Gertenbach splashes at NCAAs

March 28, 2002|By RICHARD MYERS

Sports Editor

To some, the NCAA swimming championships now being staged in Athens, Ga., are even more prestigious than the aquatics competition in the Summer Olympics.

"A lot of people think the NCAAs are the best meet in the world, outside of the U.S. Olympic trials," said Randy Gertenbach, a former Central Union High standout swimmer who is at the NCAA meet competing for the University of Pittsburgh.

"It's almost like the Olympics, only better," he continued, noting many of the world's top swimmers compete for colleges in the U.S. and are entered in the three-day meet, which began today.

Gertenbach will compete in three events. He will swim the breaststroke leg as a member of Pitt's 400-yard medley relay team today. Friday he competes in the 100-yard breaststroke and Saturday he swims the 200-yard breaststroke.


Gertenbach, 19, and a sophomore at Pitt, wasn't sure he would be competing at the NCAA championship meet until a couple of weeks ago, despite a successful outing at the Big East championship meet last month. He successfully defended his Big East 200-yard breaststroke title at the Nassau Aquatic Center in Uniondale, N.Y., and won the 100-yard breaststroke.

At the Big East meet he won the 200 morning preliminaries with a time of 2 minutes, 1.17 seconds to finish just ahead of Virginia Tech's Joey Piekarski, who clocked 2:01.23. In the evening's finals Gertenbach set a blistering pace the last 100 yards to win the gold medal with a time of 1:59.49, just .04 seconds off the Big East record.

In the 100 breast the day before Gertenbach swam the fastest time in the preliminaries, clocking 55.65 to finish just ahead of Virginia Tech's Kevin Furlong (55.84) and Danilo Perunovic of St. John's (55.98). In the finals Gertenbach out-touched both adversaries by 0.3 of a second, taking the gold with a time of 55.22.

Both times were B-cuts for the NCAA championship meet. A B-cut is a minimum time standard set by the NCAA for possible consideration to be invited to the national meet. But Gertenbach had to wait until all NCAA conference meets were concluded to see if he would be invited to the national event.

The NCAA normally takes the top 24 swimmers in each event. His time in the 200 breast was fast enough to earn the invitation to the national meet.

"I was the last one to get invited," Gertenbach said, noting his time was right on the cut-off line.

Because of that invitation, he will be able to swim the 100 because it was a B-cut time.

Pitt's 400 medley relay team also qualified for the meet.

Gertenbach noted last year he was close to qualifying for the NCAA meet but he and his coach did not submit his time.

"My coach felt I wasn't quite ready," he said.

He turned over his whole training regimen and strategy planning to his coach and together their preparation has paid off with Gertenbach's invitation to the NCAA meet.

"My coach plots all my splits, everything," he said. "I do everything he tells me."

Gertenbach doesn't have any specific goals for the NCAA meet.

"I'd like to go faster than what I swam at the Big East meet," he said. "But I really don't base my goals on times."

"I just want to go out fast."

Gertenbach said he would like to finish in the top 16 in both events. If he does he will be swimming in the finals.

His best time in the 200 breast is about one second off the 16th fastest time in the nation and his 100 breast time is about a half-second off being in the top 16.

If he places in the top 16, Gertenbach will earn points for his team.

"We're trying to be an up-and-coming swimming power," he said.

"We want to try and get in the rankings in the national poll," which should help recruit more top swimmers, he said.

Pitt, ranked 18th in the country among Division I schools, already has been making a splash. The Panthers won their sixth consecutive Big East championship last month with 807 points, 315 more than second-place Rutgers.

In addition to the two breaststroke events and the medley relay, which placed first, Gertenbach swam the 200-yard individual medley at the Big East meet. He placed 11th in the preliminaries with a time of 1:52.47 before winning the consolation finals with a 1:51.97.

Gertenbach also swam on Pitt's 200 medley relay team, which finished third at the Big East meet.

Gertenbach is fortunate he has one event each day at the NCAA meet and he considers himself lucky that he swims the relay first.

"It's good for me," he said. "I'll be able to see what the rest of the competition is like."

Besides being an accomplished swimmer, Gertenbach has excelled in the classroom. He recently was named to Pitt'sdirector of athletics' highest honor list for the 2001-2002 academic year.

Highest honors are awarded to student-athletes who attain a grade-point average of 3.50 or higher. Gertenbach, majoring in mathematics, posted a 3.66 GPA.

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