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Irish open season at the Stark Relays

Rama Gottumukkala | Friday, October 1, 2004

With a running joke that “the last easy day of practice was yesterday” pervading the locker room, there is an air of determination in the swimming program to surpass last year’s accomplishments and achieve new levels of success in the water. Both the men’s and women’s teams open the season today playing host to Evansville and then taking part in the Dennis Stark Relays later in the evening. Coming off successful seasons with first and second-place finishes for the men’s and women’s teams, respectively, in the Big East Championships, the bar has been set high for this year’s squads.”We’d like to move up and certainly improve on last year’s standing but I think we can have our best NCAA finish ever,” women’s coach Bailey Weathers said. “We’d like to win another Big East championship which I don’t think is a foregone conclusion.”Today’s Stark Relays pits the Irish against tough teams from Evansville, Illinois State, Valparaiso and Wisconsin-Milwaukee, a top 25 Division III team. With a mixture of solid teams to race against, Notre Dame will have an opportunity to test both its individual and relay lineups against different opponents. “It’s kind of a reality check for us,” men’s head coach Tim Welsh said. “We’ve been training for a month and [today] is going to be a reality check to ask ‘okay, where are we guys?’ And it will be good to measure ourselves against the clock and against an outside team.”Tonight’s dual meet against Evansville provides the Irish with an opponent they have not swam against since both teams were members of the Midwestern Collegiate Conference before Notre Dame joined the Big East in 1995. Although Evansville has a much smaller roster than the Irish, it placed fourth in the Missouri Valley Conference championships last spring and could pose some challenges.”It’s been a long time since we met them but what we know about them is that they’re a very solid team,” Welsh said. “They’re not as large as us numerically but if you compare their performance last spring with our performance last spring, it’s a pretty good match. We think Evansville will challenge us straight up and down the program.”The Dennis Stark Relays, a Notre Dame swimming staple event for the last 40 years, brings a fun atmosphere for the first relay test of the season. Consisting of 11 relays, the event includes a few unique races such as a “crescendo relay” that consists of a 50-meter leg, a 100-meter leg, a 200-meter leg, a 100-meter leg and concludes with a 50-meter leg.Expectations are high for this year’s meet after the men’s and women’s teams set eight and six meet records, respectively, en route to winning the team crown in last year’s Stark Relays.”We’d like to break at least four of the 11 [meet] records,” Weathers said. “That’s kind of been our average over the last few years.”With almost a month break between today’s dual meet and the third meet of the season, both Irish squads will have a solid chunk of time for improvement before facing their next opponents. Just don’t expect them to breeze lightly through those weeks.”Obviously we’ll want to adjust to what we see [tonight],” Welsh said. “But in the grand plan, training gets harder before it gets easier. We think that we’re a tuning team and that every one of the guys on the team can get faster.”The Irish will face Evansville at 4 p.m. and then take part in the Dennis Stark Relays at 6:30 p.m. in the Rolfs Aquatic Center.