Feb. 5, 2015

By Teagan Dillon `18

The start of a season entails new goals, fresh expectations and renewed excitement. Newcomers stand ready for the experience, and returning veterans are eager to assume the leadership positions graduated seniors have left behind. The only trace of those who have graduated is the standards they have set and the records they broke.

One indicator of a remarkable senior class, however, is if their absence is felt in the season following their graduation. As the 2015 season comes to an end, the University of Notre Dame men’s swimming and diving team prepares to part with one of its largest and most successful senior classes in history – and there is no doubt a mark will be left in their wake.

“They were really a highly talented group coming out of high school,” head coach Matt Tallman says, “so we knew they could achieve everything they have these last few years.”

And succeed they have. The class clinched two BIG EAST Championship titles in 2012 and 2013 before entering the Atlantic Coast Conference–a transition that continues Notre Dame swimming’s journey towards becoming a national powerhouse–and they hold multiple school, pool and conference records.

Tallman worked for eight seasons as associate head coach before taking on the role of head coach this year, and he was also responsible for recruiting this particular group of seniors. With a large incoming class of 15 swimmers and divers, standing out took work and competition was fierce.

“When we first came in, there was a lot of jostling between people,” senior butterflier Jonathan Williamson says. “We were all having these new experiences, and just trying to make it through.”

Their freshman season was nothing short of exciting. Adding to the list of new experiences, the Irish entered the BIG EAST meet as underdogs and came out champions after a thrilling, down-to-the-wire meet.

“None of our coaches even thought that we could win,” senior Pat Olson says. “I still can’t believe it. It’s one of my most memorable moments the past four years.”

Williamson shares Olson’s enthusiasm when reminiscing on the 2012 season.

“My expectations coming into Notre Dame were certainly exceeded just within that year,” he says. “Everything since has just been excitement, and seeing how far I can push past what I thought was possible when I came here.”

Williamson was one of the four current seniors to qualify for the 2013 NCAA meet, which was an extraordinary feat considering that only five swimmers qualified for NCAAs in the first 54 years of the program. The other senior qualifiers included Kevin Hughes, Zachary Stephens and Cameron Miller. Williamson qualified in 2014 as well and hopes to continue his streak by qualifying again later this February.

“I just want to walk away from my last race knowing there was nothing else I could have put into this year,” Williamson says.

The Irish have a goal of qualifying 10 or more swimmers for the NCAA meet this year, which would be the most in program history and break the record of nine swimmers set in 2013.

“We started off with one [qualifier] my freshman year, and we’ve just added on to that every year since,” Olson says. “The program is definitely headed in the right direction, you can just tell.”

With each season bringing more success, it also brings more challenges. Olson has noted the increased competitiveness throughout the past four years, which includes tougher practices and higher expectations. But the mental and physical exhaustion is merely a tradeoff when it comes to being a part of such a respected program.

“I realize now that what would have been good our freshman year is not even in our thought process these days,” Olson says.

Competition increased dramatically as the Irish graduated from the BIG EAST Conference to the ACC.

“Making it to the ACCs last year, with the conference being as tough as it was, is probably the most meaningful accomplishment to me,” Williamson says.

Advancing to the ACC Championships was just one of many meaningful accomplishments for Williamson and the team. Due to the program’s growth over the past few years, the Irish not only have a past to be proud of, but also a future to look forward to.

As far as this season goes, Tallman is pleased with the seniors’ performance. Despite illness and injuries, the team is rebounding well and preparing to finish strong.

“They have all stuck with it and maintained a close bond,” Tallman says. “Now they are going out together.”

As their time at Notre Dame winds down, the seniors’ legacy is unfolding. What started as 15 fresh faces steadily turned into a cohesive band of teammates and friends.

“I just hope to leave behind the culture of our team,” says Olson. “We are fun-loving and always laughing, but we still keep our competitiveness.

The class of 2015’s influence does not end with its unwavering unity. From dominating the BIG EAST Conference, sending multiple swimmers to NCAAs every year, moving to the ACC, and reconstructing the record books, this senior class in particular has had a remarkable four years.

“As every class graduates, we hope the team has gotten better,” Tallman says. “They certainly have gotten better each of the four years they have been here and have given new goals for future guys to come in and try to reach.”