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MEN’S SWIMMING: Team dominates field, taking first place in three events

Joe Meixell | Friday, December 2, 2005

It was a night for redemption and recognition at the first day of the 11th annual Irish Invitational, as the men’s swimming team displayed its depth while dominating the field.

Notre Dame qualified 35 of its 39 preliminary entries for the evening finals, grabbing more than 40 percent of the point-earning spots and taking first place in three of the day’s six events. Overall, the Irish ended the day with 878.5 points – well ahead of Utah’s 474 and North Dakota’s 317.

“What you saw this morning, for one thing, was just another almost overwhelming example of how deep this team is,” head coach Tim Welsh said.

Strong individual performances were a recurring theme during the day. Jay Vandenberg continued his winning streak in the 500-yard freestyle, posting a season-best time of 4:29.72.

The Irish also had several swimmers post qualifying times for the Big East Championship.

Bryan Guarnier, Graham Parker and Dean Fernandez made “cut times” in the 200 individual medley (IM), while Patrick O’Berry and Brian Freeman qualified in the 500-freestyle.

“We’ve had wonderful results in the middle of the pack,” Welsh said. “Look at Brian Freeman swimming 4.34:95 in the 500-freestyle. And I don’t think he’s swam that before at Notre Dame, yet if you place that in context of our times this season, it’s pretty good.”

The Irish (4-1) opened the night with a solid win in the 200-freestyle relay, as Louis Cavadini, Tim Randolph, Nick Fanslau and Tim Kegelman shaved nearly four seconds off their season-best time.

Later in the night, the 400-medley relay team of Doug Bauman, Cavadini, Randolph and Kegelman also took first and shed nearly two seconds off its previous season-best time.

“It feels really good, especially just with Utah and North Dakota in this year’s field,” Randolph said. “Relays have been a weak spot for us. Usually, we’re very solid there, but in the first half of the year we’ve struggled in dual meets.”

Entering the meet, Notre Dame only had two relay wins in five deal meets.

“This season we’ve had a hard time winning relays,” said Cavadini, who also posted a season-best 21.04 seconds in the 50-freestyle. “But with the help of guys who were tapering and shaving, it knocked us up a level, and since we were winning it kept us out of our mellow state.”

The diving squad put up arguably its best performance of the year, with Sam Stoner taking second place with 328.75 points, Michael Bulfin earning fifth place with 305.65 points and Scott Coyle placing eighth with 276.46.

“Scott Coyle placing the top eight is great, and it’s good to see him doing that again,” said Welsh, who also compared the depth of the diving team to that of the swimming team.

Though the Irish Invitational is traditionally a venue for swimmers to qualify for the Big East Championship, this year it takes on new meaning for a team that has now qualified all but one of its swimmers for the February event.

“Last year the Big East put a squad limit on the team, so now you can only bring 25,” Cavadini said. “So for the guys that don’t go to the Big East [Championship], this is their big meet.”

The action opens up again today at 10 a.m. with the 200-yard medley relay, followed by the 400 IM, 100-butterfly,?200-freestyle,?100-breaststroke,?100-backstroke, three-meter diving and the 800-freestyle relay.

Welsh said there is still much work to do.

“The test is to go strong for six sessions,” he said. “As exciting as tonight is, getting back up in the morning [today] and doing it again Saturday is very tiring. And the experience we want to get each year from this is to go six sessions is a row right.