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Men’s Swimming: Drowning the competition

Jack Thornton | Monday, February 20, 2006

The Irish blew the competition out of the water this weekend in East Meadow, N.Y., as the men’s team captured its second consecutive Big East Championship.

The Irish won by 224.5 points (809-584.5) over second place Pittsburgh, a smaller margin of victory than last year’s surprising 275-point spread. Nonetheless, the Irish left no doubt about it in dominating the other 10 Big East opponents.

“We won by a lot last year and that surprised a lot of people, but we’re better this year,” sophomore Jay Vanden Berg said. “The training is better, the attitude is better and the confidence was better, because we were returning champions, and I had a feeling that we were going to kind of run away with it.”

The squad jumped out to a 12-point lead after the first day, stretching that into a 77-point lead after day two and producing a comfortable 127.5-point margin heading into the final day. Despite the lead, junior Ted Brown wasn’t about to coast to the podium.

“Halfway through the meet we realized that we pretty much had the meet in hand, and in order to keep the intensity going, we challenged ourselves by looking at the timing board to get personal bests, and with that goal in mind we were able to continue the intensity throughout the weekend,” Brown said.

Not content with defeating 10 conference opponents, the squad set 20 season best times, including seven Notre Dame records.

Vanden Berg broke the school record in the 1,650 yard-freestyle with a time of 15:15.99. Brian Freeman set the new 800 freestyle mark, while Doug Bauman (200 medley), Tim Randolph (100 breaststroke) and Jamie Lutkus (400 individual medley) set new records. Vanden Berg also broke the old 500 freestyle record and beat the 1,000 freestyle mark during his 1,650 freestyle race.

“I was thrilled to win last year, and at that point I said to myself, ‘Maybe this is something I can do four years in a row, just to see if I can do that,’ and it’s a big encouragement to win it the second year because I’m halfway there,” Vanden Berg said.

A total of 20 All-Big East honors were given to the Irish, with Doug Bauman and Vanden Berg each netting three. Bauman’s trio gave him eight for his career, while junior Tim Kegelman’s award in the 200 medley moves him into a tie for the school career-record with Ray Fitzpatrick at nine.

The conference title is head coach Tim Welsh’s 18th since coming to Notre Dame in 1985, and his second in the Big East. All year, Welsh has talked about his team’s depth, and that aspect came into play again last weekend as the Irish dominated the competition despite placing first in only four events.

“Coming into the season, one of our team goals was to repeat as Big East champions and finally standing on the podium Saturday night as champions there was a feeling among us all of great accomplishment, because we did this as a team,” Brown said. “It wasn’t so much one individual, but it was the group collectivey that really stepped up, not only this past weekend … but throughout the season.

“And I really think the team aspect really describes us best, because when we’ve had our most success, we’ve done it as a team.”

Diving coach Caiming Xie was named Men’s Diving Coach of the Year, as two of his divers – Michael Bulfin and Sam Stoner – grabbed all-Big East Honors. Bulfin and Stoner are only the second and third divers in Notre Dame history to earn the award.

The season isn’t necessarily over for nine swimmers in seven different events who qualified for NCAA “B” cuts. The list includes Jace Hopper (1,650 freestyle), Kegelamn (100 fly), Lutkus (200 individual medley and 400 individual medley), Tim Randolph (100 breast), Vanden Berg (1,650 freestyle and 500 freestyle) and Brian Freeman, Ted Brown, Rob Seery and Louis Cavadini in the 800 freestyle relay. Making “B” cut means the swimmer is eligible for consideration to compete at the NCAA Championships March 23 in Atlanta, depending if there are any spots left.

Welsh could not be reached for comment Sunday.