April 25, 2016

By Lizzie Mikes

NOTRE DAME, Ind. – One bright, sunshine-filled afternoon, the University of Notre Dame men’s and women’s swimming and diving teams gathered to celebrate their end-of-the-year banquets. Instead of two separate functions however, the teams joined forces in the Oak Room of the South Dining Hall to cherish each other’s accomplishments, and together celebrate the future of their newly-combined program.

“Today, we celebrate our teams’ success,” Irish head coach Mike Litzinger said. “I want to share some numbers from this year. Seven; the number of school records broken. Ten; the number of NCAA Qualifers. 25, 30 and 55: 25 women, 30 men, a total of 55 performances that broke into the all-time top-10 performances here at Notre Dame. Three-point plus; your GPAs.

“To me,” he continued, “statistics like those are the backbone of what you do here. The coaches, we see you daily: wet, in the pool, in the strength training room. What you do away from the pool is equally impressive. We have eight U.S. Olympic Trial qualifiers, and four international qualifiers that have an opportunity to represent their country at the Olympic games. The reason I put these numbers out, is because no one understands our sport; is that a good diving score? Is that a fast time? I like to give statistics that are solid, that people can understand. It’s important that [my team] is recognized for all the hard work and effort [they] put forth all year. And that’s what today is about.”

(L-R) Catherine Galletti, Lorrin Ostojic (men’s academic advisor) and Andrew Jensen. Ostojic presented both seniors with the Knute Rockne Scholar Athlete Award for exceptional academic performance.

After a lunch buffet that featured smoked tilapia with snap peas and red peppers and a chicken dijon roulade with cheesecake for dessert, Litzinger and various members of the support staff presented the team awards. First up, strength and conditioning coaches Elisa Angeles (women’s team) and Kaitlin Sweeney (men’s team) presented the Golden Dumbbell and Weight Room Warrior awards to the women’s and men’s teams respectively. Senior diver Emma Gaboury (Bloomfield Hills, Mich. / Marian) was bestowed the first Golden Dumbbell award since 2011, while junior breaststroke/freestyler Trent Jackson (Austin, Texas / Vista Ridge) earned the men’s team award.

Gaboury was also the recipient of the women’s Monogram Club MVP Award, while sophomore sprinter Justin Plaschka (Smithtown, N.Y. / Hauppage) was named the men’s team MVP. Both recipients qualified for their first individual NCAA Championship in 2016 – Gaboury in the 1-meter and 3-meter events, and Plaschka in the men’s 50 free, 100 free, 100 fly, and 200 and 400 free relays.

Present to bestow their namesake awards, Dr. Charles Blanchard and former head coach Tim Welsh honored senior Shane McKenzie (Newtown, Pa. / St. Joseph’s Prep) and men’s sport administrator Michael Danch with the Charles Blanchard and Tim Welsh Awards respectively. McKenzie was chosen as the swimmer or diver “who by performance, inspiration and leadership, has exemplified the personal qualities of Charles Blanchard”, while Danch was honored as the first-ever recipient of the Tim Welsh Award for his service and dedication to the men’s swimming program.

Michael Danch (L) was honored as the first recipient of the Tim Welsh award for his service and dedication to Notre Dame Swimming and Diving.

A 1967 graduate of Notre Dame and South Bend native, Danch received an honorary monogram from the Notre Dame Monogram Club and is the recipient of the Notre Dame Club of St. Joseph’s Valley 2002 Award of the Year. In addition, he has received special awards from the Notre Dame Student Government and the Convention and Tourism division of the South Bend/Mishawaka Chambers of Commerce. He is the 2011 recipient of the James E. Armstrong Award from the Notre Dame Alumni Association, which recognizes a Notre Dame alumnus who works on campus and is being recognized for his service to the University and community. He was also named an “honorary teammate” by the 1966 Notre Dame National Championship football team.

Litzinger presented both the Patrick Reilly McManus Captains’ Award (bestowed upon Reed Fujan (Byron, Minn. / Byron) and the Beeler-Hipp Awards. For the women’s team, Kyra Sarazen (North Hampton, N.H. / St. Thomas Aquinas) won the award, while Steven Shek (Mount Laurel, N.J. / Lenape) was the men’s recipient.

The Irish fetted three Most Improved honorees in 2016, as freestyler Ella Moynihan (Denver, Colo. / Arapahoe) and diver Annie Crea (The Woodlands, Texas / The Woodlands College Park) were named most improved women’s team members of the year, and freestyler Daniel Fujan (Byron, Minn. / Byron) – younger brother of 2015 recipient Reed Fujan – was named as men’s award-winner. Moynihan was the lone Irish women’s swimmer to appear at the NCAA Championship, swimming in the 200 free, but she also broke the school record in the 500 free and swam with the 400 free relay team that set a school record at the Shamrock Invitational meet. Crea qualified for her first NCAA Championship in the 3-meter, and was one of three divers – a program first – to compete at the title meet. Fujan ended his first year under the golden dome swimming at the Michigan First Chance Meet, but Litzinger spoke of a developing talent in the young freshman and looked forward to next season.

Lorrin Ostojic, the men’s academic advisor, was present to announce the Knute Rockne Scholar Athlete Award to two well-deserving seniors, Andrew Jensen (Sugar Land, Texas / Clements) and Catherine Galletti (Oviedo, Fla. / Trinity Prep). Jensen, a science pre-professional major, will head to medical school at Baylor University next fall, and Galletti is a double-major in the Mendoza College of Business and the College of Arts and Letters, studying management consulting and psychology.

The afternoon affair closed with the announcement of captains for 2016-17, as decided on by a team vote. From the men’s team, current juniors Reed Fujan and Tom Anderson (San Diego, Calif. / The Bishop’s School) are the first captains named since the 2013-14 season. From the women’s team 2015-16 captain Catherine Mulquin (Laytonsville, Md. / Our Lady of Good Counsel) returns, alongside Crea and junior Molly Barry (San Diego, Calif. / Cathedral Catholic). As the crowd departed into the late afternoon sunshine, one could sense that as brightly as the sun shone on the South Quad of campus, the future of the Fighting Irish would be equally the same.

— 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.