Oct. 5, 2017
By Leigh Torbin
NOTRE DAME, Ind. – Ranked No. 17 and 25, respectfully, in the preseason CSCAA polls, the Notre Dame men’s and women’s swimming and diving teams are jumping head-first into one of most challenging schedules ever this weekend. The season opens with the annual Dennis Stark Relays on Friday night and then intensifies immediately as Notre Dame’s first dual meet comes at 11 a.m. on Saturday against a top-10 foe in No. 7/9 Louisville. Both meets will be held at the Rolfs Aquatic Center with free admission.
The two events are the first in a quintet of season-opening home dates for the Irish which will see Notre Dame face No. 15/5 Texas A&M along with representatives from the Big Ten (Michigan State) and ACC (Georgia Tech).
Dennis Stark Relays
Friday evening will see Notre Dame face off against a quartet of foes, Indiana State, Louisville, Oakland and Olivet Nazarene in nine relay races and a pair of diving competitions. The event features several unique and fun events, such as a series of 300-meter relay races and diving competitions of both the relay and synchronized varieties.
Notre Dame won last year’s event for each gender, sweeping all 22 events in the process. On the women’s side, Notre Dame’s 154 points were most closely challenged by Bowling Green (98) while the men’s team’s 154 points comfortably outdistanced second-place Oakland (90).
“Opening the season with this Relay meet named for coach Stark represents many things for our team at Notre Dame,” head coach Mike Litzinger said. “Honoring our first coach, working together in a unique relay format as a team, and of course marking the beginning of our competitive season. Coach Stark believed in working together as a team to bring out the best in individuals, and having this meet as our first highlights that philosophy.”
Former BIG EAST foes reunited in the Atlantic Coast Conference, Notre Dame and Louisville will swim alongside together on Saturday afternoon to open the dual meet portion of the season. Unlike Friday’s relays, the Louisville meet will have a more conventional 32-event format.
“It’s really exciting because their men and women are both ranked in the top 10,” Litzinger said. “For us to face that kind of opponent so early is a little unusual but exciting. We’re going to know where we stand in the league and nationally right away. It’s going to be a fantastic test to see this high level of competition early in the season.”
The Cardinals swept a dual-meet from the Irish on January 20 in Louisville with the men winning 179-121 and the women winning 160-140. Notre Dame’s men’s team’s third-place ACC finish was just a narrow step behind second-place Louisville in February at the ACC Championships.
It is the first time the Irish will play host to an ACC school since a Nov. 7, 2014, tri-meet with Pittsburgh and Virginia Tech. Ahead of the conference championships in February in Greensboro, North Carolina, Notre Dame will get two more advance dual-meet looks at its ACC rivals when the Irish play host to Georgia Tech (Oct. 20) and travel to Florida State (Jan. 19-20).
Who to Watch
Just a few faces to keep an eye out for this weekend (and all season) for the Irish:
* Joe Coumos, Sr., 2017 ACC 1-meter diving champion
* Tabahn Afrik, Jr., 2017 100 freestyle runner-up
* Justin Plaschka, Sr., 2017 FINA World Championship participant (represented Jamaica in the 100 butterfly)
* Zachary Yeadon, Fr., 2017 USA National Junior Team member in distance freestyle
* Alice Treuth, Jr., 2017 NCAA qualifier in the 100 & 200 backstroke
* Abbie Dolan, So., Notre Dame record holder in the 100 & 200 freestyle
* Lindsay Stone, Fr., promising distance freestyle competitor
How to Get There
Due to renovations to the Joyce Center’s fieldhouse which restrict access to Gate 5, swimming and diving fans will be encouraged to take a slightly different route to access the Rolfs Aquatic Center. Fans should park in the Bulla Lot and then access the Joyce Center through Gate 2 which is on the west side of the building near the men’s basketball office. Fans can then proceed through Heritage Hall to the Rolfs spectator balcony.
Coach Litzinger Says
On opening the season with two top-15 teams in Louisville and No. 15/5 Texas A&M (Oct. 13-14):
“I like to put our kids into the competitive cauldron. Let’s see who rises to the top. Let’s see the response. Let’s see what happens. But, at the end of the day, our goal is to swim and dive well at the ACC and NCAA Championships. This (Louisville) is an ACC opponent and next week (Texas A&M) is an NCAA opponent that we’re going to see at the end of the year so we need to learn how to respond to that. With this up-front competition, we’ll be ready for the rest of the season.”
About the Dennis Stark Relays
Beginning in 1964 and taking place in each of the subsequent 53 seasons since, Notre Dame’s swimmers and divers have christened each competitive season with the Notre Dame Relays, an event founded by former Irish head coach Dennis Stark. The creator of the relay meet in 1964, Stark coached, officiated or watched from the pool deck all but one Notre Dame Relay meet. He was the first coach of both the men’s and women’s swimming and diving teams at Notre Dame and coached for 27 years before moving into an administrative position as director of the Rolfs Aquatic Center in 1985.
In his honor, the name of the Notre Dame Relays was officially changed to “The Dennis Stark Relays” on Nov. 22, 2003.
A 1947 graduate of Notre Dame, Stark was the head coach of the Irish men’s program from 1958-85 and ended his career with a record of 174-135-1, including an 11-1 mark in 1974-75. Stark, whose student-athletes included Notre Dame’s first-ever NCAA qualifiers and six All-Americans, also headed the women’s program from 1981-85, compiling a 31-14 dual-meet record during his tenure. He was the 1984 women’s coach of the year in the North Star Conference.
Stark was heavily involved in the Special Olympics program in the Northern Indiana area for many years. He was the aquatics venue manager for the 1987 International Summer Olympics held in South Bend and was honored by Special Olympics advocate Eunice Kennedy Shriver for his outstanding work. Stark’s son, Kenny, was a Special Olympian and passed away Jan. 2, 2011.
Stark was also honored by the Notre Dame National Monogram Club. He received the Moose Krause Award in 2010 and earned the Harvey G. Foster Award from the Notre Dame Alumni Association. He was also presented the Russ Oliver Award that honored his high ideals, dedication and service to youth athletics by the St. Joseph Valley Officials Association. The St. Joseph Valley Officials Association also awarded Stark with its Zebra Award in 2007.
A native of Detroit, Michigan, Stark and his wife, Angelina, who passed away Oct. 26, 2003, had five children together, three of whom are Notre Dame graduates. Stark himself passed away December 21, 2014, at the age of 91.
Leigh Torbin, athletics communications assistant director at the University of Notre Dame, has been part of the Fighting Irish athletics communications team since 2013. A native of Framingham, Massachusetts, Torbin graduated from the University of Massachusetts in 1998 with a bachelor’s degree in sports management. He has previously worked full-time on the athletic communications staffs at Vanderbilt, Florida, Connecticut and UCF.