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Men’s swimming takes 1st ever Big East Title

Rama Gottumukkala | Monday, February 21, 2005

It was never a question of when. It became a matter of how the Irish men’s swimming and diving team would leave its mark on the Big East Championships.That question was answered emphatically on Saturday, as No. 22 Notre Dame won its first-ever Big East Championship, eclipsing the rest of the field by 275 points. After all 15 Irish swimmers performed strongly in the Saturday morning preliminaries and advanced to the evening’s finals, it was a mathematical certainty the Big East title would be in the hands of the Irish by the day’s end.That didn’t stop the team from making sure their performance would be remembered. Scoring a meet-record 902.5 points to claim the title, Notre Dame ended Pittsburgh’s streak of eight consecutive Big East titles and capped off the most successful season in team history. Irish head coach Tim Welsh garnered Big East Coach of the Year honors for the second consecutive year.”This is one of the meets that we focused on for the entire season and this was the whole team’s goal,” Welsh said. “Winning this meet is what we’ve concentrated on all year long. To see it come through is really exciting and gratifying for all the hard work that the guys have put in.”The team’s performance was one for the ages. The results speak for themselves, as school records fell in both individual races and team relays. Eight Irish swimmers qualified for consideration to take part in the NCAA Championships and nine records were set by Irish swimmers over the course of the championship meet.”One of the hallmarks of this team is how balanced and how deep the team is,” Welsh said. “When you look at performances, we set University records in all five of the relays. That’s 20 swims at the same time in the same race that went well. That’s a real team performance and setting University records in all five relays is extremely rare. We’re really happy about that.”Eleven Irish swimmers qualified for All-Big East honors, many for multiple events – senior Frank Krakowski, juniors Doug Bauman, Tyler Grenda, Jamie Lutkus, Tim Randolph and Steve Shomberger, sophomores Ted Brown, Louis Cavadini, Tim Kegelman and Chris Zeches and freshman Jay Vanden Berg. The depth of the Irish attack was showcased in many of the relay and individual races throughout the four-day meet’s events. But nowhere was this more apparent than in the 200-yard individual medley, on the first day, and the 1,650-yard freestyle race on Saturday. Seven of the 16 swimmers in the 200-yard IM were Irish swimmers, who combined to outscore Pittsburgh 79-16 in the event. Kegelman finished first in the event, with a time of 1 minute, 49.62 seconds. Vanden Berg took first place in the 1,650 freestyle, leading an Irish contingent of five finalists, as he broke the University record with a time of 15:19.30 – more than 13 seconds faster than the previous record.”It’s very hard to overcome depth like that if you’re somebody else,” Welsh said. “When you look at our team there’s not a lot of difference between our fastest person and our third or fourth-fastest person. And when you can [race like that] 20 events in a row, it’s a really powerful force.”Despite a solid effort at the Big East Championships, the season does not end here for some members of the Irish squad. With strong performances across the board, Notre Dame was also able to register a number of swimmers for consideration to swim in the NCAA Championships, which will take place March 24-26 in Minneapolis.”What’s exciting as far as a program definition is that this is the highest number of B cuts we’ve ever had, including some relay B cuts that we have not had before,” Welsh said. “Whether they [qualify] or not, we know that as a program we’ve taken a giant step and we will be there at some point.”The Big East title puts one more notch on the Irish belt and adds another accomplishment to the team’s list of many. The Irish defeated a nationally ranked foe, then-No. 17 Pittsburgh, and also climbed the national polls themselves – both first-time occurrences for the team. But throughout the season, the team’s singular goal has been to win the Big East title. Finally, the Irish can cross that goal off their to-do list.”It is wonderful and exciting to set a long-range goal, work everyday to achieve it and then to actually achieve it at the right time,” Welsh said. “That’s a hard thing to do and we’ll always remember that this team did that. What characterized this team throughout the season was its team spirit, energy and support for one another, in addition to the hard work. “Those things made the season just especially memorable and really special. This is a wonderful team.”