Irish head to first ACC championships
Conor Kelly | Tuesday, February 25, 2014
Notre Dame will find its place in its new conference when it travels to Greensboro, N.C., for its first ACC swimming championships Wednesday through Saturday at the Greensboro Aquatic Center.
“In a way, we have no expectations,” Irish coach Tim Welsh said. “We’ve not been to this meet before. We don’t have an identity in this meet, so we’re going there to establish what Notre Dame’s identity in this conference meet is.”
Last year, the Irish (5-5-1) captured a conference title at the Big East championship meet in Indianapolis in commanding fashion, earning a meet-record 991 points and outpacing second-place Louisville by 139.5 points.
This year, however, the team will compete against faster and stronger teams from the ACC, which boasts five top-25 squads.
Notre Dame divers got a glimpse of the conference’s strength last week, when they finished seventh in the diving portion of the competition and netted 78 points to carry into this weekend’s action.
“We saw last week, with the men’s diving and the women’s meet, that it is a very tough field, up and down, start to finish in every event,” Welsh said. “We expected that all year long, but seeing it happen last week is confirmation that the meet is going to be every bit as tough as we thought it would be.”
The format of the meet will also be on a larger scale than Notre Dame experienced in Big East meets, with 10 schools competing in the ACC compared to nine in the Big East, and the top 24 places will score at the meet this year, as opposed to the top 16 in previous years.
The competition consists of seven sessions over a four-day span, which is the longest meet the Irish have swum this season.
“The only way to approach seven sessions is one at a time,” Welsh said. “But we’ll go into it thinking that what we want is seven great sessions. … We understand about the endurance factor. We can only swim the event that is right now, but our focus will be on swimming on tonight’s event and preparing for tomorrow’s event.”
Even with the greater size of the meet, the Irish have many swimmers seeded at or near the top of their events.
Junior Zach Stephens has the fastest overall time in three of his events — the 200-yard individual medley and 100-yard and 200-yard breaststrokes — while senior Frank Dyer holds the top spot in the 200-yard freestyle and the No. 2 spot in the 500-yard freestyle.
Freshman Tom Anderson is slated first in the 400-yard individual medley, and junior John Williamson has the second-fastest time in the 100-yard butterfly.
Three Notre Dame relays — the 800-yard freestyle and 200 and 400-yard medley relays — each hold the No. 2 seed.
Though his swimmers have the potential to pick up many points if they finish as they are seeded, Welsh said their focus is on fast times that will help them advance to the NCAA championship meet at the end of March.
“Our emphasis is on the clock,” he said. “If we beat the clock, we’re happy, and if we beat it often enough, we’re going to like what the scoreboard says.”
Welsh said his team might even find inspiration at the meet from another impressive Irish swim last week — Notre Dame junior Emma Reaney’s American-record performance in the 200-yard breaststroke at the women’s ACC championship meet.
“It will spin off to help all of the women and all of the men,” he said. “We now know that you can set an American record training right here in our pool. We didn’t know that before, and that’s a glorious thing for us all to know.”
The Irish dive into ACC action Wednesday at the Greensboro Aquatic Center in Greensboro, N.C., through Saturday.