Irish dive into season with 50th annual Dennis Stark Relays
Henry Hilliard | Thursday, October 9, 2014
Notre Dame will begin its 2014 campaign in traditional fashion, as it hosts the 50th annual Dennis Stark Relays at its home Rolfs Aquatic Center this weekend.
The Irish finished third behind first-place Michigan and second-place Auburn at the meet last year. This time around, the Irish look to begin the season with a win.
“The Dennis Stark Relays has been the opening meet for the Notre Dame men’s swimming team since before any of the current team was born, so it is an honor to be a part of such a great Notre Dame tradition,” senior Matt DeBlasio said. “The first meet is always a great opportunity to see where we stand as a team. We like to keep the energy levels high and are looking for some quality times from the team.”
The Dennis Stark Relays will also mark the head-coaching debut of Irish coach Matt Tallman, who took over for longtime coach Tim Welsh after 13 years as an assistant in the program. In addition to replacing Welsh, this season’s unit must fill the gap of losing All-American Frank Dyer to graduation last spring, who was the team’s top finisher in both the ACC championships and the NCAA finals.
Though they retain senior All-Americans Zach Stephens and John Williamson, as well as nine other seniors including DeBlasio, this Irish team is marked by its youth.
“Our biggest challenge is definitely [going to be] in our sprint events, where the majority of our talent is in our younger classes,” DeBlasio said. “But our strength comes from a large 11-man senior class that brings a lot of leadership and experience to the pool deck.”
With eight freshmen joining the Notre Dame squad, the underclassmen will be thrust into contributing roles from the first meet. CollegeSwimming.com ranked the Irish freshman class as the 18th-best recruiting class in the country last spring.
“This meet is always a great opportunity for our freshmen to get up and race fast to show where they stand on the team,” DeBlasio said.
Inexperience, though, is not always a hindrance, as seen by the strong debut performance from now-sophomore diver Joe Cuomos. In his rookie season last year, Cuomos was the first Irish diver to qualify for the NCAA championships since 2008.
The relays bear the name of Notre Dame’s first men’s and women’s swim coach, Dennis Stark, who coached from 1964 to 1985. The inaugural meet, originally known as the Notre Dame Relay, was renamed in Stark’s honor in 2003.
After this weekend, the team will enjoy two weeks off before hosting Purdue on Nov. 1. The Irish dive team, however, will be back in action next weekend, as it heads south to face South Carolina and Georgia in Atlanta on Oct. 17 and then Auburn in Auburn, Alabama, on Oct. 18.
Notre Dame will start its season at the Dennis Stark Relays at Rolfs Aquatic Center on Friday at 5 p.m.