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Men’s Swimming: Irish upend Pittsburgh with dramatic rally

Jack Thornton | Monday, November 7, 2005

The Irish men’s swimming team showed incredible resiliency Friday night, putting together a thrilling rally over Big East rival Pittsburgh to take the meet 122-121.

Down 119-107 entering the final event, Notre Dame had no margin for error, but the Irish proved they’re more accurate than a Zogby election-day poll. The ‘A’ team of of Louis Cavadini, Alan Carter, Nick Fanslau and Tim Kegelman took first with a time of 3:06.35 while the ‘B’ squad of Ted Brown, Chris Barnes, Rob Seery and Tim Randolph took second at 3:06.81, giving the Irish 15 of 17 possible points and the victory.

“I was diving right next to the guy from Pitt, and I knew it was going to come down to him and me, and I just knew I wasn’t going to let him to win,” Randolph said. “After I touched the wall and before I put my fist in the air, I looked around to see all the fans, the coaches and all the Notre Dame people were going nuts. It was just an amazing feeling.”

The win puts the No. 18 Irish at 2-1 for the season in dual meets.

“What we’ve wanted to do is to learn how to win a tough meet on the road and even though it was very, very close and the difference was only one point, nevertheless we got a tough win on the road,” head coach Tim Welsh said.

Knowing the Irish had to go 1-2 in the final event, Welsh split up the two relay teams so that they would be as close as possible.

“They’d either both win or both lose, that was our strategy,” Welsh said.

The fact that the Irish won the final event (and the eight swimmers finished between :46.09 and :47.19) is a testament to the balance on the team.

“Certainly a win like this solidifies the group and it also verifies that all along we’re a team of balance and a team of depth, and it took every single one of us – we didn’t have any extra points,” Welsh said.

Along with the mental focus of the team as a whole, strong individual performances were a key part of Friday’s victory. Six swimmers had season-best times, including Jay Vandenberg, who won the 500-yard and 1,000-yard freestyle events for the third meet in a row, and Brian Freeman, who had season best times in the 200-yard backstroke and 200-yard freestyle.

“Even after the big win against Texas A&M and a tough loss like Purdue, we know every week we need to get back to work,” Lutkus said. “Every week we’re training harder, and if we train hard, we’re gonna keep putting up better times and it’s not gonna stop this weekend.”

The Irish came out strong in the first four events of the night to take a 41-33 lead. On the strength of solid one-meter diving, the Panthers took the 60-52 advantage after six events and stretched into a 21-point lead (114-93) with only two events to go.

With only 36 available points left in the match, freshman Daniel Rave cashed in a huge performance, beating out Pittsburgh’s Warren Barnes by five-hundreths of a second in the 200-yard breaststroke while Graham Parker and Tyler Grenda placed third and fourth, respectively, to bring the Irish to within 12 points entering the final event.

“We knew our strengths going into the meet, and we knew we’d be strong at the end of the meet. I think the guys definitely were a little worried but we never lost confidence,” co-captain Jamie Lutkus said.

The Irish entered the meet coming off a definitive loss to higher-ranked Purdue.

“After coming off of Purdue, we were really down because we could’ve preformed a lot better in West Lafayette,” Randolph said.

“But to beat Pitt and the way we did is gonna give us a lot of momentum going into Michigan State and in the Notre Dame Invitational before Christmas break.”

The meet held extra importance for the two schools since Notre Dame broke Pittsburgh’s eight-year run of Big East conference titles last year.

More than 700 people were in attendance at Trees pool in Pittsburgh.

“Pitt, to their credit, they swam very well,” Welsh said. “They swam faster than they swam last week and faster than they swam against us last year. What’s great about this rivalry it’s very high competition and it’s great sportsmanship.

“This is college rivalry the way it way its supposed to be; college athleticism at its best.”