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ND Women’s Swimming: ND overcomes adversity in coach’s absence

Megan Golden and Vicky Jacobsen | Friday, May 20, 2011

The Irish endured a chaotic season, as they relied primarily on senior leadership without a head coach alongside the team and fell short of extending their 14-year winning streak in the Big East championship.

Irish coach Brian Barnes left the team for personal reasons, and the swimmers practiced with volunteers and assistant coaches for the remainder of the season. Senior co-captain Kellyn Kuhlke said the seniors had to lead the team through adversity, which ultimately brought the women closer together.

“We had to make sure girls were okay and enjoying their time at Notre Dame, and we wanted to make sure their voices and concerns were still heard,” she said. “We basically served as the liaison between the coaches and players and made sure that communication was open and strong.”

Notre Dame took advantage of an early-season meet to evaluate team members and define the roles of every individual contributing toward the team’s main goal: a trip to the NCAA championship.

“[The meet] showed what work we had to do to achieve goals we thought we could achieve,” Kuhlke said. “Our goal was to achieve beyond what we had in the past, and we continued to get better every day. We wanted to get more people to NCAAs and to score higher at NCAAs.”

Overall, the Irish experienced success in the pool, and their meet at Northwestern demonstrated their hard work and senior leadership. Training without a coach for an indefinite amount of time can be stressful, Kuhlke said, especially for the freshmen on the team.

“Our meet at Northwestern [brought us together],” she said. “We came back from Hawaii, and we were jetlagged and tired from our training trip. It was one of the last meets leading up to our resting time before Big Easts, and the team had a lot of momentum, good energy and a good vibe.”

Meanwhile, the Irish divers shone in the deep end of the pool.

Sophomore Jenny Chiang and senior Heidi Grossman were especially impressive at the Big East Championship. Chiang claimed her second consecutive 3-meter diving title and finished second overall in the 1-meter diving competition, while Grossman came in third in both events.

Chiang and Grossman closed out the season with top-25 finishes in both the 1-meter and 3-meter events at the NCAA Zone Diving Championships. Chiang took 12th place in the 3-meter competition and 14th in the 1-meter competition, while Grossman finished in 22nd in the 1-meter and 17th in the 3-meter.

Chiang also competed on a national level at the USA Diving winter national championships. After finishing second in the preliminary round of the 3-meter competition, Chiang finished 29th in the quarterfinal round.

Chiang said that competing in the meet was a great experience despite her disappointing second round dives.

“There’s so many good divers there, so it’s a good meet to motivate you to do better and work harder,” Chiang said.

The Irish sent two swimmers, senior Samantha Maxwell and sophomore Kim Holden, to the NCAA championship meet. Maxwell, who made her fourth Big East championship, finished in the top 40 in the women’s 200-yard breastroke.

The Irish failed to win a 15th straight Big East title when they finished second to Louisville, but despite the heartbreaking end to the seniors’ careers, Kuhlke said the teammates will remain life-long friends and supportive alumni.

“I have great friends; our bond will last forever,” she said. “Losing senior year was not something we thought would happen or something we ever wanted to happen. With the things we went through—good and bad—our class is competitive, has a lot of heart and wants to see things go in a good direction.”