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Men’s Swimming and Diving: Bass awarded Most Outstanding Swimmer at Big East

Megan Golden | Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Less than a year after shoulder surgery, Irish junior Bill Bass found himself hoisting up an award for Most Outstanding Swimmer at the Big East championships Saturday. While Notre Dame had several unlikely heroes step up all season, few had predicted this particular standout performance.

Celebrating with his team after the Irish won the conference crown, Bass said he could not help but think of the people who got him to this point. He was at a loss for words, and coincidentally, did not have a voice to talk much about his accomplishment.

Although the Irish won the title, Bass said, the bus ride home was pretty quiet.

“Almost everyone on the team lost their voice,” he said. “It was just that we were in the pool area for so long, so many days in a row, and that combined with very exciting races and lots of yelling made everybody a little hoarse.”

Shoulder surgery last spring forced Bass to give up swimming until July. Extra time spent training late in the summer, he said, had him in fairly good shape for the season.

Bass said his trainer, Nikki Sperger, played a large role in his return to the pool.

“This season was very experimental in terms of training, what might work and what I was able to do in the pool. Finishing the season with one of my best meets ever was really satisfying and really speaks to the people who helped me through the injury and training process,” Bass said. “There’s no way I could have done as well as I did without the help of the trainers and my coaches who helped me all summer and through the season. Teammates, especially, helped me through encouragement [and] keeping up a positive attitude.”

Notre Dame’s annual training trip took place in January in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Just over a month ago, Bass said, he did not feel completely healthy.

“Before training trip, when training really gets tough, I thought that I was back to normal [health], but during that trip and up until Big East [championships], I struggled to finish long sets or do [butterfly] in practice,” he said. “Weights were also a problem for a while since I was so weak. I couldn’t go back into things too fast so that I didn’t worsen the injury, but I also had to be in good enough shape to swim well. It was a day-by-day thing.”

Bass said he was motivated all season by the confidence his teammates had in him, driving him to work hard to help reach the team’s goal of a title. That hard work ultimately paid off in a season-ending performance that no one — not even Bass — expected out of the junior from Chesterton, Ind.

“It was amazing. I was very surprised,” Bass said. “The guys were very supportive and were a lot more sure than I was that I had won [Most Outstanding Swimmer].”

It was encouraging and humbling to see teammates have confidence in both his and each other’s abilities, Bass said. Winning was a team effort.

The Irish finished first in the Big East championships last week with 887 points, edging out second-place Louisville, who finished with 859.5. Prior to the Irish victory, the Cardinals had control of the conference title for two consecutive years.

Bass earned gold medals in the 200-yard individual medley and the 100-yard butterfly, and finished third in the 200-yard butterfly.

Bass was also a member of the 200-yard medley, 400-yard medley, 200-yard freestyle relay and the 400-yard freestyle relay, all of which finished in second place.

“[Winning the Big East title] has been one of the goals of our team since I got to Notre Dame. The meet usually comes down to us and Louisville, and the past two years they’ve gotten the better of us,” Bass said.

“This year was a surprising win. We even doubted whether we could pull it off at times during the season. People really stepped up and performed, which is really inspiring to watch, especially when so much of the team is so young.”

With 16 freshmen and just seven seniors, Bass said expectations were raised for next year.

“[Having a young team] means we’re coming back with a team of hard-working, talented guys who are stronger, more experienced and who now know what it takes to win at a championship level.”

Contact Megan Golden at [email protected]