Feb. 27, 2016
By Lizzie Mikes
GREENSBORO, N.C. – The University of Notre Dame men’s swim team qualified their 400 free relay for the NCAA Championship next month, and earned second place at the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) Championship in the event. The Irish finished seventh overall in the team standings, with 678 points.
“I think the guys after this morning’s swims in the 100, where they all swam personal bests, and the way the individual event shook out, we knew we could put together a really nice relay,” head coach Mike Litzinger said. “Throughout the morning and afternoon, we just talked strategy; how we were going to approach the relay, who was going to lead off, and they knew the time; they knew the school record, they knew the NCAA A-cut time, and we knew that we could run that outside lane out. When you get ahead in that sprint relay, there’s a bit of an advantage to having that open water out there and the goal was to lead Justin off, have Daniel go second, and have some great open water for Tabahn and Reed to clean up. They executed it very, very well. The credit goes to the guys, they talked about it, they knew what they wanted, and getting that NCAA A cut was really huge for our relay.”
Sophomore Justin Plaschka led the way with a leadoff split of 43.05. Freshmen Daniel Speers (42.59 split) and Tabahn Afrik (43.09 split) kept up his lead, with junior Reed Fujan (43.45 split) clinching the automatic cut-time of 2:52.18 and sealing the second, second-place finish in any event for the Irish in as many nights. Additionally, the time stands as a school record.
“I’m tremendously excited to go to NCAAs,” Fujan exclaimed. “There isn’t another group of guys I’d want to be going with. As odd as it sounds, I wasn’t terribly nervous as I stood up on the blocks. The real starts of the relay were the first three swimmers, they put me in the position to finish the race under the A cut. I’m so happy we were able to get that relay, so we were able to bring a relay down to NCAAs for another season. Everyone on that relay deserves it.”
The 400 free relay wasn’t the only school record broken on Saturday either, as sophomore backstroker Robert Whitacre broke teammate Thomas Anderson’s time in the 200 back as well. The Ocean City, New Jersey product finished eighth in the prelims with a 1:42.17 time and advanced to the evening’s A final, where he placed sixth overall (1:42.21).
Senior Bogac Ayhan also swam in the 200 back, earning a shot at the C final with his 1:45.19 prelim time. Ayhan won the C final, finishing 17th overall (1:44.62).
“I didn’t approach the race any differently than any other 200 back,” Whitacre commented on his record-breaking performance. “I knew I had to go out fast to compete with the rest of my heat, and I was able to hold that pace for the rest of the race. My preparation is just diving in the pool, swimming as hard as I can, and hopping out afterwards. I can’t worry about others, or anything I can’t control.”
In the 100 free, no less than five Irish swimmers raced for a shot at the evening finals, with four advancing. Senior Michael Hudspith swam his last race in an Irish uniform, touching the wall third in his heat (44.92). Fujan (43.87 prelims) and Afrik (43.84 prelims) tied for 14th overall in the B final, simultaneously touching the wall at 43.60. Plaschka (43.14 prelims) also swam in the A final, finishing seventh (43.39). Freshman Speers swam in the B final, finishing 11th (43.50). He clocked in at 43.64 in the prelims.
In the 200 breast, Ayhan’s classmate Andrew Jensen just missed qualifying for the C final, coming in 26th with his 2:01.25 prelim time. Steven Shek (2:00.61) did make the cut, finishing 24th (2:00.86) in the C final. Trent Jackson (1:57.29 prelims) advanced to the B final, where he took 13th (1:57.72).
Grauslys, who swam a 1:44.82 prelim, finished fifth overall (1:44.84) in B cut-time, while Anderson (1:45.88 in prelims) took 12th (1:45.22) and Bradley finished 14th (1:46.19). Petrone (1:49.48) out-touched McKenzie (1:49.64) for 22nd, leaving the senior 23rd in his final race with the Irish.
“I’m very happy with how they finished,” Litzinger said, “we talked a lot about when there was a change, how people were going to respond to the change. Athletes, coaches, and the rest of the swimming world, Notre Dame had some answering to do to the swimming world. We finished in a decent spot in the league, but the achievement by the team itself outweighs the placement by a mile. The guys came in with something to prove, that they can get it done, and the performances showed. I’m proud of the seniors, they stepped up and they all had an opportunity to swim at night. Our underclassmen are very strong too, and I think the seniors left the group in great hands.”
The Irish finish their 2015-16 season with the NCAA Championship meet March 24-26th, held at the Georgia Tech Campus Recreation Center in Atlanta, Georgia.
— 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.