Oct. 28, 2014
NOTRE DAME, Ind. – The end of the 2013-14 season signaled the beginning of a new era for the University of Notre Dame men’s swimming and diving program, as 29-year veteran head coach Tim Welsh retired and three-time All-American Frank Dyer – the first swimmer to earn All-America accolades in program history – graduated.
Yet instead of soul-searching and wondering, “what’s next,” the Irish have perhaps never been more ready for a season to start than they are this season. Led by veteran associate head coach turned new head coach Matt Tallman, the Irish return 19 monogram winners from a year ago and welcome in nine newcomers to round out a 35-member squad.
“The team learned a lot about getting to the next level last year,” Tallman says. “We have a few levels yet to go, but being able to witness in recent years a few different jumps in success levels will help in continuing our growth and progression towards becoming a top-tier program.”
The Irish sent seven swimmers and one diver in then-freshman Joe Coumos to the NCAA Championships last year, after sending a program-record nine competitors to the title meet in 2012-13. Looking ahead, Tallman has high hopes of sending 10-plus swimmers to the 2015 NCAAs, held in Iowa City, Iowa March 26-28.
The Irish will be tested continually throughout their second year as an Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) member, but Tallman has confidence in his team’s ability to handle the workload.
“We have a very challenging schedule,” he says. “We stress to each student-athlete that the selection of the ACC Championship team is not easy, and that every time they’re given a lane in a meet they need to make the best of it to impress the coaching staff.”
Before the Irish dive into a meet scenario however, Tallman believes preparation and due diligence carried over from a summer spent training will give his group an edge heading into the fall schedule.
“This past summer we had a great core group of young men remain on campus and train while taking some classes,” he says. “The practice schedule we gave them was similar to what the guys face during the traditional academic year. In addition, we had five members of our team compete at the U.S. National Championship meet in Irvine, California in August, either representing Notre Dame or their club team. We will build off their results at that meet heading into the fall, and use it as motivation.”
Up first for the Irish was the traditional Dennis Stark Relay meet (Oct. 10), which they won handily against Olivet Nazarene, 240-140 (read recap here). 2014-15 marks the meet’s 50th anniversary of being run as the first meet of the season for the Irish.
“The relay meet is always a great way to start the season, as it’s just the right amount of time into our training to gauge where the guys are at,” says Tallman. “It serves as a barometer of what we’re going to need to work on in the following weeks before the dual meet season kicks off.”
Throughout the fall semester, the Irish will square off at home with traditional foes Purdue (Nov. 1), Pittsburgh and Virginia Tech (Nov. 7 and 8), before traveling to East Lansing, Michigan to compete against Michigan State (Nov. 14). Each team will challenge the Irish in a new way, but Tallman looks forward to each meet and what his squad can achieve.
“I have a lot of thoughts and expectations for the season; I think we have the potential to ride the high of last year’s successes and break most of our records, while featuring a great group at the NCAA Championships in the postseason,” he says. “We have quite a few members of our team capable of doing special things this year.”
The Irish wrap up the fall semester at the Hawkeye Invitational (Dec. 5-7), a meet they not only won in 2013 but also set six school records at. Their 1,288.5 mark stands as the second highest score at the annual invite, behind Iowa’s 1,408 score in 2009.
But a summer full of training and competitive fall meets serve as only half the equation for success for Tallman and his squad; in addition, the Irish will take three team training trips throughout the year to various locations.
“We traveled to Mattawan, Michigan in September to Pretty Lake Camp for an overnight trip,” Tallman says. “The focus was on team bonding and establishing team goals and expectations, while also doing a ropes course to learn to work together as a team and trust in one another’s teammate.” (Read article on the experience here.)
The Irish also traveled to Colorado Springs, Colorado over fall break to train at the U.S. Olympic facilities and gain valuable experience with high-altitude training. Says Tallman, “That trip was a tremendous training environment, while still living in a dorm setting and continuing the necessary bonding required to be the successful Notre Dame program we can and should be every year.”
The final training trip for the Irish is one that remains a longstanding tradition – traveling to Trujillo Alto, Puerto Rico for the Copa Coqui exhibition meet over Christmas break. The trip not only serves as a sunny respite from a snowy South Bend, it also enables the Irish to recharge their batteries and enjoy new cultural experiences before a challenging spring semester begins.
Less than a week after the Puerto Rico trip, the Irish will hit the road to face perhaps their staunchest opponents of the season in Michigan and Northwestern (Jan. 10) followed by another invite meet at Wisconsin (Jan. 16-17) that features a field littered with top-10 talent.
“Ten opponents on our schedule were represented at last year’s NCAA Championships – that’s a trend that we want to continue, competing against the best,” Tallman says. “We want to compete against the best programs in the country and grow our ACC schedule. The ACC is a premier conference in the sport of men’s swimming and diving; we’re excited to be a part of it, and look forward to climbing the ranks on the national level as a member of such an esteemed conference.”
While climbing those ranks, Tallman has a bevvy of talent on his first roster as head coach. A 14-man senior class combined with nine freshmen makes up the bulk of the squad, but his junior and sophomore classes are also ready to contribute towards achieving the team’s ultimate goal: sending 10 or more entrants to NCAAs.
“We want to qualify more guys for the NCAA meet than we have in previous seasons,” says senior Patrick Murphy, a captain on the 2013-14 team. “We want to set the foundation of consistently being a top-10 team moving forward, and it starts here.”
Tallman voiced his agreement with Murphy, stating, “The senior class has a tremendous amount of talent that will stand for us both on the starting blocks and the diving boards. We have three honorable mention All-America swimmers in Kevin Hughes, Zachary Stephens and Jon Williamson. Divers Nick Nemetz and Michael Kreft have each been the conference diver of the year on separate occasions. The rest of the 2015 class is filled with teammates that have played tremendous roles in developing our program, from team captains through individual conference champions.
“My hope is that every one of these young men leaves Notre Dame knowing they got out of the program what they put in. They are part of the tremendous family known as Notre Dame Athletics, and an even tighter-knit group in being a member of our swimming and diving team.”
While they may not have the manpower of the senior class, the junior and sophomore classes have just as strong of talent and will provide depth to the upperclassman-heavy roster.
“Our lower classes have more than potential,” says Tallman. “There is a lot of talent there, and from the looks of it, a lot of emerging leadership too. Myself and the rest of the staff are excited about what our sophomores can bring to the table after a year of experience in our program, and the freshmen have fit in nicely and should contribute right away.”
To wrap up the regular season, the Irish host a pair of meets with the Shamrock Invitational (Jan. 30-31) before facing off in a dual meet with Cleveland State (Feb. 7). It will be the second time in as many years that the Vikings have traveled to South Bend to help the Irish close out their regular season.
From there, the challenges of post-season competition await Tallman and his team as the diving squad will travel with the women’s team for ACC Diving Championships (Feb. 18-21) before the swimmers dive off the blocks for the swimming portion of the ACC Championships (Feb. 25-28). Top performers at the conference championship will be in a position to qualify for the NCAA Championships at the Campus Recreation and Wellness Center at the University of Iowa – a pool the Irish will be more than familiar with after having competed in the Hawkeye Invitational earlier in the season.
“Two years ago, we sent nine swimmers to the NCAAs – a program record,” says Tallman. “Last year we sent seven swimmers and a diver. We need to go to NCAAs with absolute confidence and conviction that we can succeed, because we have quite a few student-athletes capable of breaking into the national scene.”
With a year’s experience under their belts in the ACC, and a competitive roster eager to push one another, the Irish men’s swimming and diving team is definitely a team on the brink, ready and raring to make a splash in more ways than one during the 2014-15 season.
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