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Men’s Swimming: Squad looks ahead to conference foes

Chris Doyen | Wednesday, February 20, 2008

After a 24-day layoff filled with physical and mental preparation, the Irish enter the pool in competitive action today when the Big East championships start at the Nassau County Aquatic Center in East Meadow, N.Y.

“It’s been quite a long layoff,” Irish coach Tim Welsh said. “But the focus has been wonderful. I think as we’ve tried to get everything sharpened up, we’ve made a lot of progress. We’re very optimistic.”

The Irish will seek their third conference title in four years. At last year’s meet, they were dethroned by West Virginia – who won by only 4.5 points.

Notre Dame exacted some revenge on the Mountaineers in its final regular season meet, the Shamrock Invitational, when it defeated West Virginia 219-150. In that event, as well as a victory over Pittsburgh in November and a loss to Louisville in January, Notre Dame got a chance to see its top conference competition up close.

Those three schools, along with Notre Dame and Cincinnati – last year’s fifth-place team – are expected to battle it out for the top spot Saturday, the final day of competition.

The defending champion Mountaineers will compete without many of last year’s key performers, but seniors Nick Delic and Kevin Donohue have shown quality leadership this season under the direction of new head coach Vic Riggs.

Louisville enters the meet as the only Big East squad with a national ranking and boasts a team that has been steadily gathering momentum throughout the season. The Cardinals hold the top conference times in 10 events, including all five relays.

Pittsburgh is a 19-time conference champion, and the Panthers placed fourth in last year’s meet. The Panthers are likely to challenge Notre Dame for the top positions in the diving events. Junior Alex Volovetski holds the Big East’s top score in the 1-meter dive, while senior Jeremy Stultz boasts the highest 3-meter score.

Notre Dame freshman Michael Sullivan swam the fastest 200-yard backstroke in the conference, while Irish junior diver Michael Bulfin holds the second- and third-best scores in the 3-meter and 1-meter boards, respectively.

“I think people are prepared, and I think they’re excited to swim their races,” Welsh said. “This is as wide open as the meet has been in several years, and places will go to the teams that swim the fastest. There is something very pure about that.”