The Georgia women’s swimming and diving team is quietly doing something that hasn’t been done in college sports since the late 1970s.
In the team’s second meet at what is now the Gabrielsen Natatorium in 1995, the Lady Bulldogs lost to Florida. As disheartening as the loss may have been, the team could not lament for too long, as it would be the last time they ever lost in that pool.
“I don’t remember the one that started the streak, I remember the only loss,” head coach Jack Bauerle said. “That was the second meet we ever swam in the fall of ’95. We won the first meet ever in the place, in the natatorium, against Clemson… I don’t know what the next meet was [after Florida].”
Beginning that day in the fall of 1995 was a home-winning streak that would encompass 82 victories over the span of 18 seasons.
At the time, Bauerle had no idea that his team was starting the spectacular run. In fact, it took him more than 10 years to realize the streak existed.
“I remember sitting there talking with Harvey [Humphries, senior associate head coach] going ‘You know what? I can’t remember when we lost last’ and then I started thinking and it sort of occurred to us,” Bauerle said. “I think it was four or five years ago, so it was probably in the 50s give or take, maybe five or six years ago now.”
When compared to streaks across the major college sports, the Lady Bulldogs’ nearly stands alone.
The 82 consecutive victories trumps all win streaks in baseball, which top out at 46 for Division II Savannah State. The longest in college football maxed at 58 across a nine-year span for the Miami Hurricanes, while women’s basketball almost reached the Lady Bulldogs’ mark with 81 by Stanford.
Only men’s basketball was able to produce teams with more consecutive home wins than the Lady Bulldogs, and it's only been done four times. Of those four streaks, none have been active since the UCLA’s 98-game win streak was broken in 1976.
“It's an amazing thing because the breadth of it, because of the years,” Bauerle said. “How many, that’s one thing, but that’s the sign of a good program. It's not one year or a couple years you’re good and a couple years you’re off, we’ve been good for a long time.”
What may be more impressive is what the Lady Bulldogs have accomplished during these 17 years, including more than 50 All-Americans, nine SEC championships and four national championships.
“We’ve been first or second 10 times in the last 14 years,” Bauerle said. “I always try to explain that in basketball terms to people. This would be like being in the final game 10 out of 14 years, and a couple other years just in the final four.”
For Bauerle, a streak of such prominence brings obvious enhancement to recruiting.
“I think it’s a great thing to be a part of,” Bauerle said.
However, some negative aspects are associated with a streak of this magnitude.
One of the largest concerns is added pressure on the swimmers.
“It's not really something that we like to talk about,” junior Shannon Vreeland said. “It's always in the backs of our minds. You don’t want to be a part of that team, the one team out of 17 years that messes it up.”
For this year’s seniors, a victory against Texas sealed the streak. However, come next fall, a new group of Lady Bulldogs will have to rise to the challenge of defending their home turf.
“I certainly don’t want to be that class that breaks it,” junior diver Ann-Perry Blank said. “I think that as a senior it's more special to have that win streak and I’ll be able to leave here saying I went four years and never lost a dual meet in my home pool.”
To combat the pressure the Lady Bulldogs try not to talk about it.
“Jack kind of brings it up once at the beginning of the year,” Vreeland said.
Fortunately for the ladies, they don’t feel much of a need to discuss it.
“I don’t want this to sound bad, it's kind of the norm for us to have that streak,” Blank said. “I feel like the only time we would talk about it is if we lost it, so that’s when it would become a big deal.”
For the sake of his seniors, Bauerle doesn’t waste much time looking ahead to next year’s toughest foes once the season ends.
“I look at next year’s schedule when we finish, which will be about April, and I’ll look and say ‘Well, I hope this goes well again,’” Bauerle said. “I’ll pinpoint the two or three that are going to be the ones that are going to be the biggest challenges and we’ll have it again next year.”
He does this, in part, because of the target that a streak of this magnitude places on the Lady Bulldogs. This target is ever increasing with the rise of social media, according to Bauerle.
“It used to be hidden, but with the way media is now with Facebooks and tweets and all that, it's out there in the swimming world…I sort of like when nobody knew and we just swam people. Then when they lost they didn’t feel so much like another victim,” Bauerle said. “It’s a good motivator for any school that comes in. I tell you what, if I was on the other end of it, I would have my team really prepared, I would like to be the one to knock it off.”
The target doesn’t hinder the Lady Bulldogs, however. Since the beginning, they’ve been beating some of the best teams in order to maintain the streak.
“The neat thing I think about the streak is…very likely that there were at least two teams in the top 10 every year that we swam in the streak, and there were at least four number ones that we had knocked off,” Bauerle said. “This year was no different, because Florida was ranked number one or two when we swam them and Texas was ranked number five when we swam…It’s a good streak, but it's also against very good competition.”
The ability to continue to beat the best in the country has little to do with any home-field advantage and isn’t even based on the talent of the women who have been a part of it.
“I think it's more a testament to the toughness rather than the talent. I think it’s a little bit of a combination,” Bauerle said. “I think if you’re talented, that serves you pretty well, but if you’re tough that serves you a lot better, particularly it means that toughness is the main attribute of our program.”
For Bauerle, the toughness that the streak embodies and that he has built his program around will be a major factor in defining his legacy when he decides to retire.
“I think it’s a little more important than I used to think it was because of what it represents and how many teams it represents,” Bauerle said. “It’ll be something down the road when all the dust settles and I’m hunting or surfing or playing tennis somewhere, it’ll make me feel pretty good, it’ll make me feel like we ran a good program with really good kids and actually special kids, and very special ladies.”