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Men’s Swimming: Irish divers aid in team’s title hopes

Joe Meixell | Thursday, February 9, 2006

The Irish ended the regular season ranked No. 19 in the nation – highest among Big East teams – and are favored to repeat at the Big East Championships in New York next week. And while the swimmers may get most of the headlines, Notre Dame (10-2) wouldn’t be here without the recent resurgence of the diving squad.

“Diving is a very important part of the dual-meet season and it’s going to be an important part of championship season,” Irish head coach Tim Welsh said. “[Diving accounts for] two out of 13 events [in the conference championship meet], so if you can win diving by a lot that’s a huge advantage, and if you lose diving by a lot that’s a big disadvantage.”

Out of 380 possible dual-meet points this season, the young Irish team garnered 197 total points, including a crucial 29 out of 38 in a two-point team victory at Michigan State Nov. 11.

But diving hasn’t always been such a large factor in the team’s success. After graduating three divers from the class of 2003, the men’s team had only one diver on the roster for the 2003-04 season – then-freshman Scott Coyle.

“They hadn’t gone out after divers in their recruiting, so I was the only freshman,” said Coyle, who is now a junior. “I pretty much got thrown into a situation where I was the only guy. It was a big challenge for a freshman, but it was also a great learning experience. And I got myself acclimated to the college diving experience.”

Coyle won five events late in the regular season as a freshman and made a statement at the Big East Championships that year, finishing fourth in the three-meter board.

“It put a lot of weight and pressure on Scott, and he did really real well,” assistant coach Matt Tallman said. “But even if he wins, and the other team puts up three divers, points-wise it’s a tie. So if he doesn’t win, we’re already behind.”

The men’s and women’s divers practice together, so Coyle was the only male among several female divers who trained under diving coach Caiming Xie.

“It was really a great experience,” Coyle said. “I couldn’t have asked for a better experience and better one-on-one attention. It was tough sometimes because everything was looked under a microscope but in diving, where everything is about perfection.”

Since then, Coyle has been surrounded with a talented sophomore class of Sam Stoner, Steven Crowe, Chris Kane and Mike Maggio, as well as freshman Michael Bulfin.

“Though they sometimes change the order of finish, it’s usually a freshman or sophomore who wins the event,” Welsh said.

Coyle has relished his newfound company.

“I love it. It’s great not having all the pressure on your shoulders … and in practice we compete a lot, making us a lot better,” Coyle said. “Having the competition is the best thing for pushing it to the next level.”

With less of the scoring burden on his back, Coyle has been able to focus on helping the underclassmen.

“I think he’s been very helpful to the divers … helping them with technique, almost like a coach,” Welsh said. “Scott’s role is far more important than his points alone, although those are important too.”

With only one upperclassman on the squad, Coyle’s assistance to the young divers’ accomplishments indicate an even brighter future for the group.

“My goodness, [the divers have] improved dramatically and they’re learning new dives all the time,” Welsh said. “We think the improvement will continue, and they have plenty of time to do that.”