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No Need To Panic For Irish Women's Swimming And Diving

Oct. 2, 2002

by Lisa Mushett

Usually when a team loses four of the best swimmers and divers in the history of the program, there might be cause for panic. I mean losing a 10-time All-American and 18-time BIG EAST champion, an eight-time honorable mention All-American and a 19-time BIG EAST winner, a two-time NCAA qualifier in the breaststroke and a diver who finished in the top eight in the nation at the NCAA Championships last season would cause even the most laid back of coaches and athletes to reach for a life preserver.

But not head coach Bailey Weathers, new assistant coach Anne Marie Stricklin, diving coach Caiming Xie and the 2002-03 Irish women’s swimming team. In fact, after finishing 19th at the NCAA meet last year, the Irish are deeper than they have ever been and are looking for big things this season in trying to capture their seventh consecutive BIG EAST Conference title and qualify more than the record nine athletes they brought a year ago to the 2002 NCAA Swimming and Diving Championships.

Gone are freestyle/butterfly specialist Carrie Nixon, backstroker and freestyler Kelly Hecking, breaststroker Allison Lloyd and diver Heather Mattingly, but not to worry as the Irish return 23 swimmers and divers in 2002-03, five of which qualified for the NCAA Championships last year.

“Obviously, losing the four of them is a big loss for our team,” Weathers says.

“Carrie is a big, big loss athletically. Kelly is a loss mentally in her attitude and approach to the sport. Luck of timing plays a lot into the losses as we have people who are now ready to step in and replace them. It might not have been that way a year ago.”

The Irish will be tested right off the blocks as they have one of the toughest schedules in memory. After playing host to the Notre Dame Relays, Notre Dame travels to the Air Force Academy for a week-long training trip where they will swim dual meets against both the Falcons (Oct. 23) and Colorado State (Oct. 26). The Irish then return home for three consecutive dual meets against Big Ten-foes Purdue (Oct. 30), Indiana (Nov. 1) and Michigan State (Nov. 8). Notre Dame then wraps up the fall portion of its schedule in Minneapolis, Minn., at the three-day Minnesota Invitational (Nov. 22-24) before returning to Rolfs Aquatic Center for the Notre Dame Invitational (Dec. 6-7) and a dual meet versus BIG EAST Conference-rival Pittsburgh (Dec. 7).

After a winter training trip in Acapulco where the Irish will compete against William & Mary (Jan. 5), the Irish will then travel to Champaign, Ill., for a triangular against Illinois and Michigan (Jan. 17-18), Notre Dame then goes to Bowling Green (Jan. 25) for a dual meet, before returning home for its final dual meet of the season with a repeat engagement versus Michigan (Feb. 1).

Then the Irish look for their seventh consecutive BIG EAST title (Feb. 20-22), before going to the Gopher Invitational (March 1-2) in Minneapolis, and the NCAA Zone Diving Meet (March 14-15) in Oxford, Ohio. The Irish will close out the season at the 2003 NCAA Swimming and Diving Championships in Auburn, Ala.

“The big dual meet we have in the fall is Indiana,” Weathers says.

“Indiana had a great meet at the NCAAs last year. They were an NCAA team who had four or five athletes who could really score and put them into a tie for 10th place. Indiana’s divers are really good as well.

“The dual-meet season will also see us swim against Michigan and Purdue, who have both improved. Pittsburgh will challenge us this year as they are better than they were last year.

“In terms of the BIG EAST meet, our goal obviously is to win again. Rutgers is going to be better this year as they have had a couple of girls who have come out of nowhere to help them. Miami will also be good as they added a couple of really talented swimmers.”

Notre Dame has talented swimmers and divers as well led by its breaststroking crew of sophomore Georgia Healey, junior Laurie Musgrave and former United States Olympian Jilen Siroky, as well as freshmen Annie Mantey and Courtney Choura. All will be counted on to pick up for the loss of Lloyd, who qualified for the 1999 and 2002 NCAA Championships, as well as winning six BIG EAST Championships in her career.

Healey qualified for 200 breaststroke finals at the BIG EAST meet, placing fifth. Musgrave advanced to the 100 finals, finishing seventh, while Siroky, who competed in the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta and won the national championship in the 100 breast that same year, has a new-found confidence and is poised to have her best season yet as a collegiate swimmer.

Mantey and Choura should come in and contribute immediately according to Weathers. Mantey, from West Hurley, N.Y., comes to Notre Dame with the second-fastest 100 breaststroke time entering school, trailing only former All-American Shannon Suddarth. Choura is also extremely talented and has great potential as she has not trained a great deal over the years.

“Breaststoke is really strong event for us again this season,” Weathers said.

“For years breaststroke was our strongest event followed by butterfly. The addition of Annie and Courtney Choura adds a lot of strength to Jilen, Laurie and Georgia. I think we potentially have five women who could score in the top eight in both breaststroke events at the BIG EAST meet, and we will be disappointed if three, if not four, do not go to NCAAs for us.”

Another event that should score big points for the Irish at the conference meet and possibly at the national level is the butterfly. Last season, juniors Lisa Garcia and Lisa D’Olier qualified for the NCAA Championships in both the 100 and 200 events after placing second and third, respectively, in the 100 at the BIG EAST Championships. Garcia then went on to claim her first BIG EAST butterfly crown in the 200 after D’Olier won the same event as a freshman in 2001.

Sophomore Brooke Taylor will also add some depth to the event after a great summer of training, and perhaps the biggest addition to the 2002-03 roster is Singapore Olympian Christel Bouvron. Bouvron participated in the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games in the 100 and 200 butterfly. She enters her Notre Dame career with the fastest incoming time ever posted by a freshman and could challenge Nixon’s record of 54.07 before the end of the season.

“We are going to be strong in butterfly again this season,” Weathers says.

“Christel adds to an already accomplished group in this event. Both Lisa Garcia and Lisa D’Olier are looking to get back to the NCAA meet and improve on the times they posted last season. I am looking to have three women under two minutes this season and have three or four go 54 seconds or better and challenge Carrie’s record. Again, we will be disappointed if we do not have five girls score in the BIG EAST meet and we are really anxious for a lot of those women to qualify for the NCAAs.”

Good butterfliers usually lead to good individual medley competitors and the Irish will be no different in 2002-03. Led by All-American Marie Labosky, as well as Garcia, D’Olier, senior Amy Deger and sophomore Kelli Barton, the Irish hope to be extremely competitive and deep in both the 200 and 400 races.

Labosky, who set the Notre Dame record in the 400 IM last season in a memorable battle with Villanova All-American Maddy Crippen at a dual meet in January, earned honorable mention All-America honors in the same event at the NCAA meet in 2001. She will compete in both the 200 and 400 races this year.

Both Garcia and D’Olier will concentrate on the 200 IM this season, while in the 400, Deger and NCAA qualifier Barton will challenge Labosky for top billing this season.

“As our butterfly goes, so will our individual medleys,” Weathers says.

“I don’t think there are many girls in the country better than Marie in the 400 when she really gets going. Amy had a great summer training and has done everything well for us in the three years she has been here. I expect this to be Amy’s best year. For the first time, we have a completely different group between the 200 and 400 IM groups and they should be big events for us at BIG EAST. Hopefully we will also be able to score well at NCAAs.”

In an event in which Hecking has dominated the past four years winning both the 100 and 200 back as a junior and senior at the BIG EAST meet, it is time for a new superstar among the ranks and Weathers thinks he has a number of candidates. Sophomore Kristen Peterson and junior Danielle Hulick improved a great deal last season and started pushing Hecking toward the end of the 2002 season. With another summer of training, and Peterson’s experience at the NCAA meet last year, these two should be the ones to receive the torch from Hecking.

“Kristen and Danielle can improve even more this year after improving a lot last year,” Weathers says.

“They have a chance to break Kelly’s record in the 200 backstroke. It should be an exciting year and I think the competition between Kristen and Danielle will only make them better. Unfortunately, Kristen suffered mono this fall so we will look to Lisa Garcia and Marie Labosky to fill the gap. We are also excited about Kara Santelli as she has some fast times coming into Notre Dame.”

There should also be a great deal of competition within the team in the sprint freestyle events, while the Irish also addressed a lack of depth in the middle and distance freestyle races this season.

Having to replace a legend in Nixon, who finished fourth at the 2000 NCAA Championships in the 50 free and seventh last season, is no easy task. Senior Heidi Hendrick, Hulick and sophomore Katie Eckholt look to be the chosen ones this season. Eckholt was fifth in the 50 at the BIG EAST meet, while Hulick swam the anchor leg of the freestyle relay in 2001 after Nixon missed the season with a shoulder injury. Hendrick was eighth in the 200 at the conference meet last year.

“Sprint freestylers usually develop in college, so that is a harder thing to replace whether it is Carrie or someone else,” Weathers says.

“We have to work on a lot in that area. Replacing Carrie is not going to come from someone who walks in the door. Carrie didn’t come in and win her spot on the relays right away. They will have to develop, and I think all of them have the potential to do it. I think it is a year when we can have our sprint freestyle relay qualify for the NCAAs.”

A weakness the past few seasons, Weathers and the Irish addressed the middle distances this season. Sophomore Sarah Alwen will move from backstroke to the 200 and 500 freestyle, while freshmen Bouvron, Courtney Campbell, Mary Steffan and Kalei Walker bring excellent credentials into these events.

“We really shored up the middle distances this season. Christel, Mary, Courtney and Kalei really add a lot of help to the 200 and 500 freestyle races. We are looking forward to watching those girls develop.”

In the distance races, NCAA qualifier Barton will lead the Irish. She will be helped by seniors Nicole Kohrt, Christina Jackson, Katie Cavadini and Sara Cerreta. Also, Deger, Cavadini and Hendrick will provide leadership as they were all voted captains by their teammates for the 2002-03 season.

“I think it is going to be an exciting year with our senior class,” Weathers says.

“It is a group of girls who have developed every year and continue to get better. We are looking for a lot out of seniors both in and out of the water. All of our seniors are great leaders and I think they all will do a great job.”

In the diving well, Notre Dame will have to make up for the loss of Mattingly, who became the first diving All-American in Irish history and qualified for the NCAA meet three times in her career. Ready to step in is junior Meghan Perry-Eaton, who has returned to full strength after missing the 2001 season with an injury. Perry-Eaton set the Notre Dame record on the one-meter board against Villanova and just missed qualifying for her first NCAA Championship last year. Also, Kristina Kennedy and Chrissy Habeeb improved a great deal last season and should qualify for the BIG EAST meet, along with newcomer Samantha Ranieri.

“Losing Heather is a huge loss, but Meghan is ready to get better and improve,” Weathers says.

“We will be really surprised if she is not right where Heather left off by scoring some points at the NCAAs for us this year. Chrissy and Kristina have improved greatly over the past 12 months and I expect them to score a large number of points for us at the BIG EAST meet.”

With all this depth and experience expected to do big things in 2002-03, the Irish and Weathers should be able to keep their heads above water without that life preserver.

Lisa Mushett, from Keller, Texas, is in her fifth year as an assistant in the Notre Dame sports information office.