The Daily Gamecock

Gamecock swimming and diving look to take steps forward as Poppell era begins

<p>Fifth-year freestyle swimmer Tamas Novoszath in the pool for the Gamecock swimming and diving team.</p>

Fifth-year freestyle swimmer Tamas Novoszath in the pool for the Gamecock swimming and diving team.

After finishing towards the bottom of the SEC last season, a culture change became apparent within the South Carolina swimming and diving program. 

It began with cleaning house and hiring an entirely new coaching staff. 

In need of a swimming and diving head coach with experience and a solid track record, the Gamecocks hired Jeff Poppell in early April. Additionally, the program brought in Dale Schultz to be the next head diving coach. 

Poppell, who previously spent five years at Florida, said he accepted the position to make a difference. 

"Ultimately, it was my decision to leave (Florida), to come here to try to help this program, help this university do something in the sport of swimming and diving that hasn't been done in a long, long time," Poppell said. 

Hearing the news of the coaching staff changes, fifth-year freestyle swimmer Tamas Novaszath was excited to come back for his final season at South Carolina.

"I am nothing but grateful for all my previous coaches. I would not be here at South Carolina if it weren't for coach (McGee) Moody and coach (Mark) Bernardino," Novaszath said. "However, I think I needed a change, a fresh start, to be able to move forward with my swimming career."

Novoszath, who has a friend at Florida that swam for Poppell, said he heard great things about him, and was "super excited" to train under him.

"My friend at Florida told me coach Jeff's training philosophy is very similar to the one we have back in Hungary, and I feel like that's the mentality that I was looking for — I was missing in the past four years," Novoszath said. "That's why I think I wasn't able to reach my full potential here, and so when I heard he was being hired, I was super excited to stay one more year."

In Poppell's debut, the Gamecocks picked up a win over Gardner-Webb, as the women won 222-68 and the men won 192-75. 

Poppell said winning the meet presented the opportunity to continue to evaluate the team and gave them a good idea of how much more work needs to be put in moving forward. 

"We're still trying to learn our team and that's for the last five months that I've been here. It's all about evaluating what we have and then trying to determine what we need to do to take those steps to climb within the SEC," Poppell said. "That meet was part of that evaluation because it was the first competition that we've had with these athletes, and although we've seen a lot in training since school started, competing is something completely different." 

Meanwhile in Tucson, Arizona, freshman diver Sophie Verzyl competed with Team USA and won a bronze medal in the one-meter springboard at the Junior Pan American Championships. She scored a 369.70 to secure the third-place victory.

"It was awesome. Everyone was so supportive and it was such a high level of diving there that it was just so uplifting, and I felt I could dive my best because I was training alongside [her competitors]," Verzyl said. 

Verzyl, a Columbia native, said she holds herself to high expectations and feels pressure to be successful at South Carolina. 

"We're expected to do really well and be in the top of the top," Verzyl said.

Though he tends not to set goals, Poppell said he is still trying to figure out the team, but knows the only way to go from here is up. 

"I tend to focus a bit more on the process — coming in day to day and making sure we're taking care of what we need to take care of to get better as a program and get better individually," Poppell said. "Where that puts us at the end of the year is where it puts us. I tell people all the time, I think after year one we have a much better opportunity to kind of set goals of where we want to be at the end of the season." 

South Carolina will travel to Athens to take on Georgia on Saturday. The meet will begin at 11 a.m. in the Gabrielsen Natatorium. 


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