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Men’s Swimming: Irish look for revenge, conference title

Greg Arbogast | Wednesday, February 14, 2007

When No. 19 Notre Dame takes to the pool Wednesday morning in East Meadow, N.Y. for the start of the Big East Championships, it will enter as the two-time defending champions – just don’t tell that to the Irish.

A loss to No. 17 West Virginia earlier this season at the Shamrock Invitational bruised Notre Dame’s image as the top team in the Big East, and it left the Irish feeling they have something to prove.

“The result of losing to WVU turned us from defending a title to challenging for one,” Irish coach Tim Welsh said. “We know we have to challenge for the meet, and we find that a pretty motivating experience.”

Judging by their record, defeating the Mountaineers will be an arduous task. West Virginia has left opponents in its wake on its way to a 13-0 dual meet record and a first-place finish in the Maryland Invitational. It is worth noting, however, that Notre Dame is the only ranked team the Mountaineers have faced this season.

“West Virginia is a very strong team,” Welsh said. “They sprint very well. Four of their five relays are excellent, and they have the top seed in almost all of the races this weekend.

“We have more depth [than West Virginia] in some events, especially in the middle and long distance freestyle and diving events. If we compile a lead in those events, we might be able to hold them off, but it’s going to take great swimming on our part.”

The Irish will likely rely on a combination of youth and experience in their quest to take home their third consecutive Big East title.

Notre Dame has nine swimmers and divers who have garnered all-BIG EAST accolades at past Big East Championships.

Leading the way for the Irish will be junior Jay Vanden Berg – the two-time defending Big East champion in the 1,650-yard freestyle as well as the 2005 Big East champion in the 500-yard freestyle. Senior co-captain Tim Kegelman will also look to replicate past success at the Big East Championships. Kegelman, a nine-time all-Big East performer, won the 100-yard fly, 200-yard fly and the 200-yard IM in 2005.

“[Our past success] certainly gives us some history and some confidence based on that history,” Welsh said. “It’s important not to rest on our laurels though. We want to do it again.”

In addition to its experienced swimmers and divers, Notre Dame will need strong performances out of many team members making their first appearance for the Irish at the Big East Championships, and Notre Dame’s freshmen have been up to the challenge so far this season.

Andrew Deters (1,650-yard freestyle), John Lytle (100-yard freestyle) and MacKenzie LeBlanc (200-yard fly) all hold the fastest team times in their respective events. Welsh described the role these swimmers would play this weekend as pivotal.

“We have a lot of freshmen in key positions,” Welsh said. “We just want our freshmen to do what we want all our other guys to do, something we’ve been working towards all season, and that’s swim lifetime bests.”