Nov. 11, 2005
By Sean Carroll
The clock does not lie. Tim Welsh, the head coach of the men’s swimming and diving team at the University of Notre Dame, is quick to point that out. You cannot fool yourself into thinking you are improving because the true measure is the clock. Achieving your goals does not simply happen overnight, they have to be earned through hard work and doing things the right way.
Welsh and his Fighting Irish teams have been doing things the right way for over 20 years. The culmination of the hard work, trust and desire that Welsh’s teams are built on were on full display last year as the Irish captured the program’s first-ever BIG EAST championship.
The conference championship was just one part of a very magical season for the Irish. An early season victory over No. 17 Pittsburgh marked the first time Notre Dame had ever knocked off a ranked opponent and put the Irish on the path to success. Thanks to the win, the Irish garnered their first-ever CSCAA (College Swim Coaches Association of America) dual meet ranking. The team debuted at No. 21 on November 19th. The result against the Panthers also foreshadowed what would lie ahead for the Irish.
The BIG EAST title was not handed to them in a ho-hum manner. As the saying goes, you have to beat the best in order to be the best and Notre Dame did just that. The Irish dethroned Pittsburgh, the eight-time defending conference champion, by a whopping 275 points. Knocking off the perennial league champion does not happen just by getting in the pool and swimming faster than they do. It starts with the attitude and desire of not only wanting to be the best but also wanting everyone around you to be the best.
“We were glad to win it,” Welsh said. “The history of our program has been to improve consistently and take one step at a time. In every championship we’ve been a part of starting with the Midwestern Collegiate Conference, we started out somewhere other than first and ended up as champion. We’ve been looking at the BIG EAST title for several years, a championship that had been hundred of points out of our reach. To win the meet was very exciting for the guys.”
Last year’s final step to the BIG EAST title was a very long stride. To say that the Irish improved would be an understatement. Prior to last year’s conference meet, Notre Dame had five individual BIG EAST titles throughout the nine years that the team has competed in the conference. In 2005, the Irish claimed four individual titles and added a relay crown to the mix. Last year alone, 11 Irish athletes garnered all-conference honors and Welsh along with assistant coach Matt Tallman and diving coach Caiming Xie copped the conference’s coaching staff of the year award. That was the third BIG EAST top-coaching honor for Welsh, who also led Johns Hopkins to Division III titles in 1978 and 1979.
Welsh credits the team’s depth for the success of last season, which saw Notre Dame post a 10-2 dual meet mark during the ’04-’05 campaign. Numerous school records fell by the wayside and five Irish swimmers earned NCAA “B” cuts. All of that contributed to making Welsh’s 20th season at the helm of the Notre Dame program a memorable one.
Tim Kegelman put the icing on the Irish cake as he became just the second student-athlete from the program to qualify for the NCAA Swimming and Diving Championships. Kegelman, who is now a junior on the Notre Dame squad, competed in three events at the NCAA Championships.
In many ways Kegelman was the perfect symbol for the Notre Dame program. He was the guy who broke through and proved it could be done and showed his teammates that the opportunity is there. He represented everyone on the Irish squad when he took to the pool in Minneapolis, Minn., for the NCAA meet.
“It was good to put Notre Dame on the map in that respect,” the Yorktown, Va., native said. “It’s just kind of a starting point for where this program can go. We worked hard as a team the whole year to get the BIG EAST championship and then to put in more work and get a swimmer to the NCAAs was just kind of a culmination for our season.”
Welsh and the Irish know what it will take to make the necessary strides forward to keep Notre Dame achieving the success. They know what it will take because it’s what they have been doing all of these years – hard work, discipline, trust and doing the right thing. Satisfaction is not a feeling anyone on the Irish roster is going to feel anytime soon. Not as long as there is more work to do.
“All the things we accomplished last year we still look at them as preparations for where we want to be and what the program wants to do,” Welsh said. “Our aspiration is that we want to live at this level. We want to live at the nationally-ranked level, we want to live as much as possible at the conference champion level and we want to live at the NCAA championship level.”
Kegelman’s arrival at the NCAAs was not unprecedented in Notre Dame history. In 1975 diver Bob Ebel became the first student-athlete from the program to participate in the national meet. Another 30-year drought is not likely to happen as the Irish have several athletes poised to punch their ticket to the NCAA Championships.
“At this point we want to repeat our BIG EAST championship,” Kegelman said about this year’s goals. “We want to send more people to the NCAAs and hopefully qualify a relay team. Those are all within the realm of possibility this year.”
The Irish will also have to adjust to being in a different role. For many years the Irish were one of the hunters among the pack in the BIG EAST. Last year, those roles changed and they are now the hunted.
“It goes with the territory,” Welsh said. “We talked last year on the day after the meet about saying that we went from the team that everybody wants to see win to the team everybody wants to see lose. But we’re still the same team.”
Being the same team, through the hard work, dedication, commitment and love for one another, is exactly what Welsh wants his team to be.