Feb. 23, 2016

By Lizzie Mikes

NOTRE DAME, Ind. ââ’¬” The University of Notre Dame men’s swim team departed campus Monday morning for Greensboro, N.C. for the 2016 ACC Championship meet. The meet starts Wednesday, February 24th and runs through Saturday the 27th. It is being held at the Greensboro Aquatic Center.

Justin Plaschka is one of 17 swimmers at this year's ACC Championship meet.

Justin Plaschka is one of 17 swimmers at this year’s ACC Championship meet.

“It’s going to be an exciting, fast meet: of course it’s a different dynamic than the women’s meet,” head coach Mike Litzinger said. “The testosterone rises quite a bit, and the guys approach it a little differently. We’re looking forward to having a really fast meet, it’s great opportunities to race some of the best teams in the country and we want to be one of them. It’s going to be a lot of fun for everybody.”

Breaking Down the Irish

* Breakdown by Class: Representing the Irish in Greensboro are four seniors, five juniors, three sophomores and five freshmen. Save for the freshman class, almost all have competed in at least one ACC Championship meet, with this year’s senior class the last to compete in the BIG EAST Championship, helping set the meet record for total points scored in 2013.

“I think that the seniors had to have strong leadership all year long, period,” Litzinger stated. “This team has guided itself through some adversity this year, and it’s been a real pleasure to work with the seniors. It was a really easy choice to make sure all the senior guys were on this trip and were on the ACC Championship squad because they’ve done a tremendous job terms of working hard and showing what they can absolutely do. I think this is a tight-dynamic team, they’re very driven, and I think they have to prove a point to everyone out there that they’re a competitive group ââ’¬” and the seniors have led that charge.”

* Stroke Specialties ââ’¬” Part One: In the IM events, no one boasts more speed or experience than junior Tom Anderson (San Deigo, Calif. / The Bishop’s School). The school record holder in the 400 IM with a 3:43 time, he’s joined this year by classmate Kevin Bradley (Milford, Mass. / Milford), senior Shane McKenzie (Newtown, Penn. / St. Joseph’s Prep) and freshman Steven Shek (Mount Laurel, N.J. / Lenape). Shek stands to be one of the most versatile young swimmers for the Irish, and will be one to watch in this meet and in years to come.

* Stroke Specialties ââ’¬”Part Two: With a senior class last season that boasted three talented breaststrokers, senior Andrew Jensen (Sugar Land, Texas / Clements) is the lone returnee in the stroke at the 2016 meet for the Irish. He’s joined by recent breaststroke convert junior Trent Jackson (Austin, Texas / Vista Ridge) and Shek,.

Andrew Jensen leads a young corps of breaststrokers.

Andrew Jensen leads a young corps of breaststrokers.

* Stroke Specialties ââ’¬” Part Three: With a wealth of roster depth a key strength for the Irish, no less than 13 of the 17 swimmers in Greensboro will appear in freestyle races in some form. In the sprint races, the Irish boast a pair of freshman stars in Tabahn Afrik (Holland, Mich. / West Ottawa) and Daniel Speers (Bornemouth Dorset, United Kingdom / The Millfield School), not to mention seasoned veteran Bogac Ayhan (London, England / Woodhouse College) and sophomore Justin Plaschka (Smithtown, N.Y. / Hauppage). In mid-distance races, Anderson Bradley, Reed Fujan (Byron, Minn. Byron), Michael Hudspith (Rancho Palos Verdes, Calif,. / Palos Verdes), McKenzie and potentially Jackson could all race. In the distance races, sophomore Richard Mannix (Larchmont, N.Y. / Fordham Prep) ââ’¬” making his ACC Championship meet debut ââ’¬” and freshman Connor Brown (Garden City, N.Y. / Garden City) are names that stand out for the Irish, as well as junior Joseph Petrone (Cherry Hill, N.J. / St. Joseph’s Preparatory School).

* Stroke Specialties ââ’¬” Part Four: Yet to be mentioned is a dark horse for the Irish, in the form of freshman butterflier Matthew Grauslys (Manchester, N.H. Manchester Memorial). Grauslys stands as the only swimmer in his recruiting class to come into Notre Dame with Olympic Trials times to his name, in the 100m and 200m butterfly. His excellence at the stroke makes him a strong contender at this year’s meet to be a difference-maker for the Irish. Joining him in the fly events are Ayhan, Bradley, Fujan, McKenzie and Plaschka.

* Stroke Specialties ââ’¬” Part Five: Not to be remiss, Rob Whitacre (Oceanport, N.J. / Christian Brothers Academy), Anderson, and Ayhan make up a fast group of backstrokers donning the blue and gold this week. Other possible Irish backstroke entrants include Bradley, Grauslys and Petrone.

* Coaches Comments: Litzinger, having worked with the men’s team just over two months, offered up the following thoughts on this week’s races.

On his hopes for relay performances, and how roster depth helps the Irishââ’¬¦

“You start with the relays, and we’ll get off to some really good relay starts. The 800 free relay was pretty good last year and I think they can repeat their performance, and the sprint medley and sprint freestyle are going to be pretty tremendous as well. This team, and the way I’ve gotten to know them is, they’re just solid in every event. There are superstars here and there, NCAA quality kids, but I think our depth will really show at this meet. When you score to 24 places like they do in the ACC that helps a team like Notre Dame round it’s field out so to speak and add to the point total.”

His thoughts on the meet overallââ’¬¦

“If you think you’ve seen something fast, get ready because you’re going to see something really fast. That was the theme last week. Our freshmen kids last week stepped forward and answered that challenge, and I think these guys will too, but it’s a different world and the ACC is as competitive as it gets out there. You’ve got North Carolina State, North Carolina, Louisville, Virginia who’s won X-amount of championships, and you throw Notre Dame in there who’s won multiple BIG EAST Championships for sure, so there’s a lot of teams out there that know how to win, Virginia Tech’s won one recently as well.”

Results and daily recaps of the meet will be available on und.com, but for instant, up-to-the-minute coverage of all things Notre Dame, be sure to give the team a follow on Twitter (@NDMensswimdive), Facebook and on the official Fighting Irish Snapchat account, NDIrish.

— ND —

Lizzie Mikes serves as Media Services Coordinator at the University of Notre Dame. A 2013 graduate of Johnson & Wales University, she oversees credential management and is the athletic communications director for Fighting Irish men’s and women’s swimming and diving and track and field. She has assisted with numerous NCAA postseason events hosted by Notre Dame, and is heavily involved in the day-to-day tasks of the athletic communications office.