Oct. 2, 2008
NOTRE DAME, Ind. – The Notre Dame women’s swimming and diving team has started each of its last 12 BIG EAST Conference championship-winning seasons by playing host to the Dennis Stark Relays, and the 2008-09 campaign will be no different. The Irish welcome five teams to the Rolfs Aquatic Center on Friday for the program’s 25th edition of the meet.
“This will be a great meet for us to see where we stand as a team and see where we can improve,” said first-year Irish head coach Brian Barnes. “This team has put together some good performances in the past but I believe some of the best are yet to come.”
Notre Dame returns 25 letterwinners including 10 U.S. Olympic Trials qualifiers from the 2007-08 campaign. Five newcomers join the team, two of which were also U.S. Olympic Trials qualifiers. The Irish dominated the BIG EAST meet last February, winning six races and setting eight school records. Christa Riggins, Samantha Maxwell and Amywren Miller each advanced to the NCAA Championships and turned in solid performances across the board.
Illinois State, St. Mary’s (Ind.), Marquette, Ball State and Cleveland State join the Irish in the water for the opening event.
The meet strays from the standard format and solely focuses on races of the relay variety. The 3-meter synchronized diving event will feature five dives per pair and the 1-meter diving relay will consist of teams of two divers performing three dives each. Their scores will be combined. The 400 IM relay has four legs, with each swimmer completing a 100-yard IM. The 1,000 Free Relay will have two legs each spanning 500 yards. Following the meet’s customary procedure, schools will remain in the same lane for the duration of competition.
Beginning in 1964 and taking place in each of the subsequent 44 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 has coached and officiated at every Notre Dame Relay meet since. 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.
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 167-137, 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 remains heavily involved in the Special Olympics program in the Northern Indiana area. He was the aquatics venue manager for the 1987 International Summer Olympics held in South Bend and was even honored by Special Olympics advocate Eunice Kennedy Shriver for his outstanding work.
He has also been honored by the Notre Dame National Monogram Club, earned the Harvey G. Foster Award from the Notre Dame Alumni Association, and was recently presented the Russ Oliver Award 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.
In his honor, the name of the Notre Dame Relays was officially changed to the Dennis Stark Relays on Nov. 22, 2003.
A native of Detroit, Mich., Stark and his wife, Angelina, have five children, three of which are Notre Dame graduates.