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Men’s Swimming: Irish go for second straight Big East title

Dan Murphy | Tuesday, February 14, 2006

The Irish already have had a successful season, but they travel to East Meadow, N.Y. Wednesday to defend their Big East Championship crown in the most important meet of the year.

“This year we are the defending champions,” Irish sophomore swimmer Jay Vandenberg said. “That makes us stronger than last year. Once you have it, you don’t want to give it up.”

Vandenberg is out to defend his title in the 1,650-yard freestyle, in which he holds the school record time of 15:19.30.

The team feels last year’s experience will help its members deal with the added pressure of the championship style races.

“The team is ready to go,” said junior swimmer Tim Kegelman, who will compete in the 100 and 200 butterfly events. “With all the experience the team has, the younger guys will most likely thrive under the added pressure.”

Notre Dame will be under some added pressure in this season’s meet with the addition of Louisville and Cincinnati to the Big East, making the field of 11 teams the largest in conference history.

Big East officials also decided to allow an unlimited number of qualifiers for each school this year, which could be an advantage for a deep Irish squad. Notre Dame is sending 35 swimmers and divers to New York – 12 more than the maximum 23-man roster in last year’s victory.

“It is a decision to our advantage, [and] we anticipate having the largest team in the field.” Welsh said. “So if we are swimming well, look out. We’re going to score a lot of points.”

As the No. 21 in the country and the only ranked team in the conference, the Irish are confident that they will be able to do just that.

Pittsburgh, which Notre Dame held off earlier in the season in a 122-121 nail-biter, is the only other Big East squad to earn votes in the top 25. The Panthers also have some strong experience at the Big East finals, having won the previous eight tournaments before the Irish ended their streak last year.

“There will be some tough races but as a team I think that we have an extremely good chance of repeating,” Vanderberg said. “It’s hard for other teams to pull ahead of us because we are very deep in every race.”

The Irish are enjoying the confidence that comes with back-to-back 10-2 seasons and arguably the best talent in the program’s history. Welsh said the team has been loose and relaxed all week in practice.

“We don’t think we can get any more ready at this point,” he said. “It’s time to start.”