Feb. 20, 2018
by Tony Jones
NOTRE DAME, Ind. – Back to continue its climb up the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) ladder, the University of Notre Dame men’s swimming and diving team sets off in pursuit of a conference championship this week. The No. 19 Irish gear up for action at the 2018 ACC Swimming and Diving Championships from Feb. 21-24 at the Greensboro Aquatic Center.
“The difference for us from the women’s meet last week is that we already have points on the board (after men’s diving),” Notre Dame head coach Mike Litzinger said. “When you look at Duke in the lead and with us in fifth, the job now becomes that you are chasing points. Where you land with diving doesn’t necessarily have a final bearing on where you end up in the meet, but it gives you a sense of where we need to go and what we need to do. We will explore our relay options because they are double points, and if we can finish three spots ahead of another team that’s an advantage to us.
“Not only is it a swim meet, there is also a bit of a math problem involved,” Litzinger added. “That’s what makes it exciting in knowing that you have a certain amount of points on the board and the guys know where we are, and you will see the scores shift dramatically after Thursday. That is when it becomes an exciting championship meet.”
Irish Have Podium Finish Again In Sight
Following a third-place finish at the 2017 ACC Championships in Atlanta, Notre Dame is looking for a return to the podium at this weekend’s conference meet in Greensboro.
Rob Whitacre, Justin Plaschka and Daniel Speers are back in the fold as ACC bronze medalists from the 200 medley relay last season, swimming an NCAA A-cut time of 1:24.88 that remains a Notre Dame record. Plaschka, Speers and Tabahn Afrik added a third-place finish in the 200 freestyle relay with a time of 1:17.37, and a bronze in the 400 freestyle relay with an NCAA A-cut of 2:51.56.
On the individual side, Plaschka claimed a runner-up result in the 50 freestyle with a time of 19.38. Afrik added a silver medal in the 100 freestyle with a time of 42.86.
“Experience trumps a lot of things in competition, and those guys will keep everyone settled down,” Litzinger said. “The young guys who might get super excited otherwise will have the upperclassmen to help calm their nerves a bit. We are in good shape with the leadership with the seasoned group that has been to NCAAs previously and through the ringer in meets like this. Justin Plaschka, Rob Whitacre, Dan Speers, they have been there and done that, and we will rely on their experience this weekend for sure.”
Where The Irish Rank In The ACC Top 20 This Season
Entering the men’s ACC Championships this week, a number Notre Dame performers find themselves with times amongst the fastest 20 swimmers in the conference. Nearly all of the following swims fell within NCAA B-cut standards.
Justin Plaschka has the sixth-fastest time in the ACC this season in the 50 freestyle with an NCAA B-cut time of 19.60. Daniel Speers ranks eighth with a time of 19.66. Speers leads the way for the Irish in the 100 freestyle with a time of 43.52, with Plaschka at 15 with a time of 43.66. Tabahn Afrik is ranked 16th with a time of 43.70, and Daniel Fujan is 19th at 43.92. Zach Yeadon sits at number two in the 500 freestyle with an NCAA B-cut of 4:14.93, third in the 1650 freestyle at 14:47.18 and 12th in the 200 freestyle with a time of 1:36.51. Richard Mannix is 18th in the 500 free with a time of 4:23.42, and Sadler McKeen ranks 19th at 4:24.13. Mannix (13th, 15:24.40) and McKeen (16th, 15:27.28) also are among the top 20 in the 1650 free.
Rob Whitacre sits second in the 200 backstroke in the conference this season, posting an NCAA B-cut time of 1:41.40 at the Ohio State Fall Invitational. Whitacre is also 10th in the 100 backstroke, logging an NCAA B-cut of 46.94 at Ohio State. Jack Montesi is 15th in the 100 back with a top time of 1:45.41 in Columbus, while William Cumberland ranks 17th with a time of 1:45.89 in the 100 back.
Steven Shek has set the pace for Notre Dame in the 100 breaststroke, notching an eighth-place time of 54.26 earlier this season. Benjamin Gorski (54.47) and Jack Russell (54.52) are 12th and 13th in the event, respectively, while Rex Riley sits 19th with a top time of 54.89.
Riley is the top Irish competitor in the 200 breaststroke thus far in the regular season, posting a 12th-place time of 1:58.29.
Plaschka has the fourth-fastest ACC time in the 100 butterfly on the year, touching the wall in 46.84 for an NCAA B-cut at Ohio State. Aaron Schultz ranks 13th with a time of 47.43, with Matt Grauslys 17th with a time of 47.59.
Schultz owns the fastest 200 butterfly swim for the Irish in comparison to ACC competition with an 11th-place time of 1:45.71. Grauslys is 14th with a time of 1:46.15, and Plaschka is 20th with a 1:48.33 readout.
Schultz holds the top Notre Dame 200 IM time of the season, ranking 11th in the league at 1:46.71. Nick Milikich sits 12th in 1:46.94, and Cumberland is 14th with a time of 1:47.07. Whitacre rounds out the list in 18th in 1:47.57.
“Last year’s third-place finish doesn’t mean a whole lot in our overall approach, our focus is not on place but on performance,” Litzinger said. “It’s all about how we can get the most out of our guys, and how many of the kids we can qualify for NCAAs. If those are the things we are concentrating on the placing and finishes will start to take care of itself. We already know where we are in the league and we feel great about it, but at the end of the day it’s about where we sit nationally. That is what we’re focused on.”
Battle-Tested Irish Ready For Championship Competition
Racking up a 9-2 record in dual meets earlier in the season, Notre Dame staked its claim as one of the top teams in the ACC after last year’s third-place finish at the conference championship meet. The Irish downed No. 7 Louisville (Oct. 7), No. 23 Purdue (Oct. 27) and No. 20 Florida State (Jan. 19-20) in dual action, adding a first-place result in a talented Shamrock Invitational field that featured two additional ranked foes in January and a third-place finish at a loaded Ohio State Fall Invitational last November.
“It puts us in a really good mentally,” Litzinger said. “The other x-factor is that most of our top times are from the midseason invitational meet at Ohio State, and teams prepare differently for those type of meets. It might provide a false sense of where you sit, because let’s say you’re sitting 32nd overall but we haven’t explored our full potential just yet. I tend to like those situations because we will be giving our best effort to move up in those seedings pretty quickly. It’s a little bit of a cat and mouse game and we haven’t shown our full hand just yet, but hopefully when we lay those cards on the table we are going to be able to pull the pot in.”
Tony Jones, athletics communications assistant director at the University of Notre Dame, has been part of the Fighting Irish athletics communications team since 2012 and coordinates all media efforts for the Notre Dame softball, men’s soccer and swimming and diving programs. A native of Jamestown, New York, Jones is a 2011 graduate of St. Bonaventure University, and prior to arriving at Notre Dame held positions at the University of Louisiana Monroe and with the National Football League’s Buffalo Bills.