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Irish fall just short in Big East final

Greg Arbogast | Monday, February 19, 2007

Notre Dame achieved coach Tim Welsh’s goal of swimming lifetime bests at the Big East championships this past weekend, but it still wasn’t enough for the Irish to capture their third consecutive Big East title.

Heading into the final event of the four-day championships – the 400-yard freestyle relay – the Irish held a three-and-a-half point lead over West Virginia. The Notre Dame quartet of freshman John Lytle and seniors Louis Cavadini, Ted Brown and Tim Kegelman touched the wall in a school-record time of 2:59.59, but they were outdone by the Mountaineers, who finished the race in 2:56.21.

The victory gave West Virginia 40 points while Notre Dame’s third-place finish netted 32, which was the ultimate difference in the Mountaineers’ 765.5-761 defeat of the Irish.

“It’s crushing, but I don’t feel like we lost the meet as much as West Virginia won it,” Welsh said. “We had four guys set a school record in the last event, and it still wasn’t enough. What more can you ask of them?”

In addition to the 400-yard freestyle relay, Notre Dame set nine school records, 13 season-best times and six NCAA consideration times.

“We swam fast, and we raced well,” Welsh said. “If you look at anything other than the final score, we had a very good meet.”

Despite Notre Dame’s impressive performances, which included seven second-place finishes, the Irish did not win a single event. West Virginia took 12 out of the 15 events.

“[Not winning any events] played an enormous role,” Welsh said. “On the positive side, though, the fact that we almost won the title without winning a single event shows the emphasis we place on the team aspect. We’re team-oriented rather than superstar-oriented.”

Brown and Kegelman, especially, stood out on the weekend. Brown, who picked up three all-Big East honors on the weekend, finished his career at Notre Dame with nine such accolades. Kegelman, who also picked up three all-Big East honors, concludes his Irish career with a school-record 12 conference awards.

“They’ve been very dependable performers, and they go about things the right way,” Welsh said. “We’ve leaned on them ever since they’ve been here, and we’ll miss them.”

In addition to the senior leaders, the team’s underclassmen also raced well.

Lytle set school records in both the 100 and 200-meter freestyle. NCAA “B” cut times were posted by freshman MacKenzie LeBlanc (200-meter butterfly) and sophomore Sam Pendergast (100-meter breaststroke), and sophomore Daniel Rave achieved a NCAA consideration time in the 200-meter breaststroke. Juniors Jay Vanden Berg and Rob Seery, who both garnered all-Big East honors in the 1,650-meter freestyle, will also be back next season.

“We have a very good returning team, a very good incoming class, and we aren’t graduating any of our divers,” Welsh said. “We want some time to recover a little bit [from this weekend’s loss], but we think the future’s very bright for us.”