Jan. 23, 2014
NOTRE DAME, Ind. - A mere two days after its swimmers returned from a two-week winter training trip to Puerto Rico, and its divers from a competitive diving contest in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., the University of Notre Dame men's swimming and diving team opened its 2014 schedule with a dual meet at Northwestern on Jan. 11 in Evanston, Ill. Both teams logged high-end performances in the dual encounter, and when all was said and done, the 150-150 tie between the squads was just the second draw in the 56-year history of the Irish program.
The meet against the Wildcats will be a distant memory for Notre Dame on Friday when the Irish face a stiff challenge at No. 7 Louisville at 4 p.m. (ET) inside the Ralph Wright Natatorium.
"A tie is a tie. We thought we raced well, and we thought Northwestern raced well, but really you just move on," Notre Dame head coach Tim Welsh said. "We recognize the tie and that's fine, but you move on because we have lots left to do on our schedule. It hasn't had any residual effect on us one way or the other. That's what the meet was, and on we go."
Considering the factors that led into the Northwestern meet, with team members fresh off a successful but lengthy training trip away from the Notre Dame campus, Welsh felt the team accomplished its main objective of racing well against the Wildcats.
"When we went to Northwestern we were well aware that we had been on the road since the end of December, and what we wanted to do was see what we had," he said. "Race as well as we can, see what we've got, and we were very happy with the outcome. I thought the guys competed and raced well, and the actual times were comparable to what we had done in the fall."
In a season that has been filled with quality opponents from the outset, Friday's contest at Louisville will be no different. The Irish and Cardinals jostled back and forth over the BIG EAST Conference Championship at the end of each programs' tenure as league members. Notre Dame won three of its final five BIG EAST meet appearances, with Louisville taking the other two championship titles.
"We expect that they will be ready for us when we arrive, and we want to be ready for them when we get there," Welsh said. "Louisville has been swimming very well all season long, and has been ranked as high as seventh. They had a great meet last week at the SMU Classic in Dallas, Texas. Not only do they swim us on Friday, they have their Homecoming, Senior Day meet with Kentucky on Saturday.
"Absolutely, this is an important weekend for them and they will be ready."
The classic battles between the programs at the end of their respective tenures for BIG EAST supremacy helped to raise the competitive bar for the Irish. Looking back on the quality of past meets between the teams, Welsh believes that racing opponents the caliber of Louisville has helped Notre Dame reach loftier goals.
"The rivalry we had in the championship meet has been very good, and the dual meets have depended on when they have come here," Welsh said. "The home meet last November was really intense, and that was a great meet. We expect that they will race well on Friday, and we talked with our guys about doing the same thing. We are going down with the mindset of whatever you have, it's going in the race."
A pair of regular season home contests, the annual Shamrock Invitational (Jan. 31-Feb. 1) and a dual meet against Cleveland State (Feb. 8), will set the stage for Notre Dame's first appearance at the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) Championship on Feb. 26-March 1 in Greensboro, N.C. Faced with the prospect of a smaller championship travel squad than was previously mandated at the BIG EAST Championship, the next few weeks will be high in competitive volume and intensity for the Irish.
"The goal is to put together a team that is as fast as we can be, with a recognition on filling out our relays, where the points are double, and we also want to dive as well as we have been all year," Welsh said. "Also, we have meets remaining before then, on the road this week and at home next weekend for the Shamrock meet, which has always been a big deal for us. Then, our meet against Cleveland State after the Shamrock Invitational is a luxury that we haven't always had in the last few years. There is plenty left on our schedule."
-- Tony Jones, Media Relations Assistant