda can send the perennial champs homeand Georgia into the finalsby winning just two more games.
There are extenuating circumstances. As long as Georgia's senior captain Jamie Laschinger is alive on court 3, Hemedawho has lost only once all yeardoesn't feel any pressure. If either one of them wins, he reasons, the Dogs win. But Laschinger drops a three-setter to Ryan Wolters, who was ranked No. 1 in the country at one point during the season but plays No. 3 at Stanford. That's how good the opponents are.
The semi-final match is now dead-even at 3-all. And down on court 6, where the huge crowd's attention now shifts, Hemeda suddenly feels the weight of the world on his young shoulders. His powerful groundstrokes start to come up short, and Becker, who handed Hemeda his only loss of the season, marshals a comeback. "I've never been so scared that I might lose a match," Hemeda recalls. "The pressure was unbelievable."
Hemeda manages to scratch out another game, and at 5-3/40-15with two team match points on his own serveit appears he will survive the scare and put Georgia in the finals. It doesn't happen.
"At 40-15, I totally missed a backhand
The rest is painful to watch, though the partisan crowd does all it can to will Hemeda to victory. From his vantage point at court 4, teammate John Roddick bites the towel that covers his head and screams encouragement to his young teammate. Nothing works. Becker wins the last four games, and Stanford staggers into the finals where they destroy UCLA 4-1 and win an NCAA championship that might have been Georgia's. Hemeda carries the guilt around for months and still blames himself to this day.
"No one wanted to trade places with me," says Hemeda, who sat on the bleachers and cried for 20 minutes when it was over. "I was still crying when I called my father in Cairo. But in retrospect, that defeat helped me."
Things look bad for Georgia and its fine young coach, Manuel Diaz, who has gotten his team to the NCAA finals in both '97 and '98, only to be vanquished by Stanford 4-0 each time. Diaz's '99 team is not considered his most talented, and they appear headed for defeat at the hands of unheralded Washington in the second round of the '99 tournament in Athens.
The Huskies lead in the match 3-2, and guess who's on the hot seat? Our Man Hemeda, who trails 4-5/15-40 in the third set against Robert Kendrick and his howitzer serve. If Hemeda loses either of the next two points, Georgia will exit the tournament at the earliest juncture since 1986and Hemeda, now a senior playing No. 1, will be forever haunted by what might have been. So what does he do?
"I started hitting the crap out of the ball!" says Hemeda, who got back to deuce by virtue of a Kendrick double-fault and a huge forehand passing shot of his own. "From then on, I starting hitting aces and flipping ridiculous winners from every angle. I guess God was on my side."
There is something spookyand ultimately portentousabout the way the match ends. Up 6-4 in the third-set tie-breaker, Hemeda hammers a cross-court winner to win his match and knot the team score at 3-3. Seconds later, before Hemeda can even get to the net to shake Kendrick's hand, teammate Chad Carlson fires a match-point winner down on court 3. The simultaneous roar can be heard for blocks. Georgia dodges a bullet, but the nail-biting has just begun.
The Dogs shut out Texas 4-0, but practice more brink-manship in the quarter-finals against Baylor. With the team score knotted at 3-all, Sophomore Adam Seri faces a team match point in a second set tie-breaker on court 5. He fights it off, wins the breaker 8-6, and then the third set 6-4.
"It wasn't pretty," Diaz recalls. "He did it on heart, tenacityand bad knees. He could barely walk afterward."
In the semi-finals, Ole Miss wins the initial doubles point and four of the first six sets in singles. Will the Dogs be shut out? Is this the end of their run? It seems a distinct possibility, but in the end it's the Rebels who can't crack the scoreboard in singles. Carlson, Seri, and Joey Pitts post victories before Hemeda rallies from a service break down in the final set to win 5-7, 6-4, 7-5. The Dogs advance to the finals against top-ranked UCLA.
"In the heart of the match, I thought we had something going," says Ole Miss coach Billy Chadwick. "But I was impressed by the way Georgia came up with the big play time after time."
The Dogs display more of that big-play stuff in the finals, though the match is such a nerve-wracking experience that Diaz has to restrain two well-wishersex-players Roddick and Steven Baldasfrom distracting his players from the task at hand. Roddick and Baldas have jetted in from parts unknown to fire up their old comrades. Dressed as pirates with red bandannas in their hair, they appear at the team meeting brandishing swords. Diaz banishes these scalawags to the stands, where they lead cheers all afternoon long.
As was the case three years ago, court 6 is where the real drama takes place with sophomore Michael Lang facing the Bruins' Marcin Rozpedski, whose season record is 23-1. Lang, who shared the No. 6 slot at Georgia, is just 13-8. It appears to be a mismatch, but Lang is a ferocious competitor. He needs to be on this day. He loses the first set 6-2, and turns his ankle severely enough to require a trainer. There's more. Lang is also aware that, win or lose, this is the last match he will ever play for the Dogs because he's transferring to Miami (Fla.) next year.
Other than that, nothing much is at stake.
For the third time in the '99 NCAA tournament, a Georgia player faces an overall match point that can end the team's season. It happens to Lang in the second set, but he wins the point, evens his match in a tie-breaker, then steamrolls his opponent 6-2 in the third set to deadlock the overall match at 3-all. Minutes later, Georgia's No. 4 player, Joey Pitts, wins his match 5-7, 6-3, 6-2and, suddenly and improbably, Georgia is the 1999 NCAA champion.
Court 4 becomes a Dogfest with Diazfinally a winner in his sixth trip to the finalsat the center of the celebration. One of the first people to hug him is long-time mentor Dan Magill, who won NCAA championships in 1985 and '87 and has been waiting impatiently for his protégé to start catching up to him.
Hours later, as families, friends, players, ex-playerseven UCLA playerscelebrate Georgia's victory on the second floor of a downtown nightspot, Diaz rises to say a few words. It's after midnight and he's totally spent from the events of the past week. He quotes Zig Zigler:
"We bit off more than we could chew, and we chewed it. We planned for more than we could do, and we did it. We hitched our wagon to a star. We kept our seat
Then Diaz points to the front page of the next day's Athens Daily News, which is hot off the press. The headline reads:
"Game, Set, Champs!"
The only golfer ranked ahead of Imada (above) in amateur play prior to coming to UGA was Tiger Woods. That's why Haack (swapping high fives below) wanted him so badly.
Golf Dogs add NCAA crown to tradition of excellence
he phone is ringing in Chris Haack's office. It's his buddy, Jack Larkin, who has just learned that Dick Copas is retiring after 26 years as Georgia's golf coach. Larkin has remembered a conversation he once had with Haack, who is tournament director of the American Junior Golf Association.
"Chris mentioned that if the Georgia job ever came open, he'd be interested," says Larkin, a four-year letterman at Georgia in the 1980s. "He had such great connections in junior golf circles, he was a natural for the job."
Copas took 17 of his 26 teams to the NCAA tournament, and produced several players who have made a handsome living on the PGA tour, including Chip Beck, Tim Simpson, Bill Kratzert, and Tommy Tolles. Beck led the Dogs to a second-place finish at the NCAAs in '78, but the championship eluded Copasand that was frustrating to all parties involved.
A search committee of five former UGA golfers is convened. Their mission is to recommend someone who can enhance Georgia's national reputation as a golf power and bring UGA the NCAA title it so richly deserves. More than one name ends up on Vince Dooley's desk, but the man who gets the coaching job is Haackwho isn't a golf coach. He isn't even an instructor, and he hasn't really played college golfexcept for a year at West Georgia, where he confesses he would rather have been playing golf for fun with his fraternity brothers.
"I was a promoter," says Haack of his tenure at the AJGA. But he was a good one, and a good guy, too. When he came on board in 1981, Haack was one of three employees in a fledgling operation that ran three junior tournaments a year on a $180,000 budget. When he left, the AJGA had 22 employees, sponsored 47 national tournaments a year, and operated a $2.8 million budget.
"The USGA runs only one junior tournament a year, and that's its national championship," says Haack. "So our premise at the AJGA was to create venues to showcase young golf talent." To beef up the AJGA schedule, Haack signed up Rolex, Canon, and Smith-Corona to sponsor events. And suddenly a parade of young golf starsDavis Love, Phil Michelson, Tiger Woodswere developing their games under the auspices of the AJGA.
Haack begins his coaching career at Georgia in '96, and his connections in junior golf pay immediate dividends. Nick Cassini, like Haack a member at Horseshoe Bend in Roswell, transfers from Georgia Tech to play for his long-time friend. Michael Morrison, a force in the AJGA, is unhappy at Tennessee. He jumps at the chance to transfer and play for Haack. But signing Ryuji Imada is Haack's biggest coup.
Imada, who grew up in Japan, was the AJGA Player of the Year in 1995. From there, he rattles off six victories in U.S. Amateur events. The only guy above him in the amateur rankings is Tiger. Imada doesn't feel he's ready to tackle the pro tour, but isn't sure college golf is right for him either. When Haack flies to Tampa to offer Imada a scholarship, he remembers the Georgia coach from the AJGA and decides to play for him.
"When we signed Ryuji," says Haack, "it sent a signal to people that something was happening at Georgia."
Ordinarily, Chris Haack is a pretty even keel kind of guy. But at golf matches, he's a real worry wart. To deal with the pressure, he has carefully defined viewing strategies. At this week's NCAA golf tournament, for example, he refuses to watch any action at the par-4 16th hole "because it's an island green and you can make 8 there so fast it'll make you sick."
Haack mainly watches the par-5sthe better to see his players make birdies. And the farther ahead they get in a match, the farther he disappears into the woodsthe better for his players not to see him at all. As things stand now, Haack is all but invisible. The Dogs have rallied from a four-shot deficit as the final round began and now lead by five as Ryuji Imada hits a 4-iron over water to the par-5 7th hole. The gallery oohs and ahhs as Imada's second shot nestles onto the green 70 feet from the pinthen roars like he was Tiger at Augusta when Imada rams the putt home for an eagle.
Teammate Michael Morrison hears the commotion from beside the 8th green and looks back to see what happened. He sees a man in a Georgia golf hat emerge from the woods, his fists pumping wildly, telling Morrison that "Ryuji's goin' low!"
Georgia's lead over Oklahoma State has swelled to 11 shots, and it's looking like that elusive NCAA title could go to the Dogs. Adding to the drama is the question of who will win medalist honorsImada or Luke Donald of Northwestern.
"I looked at the scoreboard after 9 holes, and saw that we were up by 11 shots," says Imada, who made the turn tied with Donald at even par. "I could've played more aggressively down the stretch, but I didn't want to make any big mistakes that could cost us the team championship."
Donald birdies 11. Imada answers with one at 13. Donald regains the lead with a birdie at 14, but appears to have thrown it all away with an errant tee shot at 15. He thinks the ball's out of bounds; as it turns out, it's notand he ends up making a birdie to Imada's par and stretching his lead to 2 shots. Oklahoma State has rallied to within 3 shots of the team leadand with water surrounding the 16th green, Imada decides he can't risk going for the pin. Both players make par. Imada makes one more run at 17, but his birdie putt lips out. He plays it safe at 18, making bogiethereby assuring that he won't win the individual title, but that Georgia will take the team title.
"It's time for me to move on," Imada says to no one's surprise a few days later. "I've decided to turn pro."
Weeks later, Haack is being interviewed at the new $700,000 men's and women's golf complex overlooking the UGA course. Nextdoor is the new $1.5 million driving range and practice facilityanother Haack-inspired innovation.
"I'll tell you how important Ryuji Imada was," says Haack, who's been asked to assess the importance of signing a player who grew up near Hiroshima and never thought he'd be playing college golf in America. "He did for Georgia golf what Herschel Walker did for Georgia football."
And all we had to do to make this dream year come true was say a collective prayer that Jack Bauerle would stay; that Hisham Hemeda would get a chance to redeem himself; that our injury-depleted gymnastics team and its mercurial coach would keep their cool in enemy territory; and that, on the eve of turning pro, Ryuji Imada would be unselfish enough to focus on the team title instead of endorsement deals that would come his way if he earned NCAA medalist honors.
Lo and behold, our collective prayer was answered. In retrospect, it's hard to believe that all this happened here at Georgia in 1998-99. But, oh boy, was it fun to watch!