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ND MEN’S SWIMMING: Team races for Big East title

Rama Gottumukala | Wednesday, February 16, 2005

The hours of laps in early morning practices and heated swim meets are over. The light at the end of the tunnel is visible for the Notre Dame men’s swimming and diving team.

The No. 22 Irish (10-2) begin their pursuit of the Big East Championship title today, taking their show on the road for four days of competition at the Nassau County Aquatics Center in East Meadow, N.Y.

While the Irish sense their goal of a league championship in reach, they understand the challenges of competing on such a stage.

“Our focus for the season has been to see if we could win our first Big East Championship,” head coach Tim Welsh said. “For the next week, we need to focus only on what we can control and [that is] our performance. We’re paying no attention to the scoreboard and trying to race as well as we can in the morning and again at night.”

The Big East Championships involve a rigorous schedule spread out from Feb. 16-19. Starting with one session on Wednesday night, the Irish then will compete in two sessions per day on Thursday, Friday and Saturday. The morning sessions determine which swimmers advance to the evening’s final events with the opportunity to score points.

“The biggest challenge is to swim fast seven sessions in a row,” Welsh said. “We have to qualify in the right positions in the morning and then win the places at night.”

The stiffest challenge for Notre Dame will come from Pittsburgh, the eight-time defending conference champion. Last February, the Irish posted their highest-ever point total and finished second to the Panthers.

“Obviously we look at Pittsburgh as the defending champion and they have been the mark of excellence in our conference,” Welsh said. “But we don’t want to make the mistake of assuming this is a two-team race because maybe someone else is going to swim great. We want to swim as fast as we can seven times in a row and then say, ‘This is the best we can do. Can anybody beat this?'”

The Irish edged out the Panthers in their only meeting during the regular season. Winning by a score of 155-145, Notre Dame edged Pittsburgh in the 400-yard freestyle relay by 0.4 seconds for the victory.

The team’s depth that kept them close in the Pittsburgh win will again be a crucial factor in this week’s competitions.

“What makes us a contender is that we have a balanced set of entries in every swimming event and every diving event,” Welsh said. “If we’re going to swim well seven sessions in a row, it’s going to take every one of us and that’s the way it’s been all year.”

While winning the Big East title is their main goal, the Irish also would like to qualify swimmers for the NCAA Championships, which take place in March. Both goals of team and individual success intersect with the team’s performance over the next days.

“We have a team goal to win the Big East but we also want to send some swimmers to the National Championships as well,” Welsh said. “And the road to both of them is the same. We only get to do one or both of them by swimming faster than we ever have in our lives.”

The wait is over. A year’s worth of hard work has put the Irish in position to compete for the Big East title.

“It’s exciting to do something you’ve been preparing to do for a long time and we are fired up about that,” Welsh said. If it doesn’t work – if we swim faster than we ever have in our lives – and someone swims faster, we’ll say ‘Congratulations, nice going and we’ll try again next year.’ But swimming faster than we ever have in our life is what this meet is all about.”