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Irish hope to splash in New York

Matt Puglisi | Thursday, February 19, 2004

The Irish are ready. And they’re bringing all the necessary tools.The men’s swimming and diving team hopes to take home its first Big East title when it invades the Nassau County Aquatic Center in East Meadow, N.Y. to compete in the three-day 2004 Big East Championships Thursday through Saturday.”We’re going in there with a lunch bucket and a lantern because it is going to take us all day and all night,” head coach Tim Welsh said. “We’re going to keep working at it.”The squad has met with a significant degree of success at the annual meet in recent years. After finishing second in both 1999 and 2000, the Irish (8-7) have finished fourth each of the past three years, landing behind Pittsburgh, Virginia Tech and Rutgers. Provided that Notre Dame remains competitive, Welsh believes the Irish have a chance to make a splash in the standings and break the string of fourth place finishes. “We’re balanced and we’re deep,” Welsh said. “We have a lot of people at about the same speed and that makes us a very competitive team when the meet is at the same speed as we are. If we are in the meet, we’re going to be all over it because of that depth.”No. 16 Pittsburgh (12-1) looms as the biggest obstacle standing between the Irish and the Big East title. The Panthers feature seven divers, while the Irish will only send one. Pittsburgh looks like a solid bet to take home the crown for an eighth consecutive season.”Pittsburgh will have the strongest diving team in the field and is the opposite from us in the sense that they’re a team of power – we’re a team of depth,” Welsh said. “If you were handicapping the meet, you would say that Pittsburgh has the advantage, not only as defending champions but also on the year.”After stumbling out of the blocks to a disappointing 1-5 start, the Irish have been a different team in 2004, finishing 7-2 to preserve a winning dual meet mark for the seventh time in the past nine years. According to Welsh, several factors account for the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde semester record splits.”This is, without question, the toughest schedule we have ever faced,” Welsh said. “We were able to measure our progress against teams that have traditionally been on our schedule [second semester], whereas first semester we were racing against teams that traditionally were not on our schedule.”In addition to the strength of the schedule, Welsh points to the squad’s consistent improvement as a crucial factor not only in causing the turnaround, but also in sparking success this weekend.”We improved all year long,” Welsh said. “That’s been the key, and it will be the key this weekend, also.”