Oct. 3, 2002
The motto for the 2002-03 men’s swimming season could be summed up in four easy words: Let’s go right now!
Head coach Tim Welsh, who is in his 18th season at the helm of the Irish, assistant coach Matt Tallman and diving coach Caiming Xie enter the 2002-03 season with a cautious optimism as Notre Dame continues the process of building this program into a national contender.
“You can term this season as cautious, but bright,” Welsh says.
“I say bright because we are excited about the freshman and sophomore classes. The young half of the team carries both talent and enthusiasm and the junior and senior classes are still fresh and eager to make great strides. We are cautious because we have taken a giant step in schedule this season. The teams on our dual-meet schedule are without question the most challenging set of meets we have ever had.”
The Irish open the season with the Notre Dame Relays (Oct. 5), before playing host to Kalamazoo on (Oct. 11). Notre Dame will then travel to Colorado Springs, Colo., for a dual meet against Air Force (Oct. 18), before returning home for a meet against Big Ten-opponent Michigan State (Nov. 8). Notre Dame then competes against TCU (Nov. 15-16) for a two-day meet in Fort Worth, Texas, before taking on another solid Big Ten team in Purdue (Nov. 22). The Irish close out the fall campaign with the Notre Dame Invitational on Dec. 5-7.
After a winter training trip in Acapulco, the Irish then travel to Philadelphia, Pa., for a dual meet against Penn (Jan. 17), and a tri-meet Villanova and Pittsburgh (Jan 18). After challenging its third Big Ten team of the season in Northwestern (Jan. 25), the Irish will compete at Cleveland State (Jan. 31) and St. Bonaventure (Feb. 1) before finishing the dual-meet campaign against Oakland (Feb. 8) in Rochester, Mich.
“When you look at this schedule, I challenge you to find an easy meet,” Welsh says. “It is very possible that this could be a losing dual-meet season from a team who is much better than last season.”
For the first time in the program’s history, the success of the season could be measured in a single weekend when the Irish will try to improve on last year’s fourth-place finish when they travel to Uniondale, N.Y., for the 2003 BIG EAST Championships.
“The BIG EAST meet will tell us a great deal,” Welsh says.
“If we swim faster and score more points than we did last year, and if at the end of the meet, we have moved up in the standings, then it will have been a success. If not, then it isn’t.” The Irish also have another goal this season as they are hoping to qualify their first participants in the history of the program for the NCAA Championships, which are scheduled for March 27-29 in Austin, Texas.
“We want to qualify at least one swimmer and one diver for the meet, which would be a huge accomplishment for this program since it has never happened before.”
When you break the Irish down by event, the cautious optimism that Welsh is feeling can be vividly seen. The Irish did lose eight from the 2001-02 roster including Notre Dame recordholders David Horak and Johnathan Pierce, but Welsh welcomes back 20 men from last year, as well as nine talented freshmen.
Even with the loss of Horak, Notre Dame’s strongest stroke this season could be the butterfly as it looks to be the deepest on the docket. The 200 race looks extremely deep as junior J.R. Teddy returns with the fastest time on the Irish roster at 1:52.13. Juniors Lucas Wymore and Brian Coughlan and sophomore Frank Krakowski also strengthen this event.
Three of the incoming freshmen – Bryan Guarnier, Patrick Heffernan and Partick O’Berry – also boast the 200 as their strongest event and their development will be critical in Notre Dame’s success in butterfly.
In the 100 fly, the Irish return Irish current recordholder in the event in Krakowski, who broke Horak’s record by going 49.45 at the Notre Dame Invitatioal last season. Krakowski also placed 12th at the 2002 BIG EAST Championships in the event.
“Our biggest task is are we fast enough up front to challenge the university records in these events,” Welsh says.
“We are deep enough with the addition of the freshmen, but I am not sure if we will be fast enough. We should be just as fast in the 100 fly and our expectation is that Frank will continue to improve this season.”
Another deep event for the Irish in ’02-’03 should be the distance freestyle races even after the graduations of Pierce, who holds the Notre Dame record in the 500, 1000, 1650 and 400 individual medley races, and Elliott Drury who earned most improved swimmer honors as a senior last year. Looking to the fill the giant void left behind by Pierce is Teddy, who is the fastest returning 1,000 freestyler on the roster and has the third-fastest 500 time on the team. Freshmen Patrick Davis, Heffernan and O’Berry should also contribute immediately in the distance races, as well as senior Michael Flanagan, sophomore Matt Bertke, who has the fastest returning time in the 1,650, and junior Matt Obringer, who has the quickest returning 500 free time.
“We have lived in the distance freestyle lane the past few years,” Welsh says.
“Even though we lost Johnathan, who was the invincible man in the distance events, and Elliott, we are still solid and very deep. We can’t swim distance and fly without J.R. His training has been fabulous and if you ask who has been pulling the train in training, J.R. is the one. The question is will we have university record speed? That is the challenge.
“We will be as solid if not better in the 500 than last year. All of the guys who will swim the 1650 are as good or even better in the 500. The distance events will be characteristic in that whatever we can do, we can do a lot of times. If that is ahead of the field, we will be very good. If not, we will be in trouble.”
In the sprint freestyle events, the Irish should be improved, but will be very young. Notre Dame lost Austin Anderson and Horak, but have a number of freshmen who will step in immediately. Krakowski returns with the fastest times from last season swimming a 21.05 in the 50 free and a 46.14 in the 100. Drew Pittman, Adam Cahill, Travis Kline and Obringer will also be back, but look for freshmen Tim Randolph, Doug Bauman, Chris Barnes to see a lot of action off the blocks in both the 50 and 100.
In the 200, Notre Dame will be deeper this year with juniors Coughlan, Obringer and Wymore and sophomore Moisan helping develop the freshmen in this event.
“We have improved, but we will have to race to see how much we have improved,” says Welsh. “We are faster, but less experienced and there will be a immediate growing up process. Technique detail is vital in sprinters and it is very rare to develop proper technique in high school. To help the entire team with technique detail, we have put more emphasis on dry-land training this season.
Welsh describes the backstroke as “the most exciting, but also the most frightening event” for the Irish this season. It is the most exciting because of the additions of freshmen Steve Shomberger and Bauman. Shomberger comes to Notre Dame as the fastest backstroker to ever enter the school, but a campus bike injury during the first week of school has put him behind in his training thus far in 2002. It is the most frightening because of the graduation of university recordsetter Horak, the retirement of Jason Colettis who also has one of the top-10 times in Notre Dame history in the 200 and the loss of sophomore Dean Wolf due to medical reasons. Others returning in the backstroke are seniors John Hudson and Matt Hyde.
“The backstroke events are dramatically less experienced at the championship level because we are down three major contributors this season, but I am excited to see Steve and Doug compete this season. I think Steve has a legitimate chance of qualifying for the NCAA Championships this season.”
The breaststroke will be an important event for the Irish in 2002-03 as it could be the most stable for Welsh. Senior Jason Fitzpatrick, the university recordholder in the 100, will be the most experienced at both distances. Moisan and Jamie Lutkus are also solid in the 200, while junior Josh Dermott has improved dramatically his first two seasons with the Irish. Also, incoming freshman Tyler Grenda is a breaststroke specialist and is a strong in-season swimmer while sophomore Matt Englehardt had an excellent training summer.
“We are very stable at the 200 level. This is a deep group and I think there is enough power at the top,” Welsh says.
“It will be an important stroke for us.”
The individual medleys will also be better this season even with the loss of 400 recordholder Pierce. Lutkus enters Notre Dame with IM times comparable to Pierce’s university record and should challenge that by the end of the season. Moisan, Flanagan, the three Patrick’s and Dermott will make this one of the strongest and deepest 400 IM rosters the Irish have had. In the 200, look for Moisan, Dermott and Fitzpatrick to make a major impact.
Xie returns perhaps the greatest corps of athletes this season in the diving well. Seniors Andy Maggio, Joe Miller and Tong Xie should contribute major points to the team score during both the dual-meet schedule and conference championships this year. Maggio, who narrowly missed qualifying for the NCAA championships last season, has the most legitimate chance of becoming the first Irish men’s swimmer or diver to participate at the NCAA meet.
“When you have a good horse, you ride it,” Welsh says.
“We are going to ride it one more year. Andy, Joe and Tong have been major contributors the past three years and they are just as important this season. I am excited to see just where our divers will go this year.”
While always unpredictable, the early indications are the relays could be a strength for the Irish in 2002-03. The distance freestyle relays should have more candidates this season, which is always an indicator of a better team. The 400 free relay should be consistent, while the 200 free relay has great potential, but depends on the development of the freshmen. In the medley relays, success will be measured by the performance of the backstroke leg, and specifically the recovery of Shomberger and his elbow injury.
“Our team philosophy has always been ‘Show me an 800 relay and I will show you a team,'” Welsh says.
“We have more candidates than ever this season for that race and hopefully that means we are a better team. The medley relays will depend on the backstroke legs and we need the freshmen to come on strong to have good sprint relays this season.”
It looks like the Irish are ready to go, right now!