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No. 9 Irish host, open national championships Friday

Pat Leonard | Thursday, November 18, 2004

Finishing second in the Great Lakes Conference but penciled in during the preseason as the host of this year’s championships, the No. 9 nationally ranked Notre Dame men’s water polo team received an automatic bid into the CWPA national championship tournament and will play No. 3 Michigan at 9 a.m. Friday to begin the weekend.

The No. 16-seed Irish will look to hand the one-seed Wolverines revenge for an 11-9 defeat in a tournament at Miami (Ohio).

“They’ve got a very fast team,” junior captain Greg Szewczyk said. “They jumped out early with the counterattack on us. But once we shut down the counter attack and slowed down the pace of the game, we were able to come back.”

Notre Dame (13-8) played most of its regular season games in tournament mode, traveling to compete at Miami (Ohio), Toledo, Michigan State, Western Michigan and Northwestern already this season.

Fifteen conferences make the trip to nationals, with the host team getting the final bid. Teams are seeded by where their respective conference finished at nationals the previous season.

Eight losses is a hefty amount for a team in the tournament, and the Irish only qualified because they are this year’s host. But holeman Matt McNicholas, who plays a position comparable to center midfielder in soccer, said the team’s record is deceiving.

“Don’t be fooled by our record,” McNicholas said. “We’re 13-8, but five of those losses were by two goals or less. Four of them were by one goal against teams ranked in the top five nationally.”

Meanwhile, Notre Dame has outscored opponents 238-134. And the Irish were close to a conference championship before Grand Valley State scored a last second goal to win.

“We feel like we can play with anybody,” Szewczyk said.

The CWPA National Championships is a single-elimination tournament, but losing teams still play throughout the weekend to fill out the schedule and compete for consolation. If Notre Dame wins Friday morning, the Irish play their next match Saturday.

At No. 9 in the country, Notre Dame has achieved its highest ranking since 1999, when the Irish moved up to the program’s highest rank ever of seventh

The Irish and Wolverines splash at Rolfs Aquatic Center, or Gate 5 of the Joyce Center, at 9 a.m. Friday.