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MEN’S SWIMMING: Surging Irish hope for first-ever win at Michigan State

Joe Meixell | Friday, November 11, 2005

Road meets always present a level of unfamiliarity, but tonight’s match in East Lansing will provide Notre Dame with a few more unique opportunities than usual, both for individuals and the team as a whole.

“From what I understand, we as a program have never beaten [Michigan State] in their pool before, so we’re looking to go in there and get a win for the first time.” co-captain Patrick Heffernan said.

The timing seems just right for the fall of Sparta. The Irish come in ranked No. 18 in the country, with a 2-1 record in dual meets.

The team is also running on the momentum of its dramatic 122-121 win over Pittsburgh – Notre Dame’s first-ever win at the Panthers’ home pool.

Still, as evidenced at least once this fall, a victory over the Panthers is no sure sign of a win over Michigan State. The Spartans (1-2) have dropped their last two meets but have done so against the stiff competition of Purdue and Northwestern. Now they look to right their ship, and they hold home-pool advantage against the Irish.

The match will be the last in a string of three consecutive road meets for Notre Dame that started with the team’s own encounter with Purdue on Oct. 29.

“It’s tough being away from home. It’s not just physically tiring but it’s also a mental thing,” sophomore Jay Vanden Berg said. “It’s kind of tough not swimming in your home pool – that’s just something you like to do.”

The Charles McCaffree pool has only six lanes, meaning the Irish will have one fewer entry in each event than the normal four.

“In order to win a tough match on the road, you have to bring everything you have with you. You have to bring energy, technique, training, motivation, discipline, crowd and noise,” Irish head coach Tim Welsh said. “We always want to swim well on the road and one of the goals for the season is to win tough meets on the road.”

In other words, this win would be huge.

“It’s not a revenge factor as much as a measure of improvement. We want to improve enough so that we can win those tough matches on the road,” Welsh said.

In preparation for the Big East Championship at the end of the season, Welsh will be racing several of his swimmers in different events for the first time all season.

“At the Big East Championship at the end of season, most people will have three individual events, so we want to find out who they are, find out who might be on our relays this season,” Welsh said.

Players are allowed to swim in only two individual events during the regular season, but the limit is raised to three for the February Big East.

“Generally we’d like people to be able to swim three events so we could get more points,” Heffernan said.

One of the swimmers who the Irish will try to get a third event is Vanden Berg. Vanden Berg has destroyed the competition in his two distance events (500-yard freestyle and 1,000 freestyle), winning both races in every dual meet this year.

“He’s kicking butt,” Heffernan said of Vanden Berg. “Our distance core in general has been huge in helping us win the meets, but Jay in particular has been doing really well and he’s just been working really hard in the pool and in the meets.”

Vanden Berg’s latest victory hopefully set the tone for the Big East Championship.

“If you look at the 1000-yard freestyle against Pitt, [it was] his best time of the season. But also two of [the Panther swimmers] went 1 and 2 in the Big East last year, so it was an important win for him and just an indicator of how well Jay is doing,” Welsh said.

Welsh and the Irish hope Vanden Berg’s dominance will help the team to its first win in East Lansing tonight.