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Men’s Swimming: Trip to Puerto Rico provides escape for experienced squad

Megan Golden | Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Notre Dame traveled to San Juan, Puerto Rico, on Jan. 5, picking up its second Copa Coqui title in three years. The chance to escape the heavy South Bend snowfall was widely accepted by Irish swimmers, who got a taste of warm weather and Puerto Rican culture.

Throughout the four years the Irish have made the trip to San Juan, the Notre Dame Club of San Juan has played a large role in welcoming the team. During this particular trip, the club set up Sunday Mass and a dinner for the team.

“One of the things that keeps us in close contact with this group is the Notre Dame alumni club. The club in San Juan has been just wonderful for us,” Irish coach Tim Welsh said. “They roasted a pig and had a big pig roast dinner with members of the alumni club. The priest was an alum of Notre Dame, and his parents were there. It was a wonderful event.”

The Copa Coqui meet is named after male Coqui frogs, which are known for singing “ko-kee” during all hours of the night.

Welsh said the little frog has become the topic of conversation following this annual meet.

“When you’re in San Juan, you can hear those little frogs everywhere; they seem like they’re in the bushes and all over the place,” Welsh said. “The people in San Juan tell us that those little Coqui frogs are everywhere in the Caribbean, but they only sing in Puerto Rico. We don’t know if that’s true, but we like to tell that little story.”

The Irish had plenty of time to take in the sunny skies and high temperatures, staying at a resort near a local beach.

“Our hotel was right on the beach, so most of the team relaxed there or tried to catch some waves between practice,” senior co-captain Marshall Sherman said.

The team was also able to sightsee old San Juan, where there are many small shops and boats docked along the coastline. All team members had the chance to indulge in Puerto Rican cuisine and fried plantains were the popular food choice, Sherman said.

Despite the cultural experience, Welsh said his favorite part of the trip is always the training experience.

“We certainly enjoyed the weather; it was sunny and 80 [degrees] most of the days, which was absolutely wonderful,” he said. “The training is one of the reasons we go; the training is excellent. [It] gives good team morale [and] good energy in practice. We had practice in the ocean one day, and we had one morning where we trained on the beach. You can’t do that in South Bend.”

Big finishes from four Irish swimmers ended Notre Dame’s 10-day trip with a victory.

Sophomore Frank Dyer earned gold in the 100-meter free stroke event, while freshman Cameron Miller placed first in the 100-meter breaststroke race. Senior Petar Petrovic and junior Kevin Overholt added to Notre Dame’s success with gold medals in the 100-meter backstroke and 50-meter free stroke races, respectively.

The Irish dominated the meet with a first-place 78 overall points, while second-place Southern Illinois recorded just 33 points.

Unlike a typical week of practice in South Bend, Notre Dame’s swimmers and divers enjoyed the week together as a group. All training sessions and team dinners included the entire team, ultimately building team chemistry.

“One of the intangible benefits of this trip is it does unite and strengthen the group and tighten the spirit,” Welsh said. “You know that it’s happening, but you can’t put a finger on it. We live together, eat together, go to the beach together. The guys get along, [and] the morale and the spirit and the camaraderie is just excellent.”

Welsh said that the Puerto Rican adventure is not finished until the student manager participates in the team’s four-year long tradition. This year, diving coach Caiming Xie joined in and dove off the 10-meter tower twice.

“The manager jumps off the 10-meter tower right before we leave,” he said. “Guys love that and it’s just one thing we have fun with.”

The Irish will face Michigan State at Rolfs Aquatic Center on Saturday at 2 p.m.

Contact Megan Golden at [email protected]