Senior leadership propels Irish to strong season
Brenna Moxley | Friday, May 19, 2017
The Irish were offered a fresh start this season under head coach Mike Litzinger, who took over the men’s and women’s teams midseason last year. Notre Dame has not had a combined swimming program since 1995, and this was seen as the change needed to make the Irish serious contenders for the 2016-17 season.
Prior to winter break, the Notre Dame men’s team was 6-1, with their only loss coming courtesy of Virginia Tech. In mid-November, the Irish traveled to the Greensboro Invitational to close out the fall season in style. The team finished second out of eight teams, only bested by the defending ACC champions North Carolina State.
In January, the Irish defeated Iowa at home and bested Northwestern on the road the following day. Notre Dame then lost on the road at Louisville in a top-25 matchup, but bounced back the next day with a victory over IUPUI in Indianapolis.
The Irish gained serious momentum late in the season when the team hosted the Shamrock Invitational. The men’s team, then ranked No. 21 nationally, finished first in the tournament over a talented Wisconsin team.
The Irish then defeated Ball State in the Downstate Dual on the road, before ending the regular season with the Ohio State Invitational Tournament, in which the team managed several NCAA B-Cut times.The Irish are no strangers to swimming on the road; Litzinger designed the schedule to train his team for conditions characteristic of conference meets.
Litzinger was especially proud of the freshmen and sophomores, many of whom had their best performances of the season. However, he also mentioned seniors as having a huge impact for the squad.
“The leadership we got from this particular senior class is incredible,” Litzinger said. “One of our captains, [senior] Reed Fujan, did an unbelievable job along with the rest of the senior guys.”
In the postseason, the Irish claimed third at the ACC championships in Atlanta, the first top-three finish for the team since joining the ACC. Notre Dame shattered several team records in the process, including junior Justin Plaschka’s record in the 100-meter freestyle and junior Robby Whitacre in the 200-meter backstroke. Junior Joe Coumos claimed the program’s first-ever ACC championship in the 1-meter dive.
Notre Dame finished the NCAA championships 25th overall with a program record 29 points. The Irish boast a bevy of achievements this season, including four program records set at the NCAAs in the 200 free relay, 400 free relay and 50 freestyle, nine athletes sent to the NCAAs, third at the ACCs and a national ranking of No. 14 at the best point in the season.
Litzinger reflected on this season as being the best ever.
“It was certainly the best year that the men have ever had, led by [senior] Trent Jackson who is a first-team All-American in the 200-breaststroke. Our men jumped from seventh in the ACC in 2016 to third so Notre Dame is definitely on the map.”
Litzinger expressed optimism for the future of the program.
“The future is certainly bright,” he said. “We have a high-level recruiting class and we have really ramped up the competition for next season and are looking forward to the next challenge.”