Sept. 27, 2016
By Andrew Bartolini
NOTRE DAME, Ind. ÃƒÆ’Â¢ÃƒÂ¢’Â¬” Since being named the captains of the Notre Dame men’s and women’s swimming and diving programs last April, the quintet of Molly Barry, Annie Crea, Catherine Mulquin, Tommy Anderson and Reed Fujan have been eager to get back in the pool and lead the Fighting Irish in what promises to be an exciting 2016-17 season.
One of the major changes for the Irish this year is the combining of the men’s and women’s teams under Head Coach Mike Litzinger. Senior Catherine Mulquin, who also captained the Irish last season, is looking forward to the inaugural season with a combined program.
“This year, I am looking forward to our first full season of being a combined team,” said Mulquin.
“We have seen a lot of changes over the years, but I feel like this is a great time for us to show what a great point we have reached as a program, although we are not done getting better.”
Mulquin, who competed at the US Olympic Trials this summer, is dedicated to not only ending her swimming career on a high note, but also taking the time to cherish her last season of competitive swimming.
“On an individual perspective, I am really looking forward to my last season of being a competitive swimmer,” said Mulquin. “Because I have been swimming since the age of five, it’s crazy to think about this being my last few months. I have really big goals and expectations for myself, but most importantly just want to cherish these last opportunities I have to be on such an incredible team and to represent Notre Dame to the best of my abilities.”
Litzinger will rely on Mulquin’s talents and leadership both in and out of the pool this season.
“Catherine wants to do well and do well for the team,” said Litzinger. “She has some really great sprinting ability but I really believe her sweet spot is the 100 backstroke. This is her year. She has seen a lot of change in the program like they all have. She knows where we are going and she is ready to take that role as a full time leader.”
Fellow senior Molly Barry will also lead the Irish women in her final year at Notre Dame.
Barry is excited about the training and team environment that the Irish have already formed in practices so far this year.
“I’m really excited to see just how far we can go this season,” said Barry. “We have a really great group this year and I think that we’re developing an environment that will lead to everyone motivating each other and doing really well.”
Litzinger credits Barry to contributing to the team’s environment both in and out of the water.
“What I like the most about Molly [Barry] is that she will sacrifice for the team,” explained Litzinger. “She has seen the changes in the program and the direction that we are headed in. She can convey that message. She always works hard. There is no question about her work ethic. She is a really good person to have as your point in terms of leading the team.”
On the other side of the pool, Annie Crea will bring experience from the highest level of collegiate competition to the Irish squads. Crea was a part of a banner year for Notre Dame diving last season, which culminated in three Irish divers competing at the women’s NCAA Championships. Crea is the lone returner of the trio, but her experience is going to be invaluable for the Irish.
“I’m looking forward to a more cohesive team after combining, and also a team that’s more focused on being the best team it can be, especially in championship season,” said Crea.
Litzinger credits Crea for contributing to the team environment between the swimmers and divers and also developing her own talents on the boards over the past two years.
“I believe in leadership at both ends of the pool,” explained Litzinger. “You have to have it because we are not going to be a successful team without swimming or diving. They have to be together. She is doing a really great job right now of meshing the swimming and diving aspects. She is involved in everything that we are doing as a team. Her development is tremendous and that is a tribute to her. She has earned every bit of being a captain at Notre Dame.”
For the men’s team, Tommy Anderson is eager to bounce back in his senior year after injuries prevented him from having a full season of training last year.
“I’m looking forward to rising to the challenge of performing well after a year of irrelevance,” said Anderson. “Last year I was sick for several months, so this year I want to prove my value to my team.”
Anderson, who Litzinger describes as the most versatile athlete on the team, recently capped off a strong summer of training with a top eight finish at the US Open in the 400 yard individual medley. Litzinger is looking forward to a full season coaching Anderson and the entire men’s squad after taking over the men’s program last December.
“I’ve only coached the men’s team since December so it has not been a gigantic chunk of time. Now that we have six months under our belt to really get to know them, now we are going to dial in and serve them the way they need it. Tommy [Anderson] is going to be a beneficiary of that. We are going to dial into his events and get up and go.”
Anderson senses a unique energy around both Notre Dame and the Irish swimming and diving programs that has shaped his Notre Dame experience so far and will propel the Irish forward this season.
“There’s a tangible energy here,” explained Anderson. “People want to succeed and even more importantly they want to help others succeed. That’s not something you really get anymore other places.”
Senior Reed Fujan, who rounds out the 2016-17 Irish captains, is anxiously awaiting the return to competition after closing his 2015-16 season with strong performances at the ACC Championships, highlighted by a second place finish in the 400 yard freestyle relay. Fujan is enthusiastic about the team’s chemistry early in the season.
“Our team is very close and I think that’s half of the battle to swimming fast,” explained Fujan. “When everyone is swimming for their teammates, and not just themselves, that’s the beginning to a very good team.”
The team comradery over the past three years has greatly contributed to Fujan’s experience at Notre Dame.
“The experiences that have stuck out to me while being at Notre Dame have been the ones with my friends,” Fujan said. “I’d say part of what makes Notre Dame so special are the people you meet here, and the people I’ve gotten to know have made my experience at Notre Dame the best.”
Fujan is looking to cap off his Notre Dame career on a high note this season as a veteran in the freestyle group, a significant change from his early years at Notre Dame. At the end of last season, Litzinger noticed significant develop in Fujan’s freestyle, which resulted in changing Fujan’s events for the ACC Championships, leading to fantastic close to Fujan’s 2015-16 season.
“When I got to know Reed, he swam the 200 IM, 200 butterfly and the 200 free. At the end of the year his freestyle really started to develop and come on quickly,” explained Litzinger. “All of sudden he is a guy on a 400 free relay that got second at the ACC Championships and instead of swimming the 200 fly I had him swim the 100 free at the conference meet. Next thing you know he swam a lifetime best time and scored huge points for us.”
“I think it is a matter of exploring people talents,” added Litzinger. “Reed has now moved from that middle distance stroke group into focusing more on freestyle. The reality of it is he is going to help this team out and himself out in terms of his route to the NCAA Championships by swimming freestyle. It is really fun to see that evolution in the athlete when they hit their stride and find out where they belong.”
The Irish, led by their quintet of captains, will open their 2016-17 season this Friday, September 30th against Michigan State and Iowa at Michigan State’s McCaffree pool in a rare outdoor, long-course contest.