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MEN’S SWIMMING: Irish open new year at 41st Starks Relays

Jack Thornton | Friday, October 7, 2005

When the defending Big East Champion men’s swimming team opens its season today at 6:30 p.m. at the 41st Dennis Starks Relay at Rolfs Aquatic Center, the exhibition atmosphere will give the squad an opportunity to gauge this year’s potential in a thrilling but relaxed atmosphere.

“It’ll be both exciting and laid-back,” head coach Tim Welsh said. “It’s exciting because it’s everybody’s first meet of the season, and it’s exciting because relays bring a lot of energy … and it’s laid back for the same reasons – because it’s that first meet of the year and everybody is just feeling out how they are and what they are like.”

The relay, which is named in honor of former Notre Dame swimming coach Dennis Starks, will feature Ball State, Cleveland State, Marquette, Oakland (Mich.), Valparaiso and Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

Walsh said those are some solid opponents, but his swimmers won’t be competing with the men in the next lane.

“I don’t mean this in the wrong way, but we want to race the clock,” Welsh said. “When we look at the meet from our point of view, we’re not looking at trying to beat a particular team, but rather racing the clock and finding out where we are and getting better.”

After winning its first-ever Big East Title and sending its first swimmer, junior Tim Kegelman, to the NCAA Championship in Minneapolis last year, the team is looking to build on its success in the conference and on the national level.

“We want to win Beg East again by even a larger margin of victory, and we’d like to send even more guys to the NCAAs at the end,” co-captain Patrick Heffernan said.

Welsh emphasized discipline as the key to achieving those goals.

“With getting faster there’s no magic word that will help you achieve that,” Welsh said. “It’s ‘Do we have the skill, do we have the desire, do we have the fitness, the heart and do we have the discipline?’

“If we improve enough, we’ll be Big East Champions. If we improve beyond that, we’ll send more than one to NCAA championship and more than that we’ll score for the first time at the NCAA championships.”

The squad will have to make up for the loss of graduating seniors Matt Bertky, Frank Krakowski, Dave Moison and Andrew Pittman. Nonetheless, experience and leadership should make up for any shortcomings as the Class of 2006 provides the men’s swimming team with 10 seniors.

“We want to take advantage of the leadership while it’s here,” Welsh said.

As the first contest of the season, Friday night will provide coaches with the opportunity to evaluate each individual swimmer, but special focus will be put on the freshmen.

“If this was a football game, everybody gets in; if this was a basketball game, everybody plays a quarter,” Welsh said. “What we’re looking for is how fit is everybody, how race-ready is everybody, what sort of skill level at racing speeds – do we start well, turn well, breathe properly? But emphasis will be on the freshman because we haven’t seen them race in this pool before.”

In addition to talent and the natural level of competitiveness, the incoming class will bring with it at least a smidgen of sibling rivalry. Three of the incoming freshmen have older brothers on the team, something that has never happened in the 21 years that Welsh has been coach.

“It’s kind of funny because we have quite a few freshmen, but this made assimilating them into the group a lot easier, because we’ve seen a lot of them at meets and practices, so they’ve added to the family atmosphere,” Heffernan said.