Oct. 26, 2000
The Notre Dame women’s swimming program has taken a number of giant steps forward since head coach Bailey Weather arrived in 1995.
The Irish are four-time BIG EAST champions (’97-’00) and are poised to repeat that feat again in 2001. Seven different swimmers and one diver have earned All-America honors in Weathers’ five years at the helm.
Now it has become the time to expect leaps in the right direction to take the place of steps.
“I thought we were very good last year, but we are going to be even better this year,” Weathers says.
“We are a more well-rounded team and have some freshmen who should be able to fill the losses we had to graduation. I am really excited about this season. I think we have more scoring potential at the NCAA meet than ever before.”
The Irish sent six swimmers and one diver to the NCAA meet in 2000 and finished 18th, their highest-ever team finish. The impressive NCAA finish came after an outstanding BIG EAST championship meet where Notre Dame accumulated 829.5 points, 14 event titles and nearly doubled the point total of second-place Rutgers (437) and third-place Miami (436).
“I think we had an incredible BIG EAST meet,” Weathers says.
“We scored more points than we ever had before. We just need to continue to improve. I think we are going to continue to get better every year and we are going to take some big steps forward. They are gradual steps, though, and we cannot afford to skip any of them.
“I will be surprised if we do not score 100 more points at the BIG EAST meet this season. I also will be surprised if we do not improve our NCAA championship meet finish.”
Notre Dame boasts more depth at each stroke than it has ever had in the program’s history. Here is a breakdown of the team stroke by stroke:
This is an area where the Irish have made noticeable improvement in their depth. Kelly Hecking is the top returnee on the team and won the 100- and 200- meter backstroke at the 2000 BIG EAST championships.
“We went into last season without a lot of depth in the backstroke,” Weather says.
“Kelly (Hecking) has obviously been our best backstroker over the last two years and has done a fabulous job as an All-American in the (200 and 400 medley) relays.
“(Freshmen) Lisa Garcia, Marie Labosky and Jessica Roberts could mount a challenge to Kelly in the 100 and 200 backstroke at the BIG EAST meet.
“Tiffany O’Brien has scored for us in the 200 back, but she is more of an individual medley specialist. She really came on at the end of last year and has shown the ability to improve at the end of every year. We will look for her to do well again.”
Hecking will reap the benefits of a full summer of training after competing in the U.S. Olympic Team Trials.
“Kelly is already training faster than she ever has,” Weathers says.
“I think it is going to be a great season to watch her swim. It also will help that she has the freshman sprint specialists to train with. I think it is time for Kelly to score in the NCAA meet and that will be our goal for her this season.”
Kathleen Rimkus and Allison Lloyd are the top veterans on the Irish roster this season. Both were affected by injuries last season, but they return at full strength for the 2000-01 season. Weathers also landed freshman Jilen Siroky, who was a member of the 1996 U.S. Olympic swim team as a breaststroke specialist.
“Kathleen was injured toward the end of last year and I think that held her back in some individual performances and her ability to score well at the BIG EAST meet was affected as well. I believe that she will score well this year.
“(Freshman) Laurie Musgrave is a state champion out of Colorado and will really help us in the breaststroke. She will be a solid sprint-breaststroker.
“Jilen Siroky is obviously an extremely talented breaststroker who was on the 1996 Olympic team in the 200 breaststroke. The main obstacle with Jilen is just deciding which event she will compete in. She can score well in the breast, IM and butterfly. It is just a matter of her deciding what she wants to compete in.”
All-American Carrie Nixon is one of the top sprint-butterfly specialists in the nation and competed in the event during the 2000 U.S. Olympic swim team trials.
“Carrie Nixon is a great sprint-butterflyer who broke our school record by over a second last season,” Weather says.
“Amy Deger also will do a great job for us in the butterfly. I think we are close to the same scenario in the butterfly this season as we had in the backstroke last season. We have some holes from graduation that we need to fill.”
Three freshmen, Danielle Hulick, Lisa Garcia and Lisa D’Olier, will be asked to step up and provide some depth in the butterfly.
“This is the most exciting freshman class we have brought in since our first one in 1996. Danielle is a great butterfly and IM specialist. Lisa Garcia was second in her high school state meet in the butterfly and Lisa D’Olier won the Texas high school meet in the butterfly the first year she really participated in it.”
Carrie Nixon dominates the 50 and 100 freestyle in the BIG EAST. The 2000 BIG EAST Most Outstanding Swimmer, Nixon has won both events the last two years at the championship meet. She also became the first Irish swimmer to earn first-team All-America honors when she finished fourth in the 50 meter freestyle at the 2000 NCAA championship meet, the highest individual finish ever by an Irish swimmer – male or female.
Nixon will not be alone when she touches the wall for her victories this season. The Irish are deep in the freestyle and many teammates will end up battling for a shot at the 800 medley relay team.
“I really expect our 800 relay to qualify for the NCAA meet this year,” Weathers says.
“I am just going to hate picking who is on the team. I think we have five or six girls that can swim under 1:50 and can make it work for us.”
Kristen Van Saun, Danielle Hulick, Sara Cerreta, Jessica Roberts, Tara Riggs, Katie Phillip, Brenda Reilly and Katie Crawford are among the best in the conference in their respective freestyle events.
“I think Danielle will really add a lot in the sprint freestyle,” Weathers says.
“She can make up for the loss of (graduated) Laura Shepherd in the sprint relays. I also look for Sarah Bowman to be a leader in the relays either this season or the next. She really has a shot to make our 800-relay team this season.
“In the distance lane, Tara and Marie (Labosky) will help during the dual meet season. Nicole Kohrt went to her first senior national meet last year and improved dramatically over the season.”
The IM is another event in which the Irish are loaded with talent. Marie Labosky is one of the top freshmen in the country in the IM and Tiffany O’Brien qualified for and competed in the 2000 U.S. Olympic Trials in the 400 IM. Notre Dame boasts a wealth of swimmers who have the ability to compete in the IM events.
“It is going to be fun watching our IM specialists this year,” Weathers said.
“Tiffany and Marie both have a chance to win the conference this year. Tiffany has come a long way over her three years in the program and will continue to get better. Marie is the best IM specialist in the freshman class and will be able to concentrate and do great things in the 400 IM.
“Sarah Bowman is great at the 200 IM. Laurie Musgrave is solid and Lisa D’Olier can swim either the 200 or 400 IM. We have a lot of depth that we hope will come through for us this season.”
Weathers is counting on his depth to help the Irish improve in the 200 IM, an event that has been inconsistent for the team in the past.
“We have struggled a bit over the last few years scoring points in the sprint IM,” Weather says. “We just haven’t been as fast as I though we needed to be or as our talent will allow. One of our goals this season is to improve our times and performances in the 200 IM.”
One of the major steps toward prominence the Irish have made is in diving. Heather Mattingly became the first Irish diver to score at the NCAA meet last season (she finished 18th) and the addition of talented freshman Meghan Perry-Eaton gives Notre Dame two of the top divers in the conference.
“This is, by far, the best diving team we have ever had,” Weathers says.
“Heather had an incredible summer at the senior nationals. It was a big jump forward for her. She was just real focused at the NCAA meet and scored some points for us there.”
“Jessica (Johnstone) and Karli (Richards) have both done a great job getting ready for this season and I think they are going to score some big points for us at the BIG EAST meet. It has been a fun three years with those two girls in the program and they have been great kids. I have really enjoyed having them in the program. It will be hard to lose them after next year, but I think they are both ready to have the best year of their careers.
“Meghan Perry-Eaton coming into the program is a great bonus for us. She is a great diver who scored at senior nationals this summer and I think she might afford us the possibility of having two kids at the NCAAs this year.”
The 2000-01 season also will be special because of the experience of many of the Irish swimmers in the U.S. Olympic Trials. Five Irish swimmers participated in the event and the full summer of training should benefit all who were involved this season.
The women’s swimming contingent was led by Nixon. She competed in three events at the Trials, placing 29th in the 100-meter butterfly, 38th in the 100-meter freestyle, and 21st in the 50-meter freestyle.
“Carrie swam two of her lifetime best times at the trials,” Weathers says.
“We still wanted better times for her, though. Carrie is a perfect example of the goals of our program. We want to develop great athletes in our program. Our goal is to develop the talent we have into great swimmers.”
Nixon is one of the most decorated Irish swimmers in history. A three-time All-American, she has won eight BIG EAST titles and finished fourth at the 2000 NCAA championships in the 50-meter freestyle.
“Out of all the swimmers on our team, we had 19 kids qualify for the Trials,” Weathers said.
“But some graduated and moved on to their careers while others chose not to go to the Trials or to concentrate on the upcoming school year.”
Nixon’s classmates, Tiffany O’Brien and Kristen Van Saun placed 76th in the 400-individual medley and 74th in the 400-meter freestyle, respectively. Allison Lloyd finished 86th in the 100-meter breaststroke preliminaries and also finished 101st in the preliminaries of the 200-meter butterfly. Hecking swam the 100-meter backstroke preliminaries, placing 70th in 1:06.95.
“Making the Olympic Trials is a long-term goal to achieve,” Weathers says.
“Tiffany had developed the opportunity to swim in the U.S. Olympic Trials into a lifetime goal. She has dual citizenship in the United States and Canada, but making the U.S. Trials is far more difficult.
“All of the performances from our swimmers were solid and in line with their preparation.”
With a strong freshman class and a bevy of talented veterans on the roster, the Notre Dame women’s swimming team is ready to make its presence felt at the national championship meet.
“We have learned a lot about the process of creating a strong program,” Weather says.
“Notre Dame is a unique school. I don’t think anyone graduates swimmers as fast as we do. Most schools take five years for their swimmers to graduate. We have a unique environment. We are taking the right steps every year, now we just have to maintain the momentum we have created.”