Smoliga picks Georgia
Glenbrook South's Olivia Smoliga wins the 100-yard freestyle at the state meet on Nov. 19, 2011, in Winnetka. | Joel Lerner~Sun-Times Media
Updated: November 26, 2012 7:09AM
Olivia Smoliga wants to swim at the 2016 Olympic Games, and she believes Georgia’s swimming program is the best way to get to Rio de Janeiro.
The Glenbrook South senior has picked the Bulldogs over USC and Texas and plans to sign her scholarship papers Nov. 14.
“Once I got there, I knew I was committing there,” said Smoliga, who gave her verbal commitment to Georgia coach Jack Bauerle on Oct. 6. “I chose the program that will benefit my swimming the most. Jack Bauerle is such an amazing coach, and he’s also an amazing person.”
The Bulldogs are one of the top programs in the country and have been for decades under Bauerle’s direction. Georgia has won the last three SEC championships and has been the runner-up in the country in the past two seasons. The Bulldogs won the national title in 2005.
Bauerle, the program’s coach since 1979, has won four national championships and seven conference titles.
Led by Allison Schmitt, the Bulldogs were well-represented in the pool at this summer’s London Games. Schmitt, a redshirt senior, won three gold medals, one silver and one bronze. “Going to the next Olympics totally factored into my decision,” said Smoliga, who swam at this year’s U.S. Olympic Trials in Omaha, Neb., and nearly qualified in the 100-meter backstroke. “That’s my ultimate goal, and coach (Bauerle) said he will train me for the Olympics. Georgia has such a great history and legacy of producing swimmers, and I can’t wait to be part of that. It’s going to be fun.”
Steve Iida, Smoliga’s coach at the Glenview Titan Aquatic Club, said Georgia is a perfect setting for his star student.
“I didn’t tell her which one was the best or anything like that,” he said. “I strongly pointed out the positives and negatives of each school. I do think she will fit right in at Georgia.”
Before she heads to the Athens campus, Smoliga is getting ready for one more state meet. She owns four state championships and one state record, setting the mark in the 100-yard backstroke (53.43 seconds) in 2010.
Although Smoliga isn’t sure which events she will swim Nov. 16-17 at Evanston, she’s hoping to go after the national prep record of 51.53, established in 2010 by Rachel Bootsma, an Olympic gold medalist from Eden Prairie, Minn.
“This is my senior year, and I want to go out with a bang,” said Smoliga, who recently was honored as the state’s female swimmer of the year by Illinois Swimming. “I know it will be emotional for me.”