Feb. 24, 2018 By John Heisler
Zach Yeadon is having the time of his life.
And why not?
Little has gone wrong in the pool for the freshman freestyle standout on the University of Notre Dame men’s swimming team during his rookie season.
He was unbeaten in the 500, 1000 and 1650 freestyle events in 2017-18 dual meets, including multiple victories in those events against seventh-ranked Louisville, 15th-ranked Texas A&M, 23rd-rated Purdue and 20th-ranked Florida State.
Heading into competition this weekend he had posted times in those three events that ranked among the top seven in the country this season: fourth in the 1000 freestyle and seventh in both the 500 and 1650 freestyle races.
After the Atlantic Coast Conference Championships this weekend in Greensboro, North Carolina, Yeadon has his sights set on the NCAA Championships late next month in Minneapolis.
At that event and in years to come, Yeadon hopes to take the Irish men’s swimming program to places it has never been.
Born in New Jersey, Yeadon moved to San Antonio, Texas, at age 11 and decided to stick with swimming over football when he was in seventh grade.
As a senior in high school he made official visits to North Carolina State in late August, followed by Notre Dame and Northwestern on successive late September weekends.
“Once I got back from Northwestern, I knew this was the right place,” he says. “The day I got back from Northwestern I committed to Notre Dame.”
Yeadon was taken by Irish head coach Mike Litzinger and associate head coach Aaron Bell and their plans for him, coming off a handful of recent seasons in which Notre Dame has made noise at the NCAA Championship (including a program-best 25th-place finish in 2017).
“The coaches talked about how they wanted the program to take the next leap forward and how my recruiting class would be able to do that,” Yeadon says. “They said we all could get together and have a huge impact, and that was something that really mattered to me. I wanted to be able to have that impact from the start.
“This is a program on the rise. That was a really big deal for me.”
And that’s why his swimming regimen includes an hour and a half in the pool on Monday mornings, followed by two and a half hours those same afternoons. On Tuesday and Thursday, there are more two-a-day workouts, though with the afternoon session shortened by 30 minutes. Then there are weightlifting sessions after afternoon workouts.
Yeadon, who never lifted weights in high school, is convinced the strength training has made a big difference.
“I was skinny and lanky (6-5, 170 pounds),” he says. “So lifting and getting stronger absolutely has been a factor.”
Expecting to major in finance in Notre Dame’s Mendoza College of Business, Yeadon during the regular season knocked two seconds off the 500 freestyle invitation time from last year’s NCAA meet-and nine seconds off the mile (1650) standard.
“It’s all about the level of competition and the people I’ve been training with,” he says. “You’re training with NCAA qualifiers who come in here day after day and work hard as heck. It’s been great being with them.
“The competition in high school was pretty mellow compared to what we’re doing.”
One of Yeadon’s NCAA goals is to head to Minneapolis with one of the eight fastest times in the 1650 freestyle-since only those eight swimmers will be assigned to the A heat (with no preliminaries in that event).
To know all that, Yeadon and his teammates spend their share of time on the collegeswimming.com list of top national times.
“I like to keep up to date with conference swims,” he says. “There already have been several really quick times in conference meets-and that just helps you know where you are. At midseason, you know you can go faster, you see other guys doing that and it’s a little motivation for us for NCAAs.”
A steady diet of ranked opponents, including Louisville, Texas A&M and Purdue in the month of October alone, has given the freshman a good idea of what to expect.
Interestingly, Yeadon’s best times came at the Ohio State Invitational in Columbus back in November. He finished second in the mile (14:47.18), third in the 500 freestyle (4:14.93) and second in the 1000 freestyle (8:56.18). All three times are Notre Dame records-plus Yeadon has posted Rolfs Aquatic Center records in the 500 and 1000.
He’s readily aware that one of his top competitors is North Carolina State senior and freestyle expert Anton Ipsen, who currently boasts the best times in the country in both the 1000 and 1650 freestyle events as well as the third-best time in the 500 free. Ipsen won all three freestyle events in November in Columbus when Yeadon swam his best times of the regular season.
At the ACC Championships Thursday night Yeadon broke his own Notre Dame record in the 500 free, taking second place at 4:12.74 behind Ipsen’s winning 4:11.21. He also took second Saturday night in the 1650 free (again behind Ipsen) at 14:34.60, again breaking his own Irish record. Results in the 1650 race gave Yeadon and Ipsen the two best times in the country this season in that event.
Yeadon and Litzinger are banking on their upgraded week-by-week competition schedule as solid preparation for the biggest stage. Down the road, that could make Yeadon Notre Dame’s most effective freestyle swimmer since Frank Dyer finished 19th or better in the 500 free in three straight NCAA Championships (2012-13-14).
“We swam a top 10 team in Louisville the very first weekend,” says Yeadon, who was named national swimmer of the week by collegeswimming.com for his efforts against the Cardinals.
“We were getting after it right off the bat.”
Notre Dame’s lone team losses in a 9-2 dual-meet campaign came at the hands of the current second-ranked men’s team, Indiana, along with Texas A&M, now rated 11th.
Adds Yeadon, “I like to keep things constant during the season from a training standpoint. Keep the mindset on what’s coming next. When you’ve got huge meets coming up you want to make sure you’re prepared for it mentally and physically. If you’re not mentally there, you put yourself in a big hole.
“It’s been really great. I’ve taken a huge leap forward from high school. “
Once the NCAA Championships conclude, there’s no real vacation for Yeadon.
“I’ll be staying here over summer, taking some classes and training for U.S. nationals later this summer (July 25-29 in Irvine, California),” he says.
Yeadon, who turns 19 in June, hopes to make the national team (top two swimmers in each event) and possibly qualify for the Pan Pacific Championships in August in Tokyo. All that would give him a shot at competing in the 2019 FINA World Championships in Gwangju, South Korea.
For now, Yeadon thinks his best potential resides in the 1650 freestyle-a more demanding long-course event in which fewer swimmers specialize.
And, for now, he’s pointing toward Minneapolis-and the chance to contribute to a better national finish than any previous Irish team has accomplished.
“I’m really excited about our team and the NCAAs,” he says. “It’s gonna be a blast.”