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Men’s Swimming: Notre Dame freshmen contribute to team’s early success

Chris Hine | Wednesday, December 6, 2006

The men’s swimming and diving team lost 10 seniors from last year’s Big East Championship team. The loss of such key team members could cause some squads to struggle while the younger recruits develop into top-tier swimmers, but not for Notre Dame.

A talented freshman class and the addition of transfer sophomore Jeff Wood have led the Irish to a 4-0 dual meet record and a No. 16 ranking in the College Swim Coaches Association of America (CSCAA) Poll – the highest in the program’s history.

“Everybody has assumed the roles we’ve expected them to fill during recruiting,” associate head coach Matt Tallman said. “Nobody has done less than expected.”

The highlight of the year for the new recruits occurred this past weekend at the Ohio State Invitational when freshman MacKenzie LeBlanc set a pool record in the 200-yard butterfly with a time of 1:48.36.

“Mac is a very talented, versatile, and fast swimmer,” head coach Tim Welsh said. “That was out team’s only win at that meet, and it was quite and accomplishment for him.”

LeBlanc is part of a handful of freshman that have already qualified for the 2008 Olympic trials, even before they came to Notre Dame. Freshmen Ray Toomey (second on the team in the 100-fly), Andrew Deters (third in the 1000-freestyle) and Tyler Angelo (third in the 100 and 200-breaststroke) are three other swimmers who will try to make the cut in Beijing.

“These guys have consistently been on a big stage their whole careers,” Tallman said. “They know what it’s like.”

Other new team members have made an immediate impact by posting the fastest times on the team in the respective events.

Freshman Sam Pendergast has posted the top times in the 100 and 200-breaststroke.

“We love Sam. Sam is a big, strong, powerful racer,” Welsh said. “He’s also very savvy and he’s been getting better and better.”

Fellow freshman John Lytle has posted top team times in the 50 and 100-freestyle.

“John is a kid that’s come in and worked his tail off,” Tallman said. “He’s setting himself up to be where we want him to be later in the season.

Lytle joined the Irish on the heels of a YMCA national championship last spring in the 100-freestyle.

“He’s done a great job for us all fall, and has been a great addition for us,” Welsh said. “We’re dependent upon him already.”

Sophomore Jeff Wood, a transfer student from Indiana, has stood out in the backstroke, posting the top times in the 50, 100, and 200-meter events. Wood posted these top times in the dual meet against Texas A&M, leading to event wins in the 100 and 200.

“One thing Jeff has contributed, along with his backstrokes, is that competitive drive to win,” Welsh said.

Not only does the future look bright for these swimmers in their individual events, but their performances in the relays also are an important part of the team’s overall success. Both Wood and Lytle have five relay wins this season and finished fifth along with Pendergast and senior Tim Kegelman at the Ohio State Invitational in the 400-medley relay.

“Out of 20 relay spots available, more than half are taken up by freshman,” Tallman said. “This proves the depth of the class and shows how they have contributed to the team.”