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Men’s Swimming: Irish capture third Big East title in four years

Chris Doyen and Ellyn Michalak | Monday, February 25, 2008

Notre Dame captured its third Big East championship in four years this weekend at the Nassau Aquatic Center in East Meadow, N.J.

After a close loss in last season’s conference championship, Irish coach Tim Welsh, who won his 30th league title, said the team was hungry for this meet since last year.

“Everyone who was at the meet last year knew what it felt like to be 4.5 points short,” Welsh said. “We didn’t want to have that feeling again. And so this year’s meet really began one year ago.”

Heading into Thursday’s competition, the Irish trailed by six points (74-68) to Louisville, but Welsh was confident in his teams abilities.

“We were very happy with Wednesday,” Welsh said. “There were only two relays, and Louisville was seeded first in both of them, and we won one of them. So our confidence was high.”

After Thursday’s competition, the Irish sat in first place with over 300 points, in front of Louisville (222) and Pittsburgh (166.5). The diving squad secured two of the top three spots on the one-meter board to earn points for their team.

While Pittsburgh junior Alex Volovetski captured the title, Irish junior Michael Bulfin and freshman Eric Lex finished right behind.

“The diving work was tremendous, and it gave us a big advantage,” Welsh said.

Once again the Irish 200-meter freestyle relay team performed well, taking second place. Sophomore John Lytle, sophomore Andrew Hoffman, junior Sam Pendergast, and freshman Joshua Nosal clocked in at 1:21.94.

The Irish 400-medley placed third Friday and sophomore Andrew Deters and freshman Michael Sullivan grabbed fourth and fifth place, respectively, in the 400-individual medley race. Other top 10 finishers included sophomore MacKenzie LeBlanc and freshman Patrick Augustyn in the 100 fly, Pendergast in the 100 breast, and senior Andrew McKay in the 100 back. Lytle and junior Danny Lutkus also captured second and third place in the 200 free.

At the end of the day, Notre Dame led Louisville 531-421.

Although already leading by 110 points, the Irish proved they wanted to win big. By the end of the tournament, they accumulated 820 points. Louisville was the closest team behind them, with a score of 615.

The day began with Deters taking second place and setting a school record in the 1650 free with a time of (15:12.91). LeBlanc and sophomore Ross Moore took second and third in the 200 fly. LeBlanc, in fact, broke the school record for the event that was previously held by Moore.

Sullivan snagged fourth place honors in the 200-backstroke, while divers senior Sam Stoner and Bulfin dominated the three-meter board taking second and third place.

The 400-freestyle relay team also set a school record taking second place with a time of 2:59.05.

Welsh said the team’s goal was to simply swim as fast as possible in all seven sessions – and the Irish did just that.

“We tried to look at the scoreboard as seldom as possible and focus on swimming faster than we had all year,” Welsh said.

The day was a success for Welsh in another aspect as well – he was named the league’s coach of the year for the fourth time in his career. Welsh was quick to point out that while the award might be called “coach of the year,” it goes out to the entire staff, which consists of diving coach Caiming Xie, associate head coach Matt Tallman, assistant coach Josh Skube, along with Welsh.

“It’s a sign that we’re working together really well and that it’s a good staff,” Welsh said.

From here, some swimmers will turn toward preparation for their respective countries’ Olympic trials, while the divers will focus on the upcoming NCAA zone diving meets. After that, training for next year will resume soon, Welsh said.

“Swimming is a year-round sport,” Welsh said. “We won’t resume training tonight, but it will be soon enough.”