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ND surprises Pittsburgh

Rama Gottumukkala | Monday, November 15, 2004

Blink and you literally would have missed it.

The average human blink lasts 0.4 seconds. But when sophomore Tim Kegelman touched the wall ahead of Pittsburgh’s Darryl Washington last Friday, only .04 seconds separated the two swimmers in the decisive 400-yard freestyle relay. Point zero four seconds was all the time needed for the Irish to upset the eight-time defending Big East champion No. 17 Pittsburgh and give Notre Dame the biggest win in the 47-year history of the program.

“It was a huge win for us,” head coach Tim Welsh said. “It allows us to enter a whole new level. We have been close against some ranked programs before. But this is the first time we have won a dual-meet against a ranked opponent, so it’s at least the biggest win since joining the Big East [Conference].”

The victory gave Notre Dame (5-1) its first-ever win over a nationally-ranked opponent and the 155-145 victory snapped Pittsburgh’s 26-meet winning streak against Big East Conference foes. The Irish also defeated Michigan State 213-87 in the triangular meet.

In a late-meet situation that mirrored the one against No. 22 Brigham Young two weeks ago, the Irish found themselves leading 142-141 entering the final relay and needing a victory in the final event to win the meet.

“I think the fact that we have been there before and that we didn’t win helped us,” Welsh said. “The most important thing for us is that we did the last relay the right way. That was a very clear example of a little bit of experience helping us stay cool in a pressure situation.”

Making their competitive debut as a 400-yard freestyle quartet, Notre Dame’s relay team of senior Frank Krakowski, sophomores Louis Cavadini and Nick Fanslau and Kegelman snatched away the first-place finish with a time of 3:04.13 while the Panthers’ relay team came in just behind at 3:04.17. Krakowski, Cavadini and Fanslau swam very well in the first three legs of the relay, building a 1.12 second advantage when Kegelman took to the water.

In the final 50 yards, Kegelman faced the task of holding off a rapidly gaining Washington, an eight-time all-league honoree, who made up a large chunk of Notre Dame’s lead early in his leg. Washington got into a virtual tie in the final 10 yards but Kegelman’s fingers reached the touchpad just before his. Entering this weekend, just 13 Division I programs had fielded relays that had gone quicker than the time posted by Notre Dame’s match-clinching one.

“One of the most exciting things for us is that we’re learning to win close and it’s not easy to do,” Welsh said. “It was just an incredibly close meet and to the credit of our guys, they won those close races.”

The final relay capped a closely contested meet in which neither team was able to pull away for long. The two teams traded leads and neither was able to build up a lead of more than 15 points at any one time. Three of the races were decided by a total of 0.11 seconds.

“This is collegiate swimming the way it’s supposed to be,” Welsh said. “The races were close but spirited. They were competitive [and the] relationship between the two teams was at a very high level. There was great sportsmanship everywhere.

“In a real way, the big winner was collegiate swimming.”

Notre Dame captured victories in seven events and it was the team’s freestyle strength that led the Irish effort. Notre Dame held a decisive 78-34 edge in the six freestyle events.

Sophomore Ted Brown won both the 200 and 500 freestyle events to lead the Irish freestyle charge against the Panthers.

Brown’s winning time in the 200 freestyle was 1:40:45.

posted a winning time of 1:40.45 in the 200 freestyle.

a time that is tops in the Big East this fall and which ranks him 36th in Division I this season in that event.

Brown’s 500 victory, with a time of 4:34.77 came at a critical time as the Panthers had won four consecutive events and had taken a seven-point lead entering the 500. The Irish went 1-2-3 in the 500 race as Brown was followed by junior Patrick Davis (4:37.85) and freshman Jay Vanden Berg (4:38.04).

“There was no question that if we did not pick up major points in the 500, the meet was going to be over,” Welsh said. “That was a critical turning point for us and when it was followed by the win in the 100 butterfly, it was enough to rebalance the meet in our favor.”

Sophomore Louis Cavadini turned in the second best time of his collegiate career in the 50 freestyle as he took first in the event with a time of 20.92. Kegelman also brought home a victory in the 100 butterfly (49.17), a time that ranks as the best unshaved time in Irish history and tied for eight-quickest overall.

Other victories posted by Irish swimmers included juniors Doug Bauman (100-yard backstroke, 51.08) and Patrick Davis (1000-yard freestyle, 9:25.51). Davis put Notre Dame ahead for the first time in the meet with a convincing victory in the 1,000 free. His time also stands as the best unshaved time in school history and the fourth-quickest swim overall.

Pittsburgh, a perennial diving power, was able to claw back in the diving competitions. Sophomore Scott Coyle was Notre Dame’s top finisher in the diving competitions, taking fourth in the three-meter board and fifth in the one-meter competition. Freshman Sam Stoner took fourth in the one-meter competition.

Friday’s meet proved to be a worthy matchup between the two top finishers at last season’s Big East Championships. The win was the first for Notre Dame against Pittsburgh since Feb. 27, 1960, when the Irish beat the Panthers 66-29 in the Rockne Memorial Pool in just the second year of Notre Dame’s varsity program.

Friday’s win culminated an impressive stretch for the Irish that has seen Notre Dame compete with some of the top programs in the country. Last month, while on the road, Notre Dame entered the final relay tied 144-144 with No. 22 BYU before the Cougars prevailed. This time, though, the Irish delivered and brought home the win.

Notre Dame should be ranked in the next College Swim Coaches Association (CSCAA) Dual-Meet Rankings, scheduled to be released on Thursday. No previous Irish team has ever been ranked in this top collegiate swimming poll.

“Obviously, that’s the direction that we want to go,” Welsh said. “If we become ranked, it will be the first time we’ve ever been ranked. That again is going to help us to find the program at a higher level. It’s a total team event and the progress has just been total team progress all the way.”