Feb. 2, 2015
As soon as the University of Notre Dame men’s and women’s swimming teams wrapped up a record-shattering effort in the Shamrock Invitational at the Rolfs Aquatic Center, the Fighting Irish student-athletes jumped up on the bleachers on the far side of the pool.
There, arms around each other’s shoulders, swaying side to side, the Irish sang the Alma Mater.
Notre Dame’s Shamrock Invitational signaled senior night for the Irish, and a wave of emotions accompanied the strong showing in a Rolfs pool farewell.
Irish swimmer Emma Reaney knows the emotion of standing on the podium at the national collegiate final meet as an NCAA champion and, for her, the Alma Mater moment was another emotional moment.
“I think I tried to not focus on how sentimental it was, because I get really emotional,” Reaney said. “Once I hit college, I cry at everything.”
Reaney, who notched four pool records and was in on seven blue ribbons overall in the Shamrock Invitational, shifted into a slower speed for the only time in the weekend during the Alma Mater.
“Our team always sings it too fast. Always. And it drives me insane.” Reaney said. “So I was screaming it out, slower, and I think that was a subconscious thing to distract me from the emotions of the moment. But it was cool to be surrounded by all the seniors.”
Senior John Nappi took a long look at the list of former Irish greats and their school and pool bests on the records board at the Rolfs pool, and then he used the power of senior day emotions to add his name to the list of legends.
“Separating the emotions doesn’t work for me,” said Nappi, who swam a 15:21.60 to top the pool record in the 1,650 freestyle by seven seconds. “I use the emotions to help me swim faster. I think the emotions are what made this able to happen. My parents were here, it was senior night and a lot of my friends came out to watch. I was feeling pretty good in warm-ups. I said to myself, ‘I’m going to go for this record tonight.’ I really wanted to do this for them.
“I’ve swam a lot of miles in this pool, but I said to myself, ‘I want my name to be on this (record) board. I think I earned my name on this board.’ I was like, ‘I’m going to go out and get it.’ Without the emotions, I don’t think I would have been able to do it. I was hyped up. I was feeling good, and I really wanted to do it. I had my mind set to it.”
Allison Casareto won blue ribbons in the one-meter and three-meter diving competitions, and she also dealt with emotions.
“It is tough and, luckily, diving was before the senior montage,” she said. “I was worried about that, actually. In the moment, you’re not affected by that. You’re still in the competition zone. You are there doing what you do best, in the moment, and nothing really was affecting me personally. I was surprised. I shocked myself.
“This was super fun. I knew this was going to be one of the last times competing at this pool, so I just tried to have the most fun that I possibly could. I tried to just liken everything to a practice and just take in all that I could that was most enjoyable about the pool, about the boards, about the people around me, and just go with that energy and see where that took me.”
Casareto said swimmers and divers have an amazing bond to embrace the challenges of waking up before dawn, jumping into cold water, attending classes and then coming back to the pool to get in more practice time.
“It’s the teammates, it’s the practices and the meets combined, the training trips, everything, traveling on the bus, staying in the hotels, getting snowed in, in Iowa, all of those memories that you share with your teammates, the highs and the lows ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢’Â¬Â¦ we’re here together all the time,” Casareto said of the memories she will have from her Irish diving career.
“All of your teammates know what’s going on outside of the pool, as well, because we bring that to practice every day, twice a day. So everyone knows everything about your life, whether you want them to or not. And that’s the beauty of it, and that’s what I will be remembering the most when I leave.”
Notre Dame’s togetherness was a major draw for Casareto when she was a high school recruit.
“That’s what got me to commit here,” she said of the way the Irish blend a team and family concept. “I noticed that first and foremost when I was on my recruiting trip, that all of the teammates were stuck together like one big family. Other schools that I went to, it was like, ‘OK, you come here to practice, and then you do your own thing with your own friends.’ I saw that immediately at Notre Dame, and I thought, OK, this place is cool, there’s something special here, and I just want to be a part of it.”
Casareto said the Irish help each other get through the tough moments and celebrate the triumphs.
“We’re all in a bad mood together in the morning,” she said. “I’m thinking that at least I’m not by myself here. At least everybody is feeling the same way. We all get through it and, like afternoons, when you just feel like it’s the longest practice ever, and everybody is in a pretty bad mood, everybody helps each other out. The dive team, especially, is very close. I can’t imagine being on a team any different than this. This is the ideal team that I would have wanted for my NCAA Division I athletic experience, and I got that.”
According to Nappi, senior night was a celebration of the Notre Dame experience.
“Everyone who goes here knows it’s a special place,” he said of Notre Dame. “Being able to compete athletically is something a lot of people don’t understand. It’s about what it means to be on the team here, the brotherhood that is created and how much you care about the University. It separates Notre Dame from every other school in the world. If you want to be part of something special, you’re going to come here. If you want to be a part of something that’s bigger than yourself, you want to come to Notre Dame.”
Patrick Murphy, who was also part of a pool-record effort, said there was plenty of motivation to shine on senior night.
“You definitely feel the positive aspect of a day like today,” he said. “You want to finish on a high note. Everyone is cheering much louder this meet. We’re celebrating our seniors. We’ve all been swimming a long time, and now it’s a part of our life that’s going to go away. That’s the sad part, but there’s also the happiness of looking forward to a new chapter. We’re all going to stay great friends moving forward.
“We have a reputation on campus for being the closest team. We’re all best friends. Everything we do we do together. We’re with each other in the pool and out of the pool. You go through so much, and everybody helps each other get through it. We do pride ourselves on that warrior mentality, because we’ve been through a lot. It gives us the confidence that, moving forward, there’s nothing anyone can throw at us that we can’t handle.”
For Reaney, senior night was surreal.
“I don’t know when it’s going to hit,” Reaney said. “I still don’t feel like our last home football game as students has hit. I still feel like I’m coming back next season. I think it’s just going to take a while for it all to sink in.
“We have a team dinner (after the senior night meet) where the juniors read speeches about the seniors, and my best friend in the whole world (Sydney Golic) is reading mine,” Reaney said. “I’m getting choked up just thinking about it. That’s when it’s going to get emotional.”
— by Curt Rallo, special correspondent